27 May

Jewish Social Entrepreneurship

Tonight is the CJP/PresenTense  Boston Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship launch. (You can watch it live at An email I received today about tonight’s launch party at City Year said, ” Ignited by CJP (Boston Jewish Federation) and PresenTense,  eleven fellows will begin their journey to change Boston and engage, leverage, and inspire the Jewish Community.” The fellows have developed their ventures over the last six months.

In the Jewish communal world, there is a lot of buzz about young (state of mind, not necessary chronological)  social entrepreneurs.  Social entrepreneurship  is used to describe organizational ventures – both for and non-profit – that bring about communal or societal change.

These are just few groups who are all seeking to empower, train and in some cases, fund Jewish social entrepreneurs.

PresenTense mission is to engage and inspire creative minds investing their ideas and energy to revitalize the established Jewish community.  Every week, in cities around the world, PresenTense Community members gather to discuss new ideas, build networks with like-minded individuals, learn from one another, and launch startup ventures that lead to new pathways for Jewish engagement and community building. PresenTense trains individuals to become pioneers. Social entrepreneurs have launched 42 ventures since 2007 through their Social Entrepreneur Fellowship such as the one in Boston, and PTSchool has trained 450 Jewish organizational professionals to upgrade their organizations’ operations.

In 2010, the Joshua Venture Group will invest in eight leaders with unique ideas they believe will significantly impact the Jewish world. Social entrepreneurs selected to participate in their Dual Investment Program will receive over $100,000 in funding and support – including training, exposure and access to networks in the Jewish world – which will equip them to realize their visions and transform the Jewish landscape.

Slingshot, a project of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, profiles annually new and innovative organizations, many prime example of social entrepreneurship. There is also a Slingshot Fund which invest in some of these projects which they publicize in their annual report.

Machon Hadar is an institute that empowers young Jews who build vibrant Jewish communities through two initiatives: Yeshivat Hadar, the first full-time egalitarian yeshiva in North America and the Minyan Project, which provides  resources, networking and consulting for more than 50 independent minyanim nationwide.

The hope  of each of these initiatives is to support innovative, creative social entrepreneurs whose ideas will enrich Jewish life and  attract new people across a variety of channels, those who are “unaffiliated” in the establishment vernacular. (The establishment includes Federations, JCCs, long-standing advocacy agencies such as ADL, AJC, Hadassah etc and  synagogues.)

In speaking with a highly successful Jewish innovator with close ties to the organized community recently, we spoke at length about the recognition on the part of the established Jewish community of the need for innovation (as exemplified by  CJP  partnering with PresentTense) and at the same time, concern by some in the organized Jewish community  that the best and brightest are choosing the social entrepreneurial route as opposed to engaging and becoming leaders within the existing organizations.

Our lengthy discussion can be summarized into four main reasons why younger creative, committed Jews are attracted to the  entrepreneurial route:

1. The bureaucracy and tight control by major donors of established organizations sometimes make them seem impenetrable, out of touch or difficult to work with.
2. Established organizations tend to be slow to effectuate change.
3. Favorable generational attitudes of entrepreneurs; 20-40 somethings grew up idolizing Andy Grove (Intel), Michael Dell (Dell Computers), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Yossi Vardi (Israel’s ICQ co-founder, later bough by AOL)
4. Technology makes it possible to reach and organize people without significant overhead.

On this night of the CJP/PresenTense launch, CJP should be applauded for embracing social entrepreneurship and bridging the worlds of the established Jewish community and the next generation of innovators.

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