So why was I so interested in being part of a gathering of young South African innovators?
In September last year a good friend of ours, Guy Lieberman met Seth Cohen from the Schusterman Foundation at a ROI gathering for young innovators. A discussion around bringing young Jewish Innovators together was born. Why was it so appealing to me? It seemed to be serendipitous that the timing of the meeting was at a point where my new innovation ‘Jewish Interactive’ was about to become global.
As young South African Jews we are relatively isolated from the global community. When my husband and I lived in Jerusalem we would meet Jewish people from all over the world, inspired and passionate. It was a consistent hub of ideas – a melting pot of innovation. A spiritual home that urged people to convert potential into reality. At a Shabbat meal or a walk on the streets I would hear, and ultimately be engaged in, deep conversation by everybody debating what is the best way forward in making sure there is Jewish continuity. It might come from soldiers saying fighting for Israel would ensure a Jewish future, the tzaddikim saying that learning Torah will preserve us, that social and business entrepreneurship and innovation will lead the path, or is it preserving and passing on Jewish culture?
When we returned to South Africa we became less and less involved in these debates – being removed from the hub and in a sense cut off from the conversations. I also did not meet other like-minded people saying – “Wow! You are launching a product internationally!” and “Wow! The world needs this! Carry on!” We need every individual who can add new ideas to inspire the next Jewish generation to want to be Jewish.
Let me catch you up to speed as to where I am coming from. A few years ago a friend of ours said “Look at these Jewish Mibereishit comic pamphlets. Why are they not digital and moving? Why are they not digital and interactive?” This was before tablets had taken off in the market. He had the vision of the future of education. He recognized that Jewish kids need an innovative 21st century delivery of material to make it fun, relevant, engaging and exciting. So together with a great team we created a multimedia, digital interactive program on Shabbat called Shabbat Interactive. We gave it to 3500 Jewish elementary school kids in South Africa.
It was great but South Africa is small. What next? Will an international audience need this? I got on a plane and left my 3 young children to speak to the leaders of the London Jewish community. I met an educator there who took one look at the program and asked if she could come and work for me! She quit her job and implemented the program into 20 UK schools within 6 months. I had to research who and what drives the US Jewish educational world. Again I left my young kids to go speak to the leaders. I had no network, no leads.
At that point – I met Seth. He gave me a few contacts and instructed me to “mention Schusterman Foundation” and say “Seth Cohen suggested we meet!” And so the networking journey began.
I met Marc Kramer of RAVSAK who invited us to the North American Jewish Day School conference. We also met other leaders like Torah uMesorah , JESNA. We went to the conference. We connected with a massive network, received genuine interest of over 250 school principals to contact and 20 schools are piloting the US version of the blended learning program. We connected with strong organizations to collaborate with to produce more interactive material. Daily we communicate with Jewish leaders.
Why the ramble? It’s all about networks. It was the first time we realized the importance of social networking – Twitter, Facebook, webinars, Skype. I now see that I do not need to leave my home and kids to connect with people (even though the initial meeting in person is essential). I can stay connected from my bedroom or office. I can be on the pulse of what is going on in the world. I can engage in those Jerusalem conversations and be inspired by other people innovating.
So Jewish Interactive helped sponsor the Young South African Innovators Conference to allow other South Africans to enter the world of conversations such as: Why is it important that the Jewish nation continue and thrive? Why is innovation important for the Jewish people?
The Chief Rabbi of South Africa spoke and said that innovation is from the Torah where creation is the prototype of innovation. Michael Podberezin from PresenTense spoke on creating a sustainable model for social entrepreneurs. Helen Lieberman encouraged young innovators to ‘pay it forward’ and do positive things in the community.
Lynn Schusterman spoke and gave importance and confidence to the young Jewish innovators who can add so much to help the Jewish people to thrive. Her passion and love for the Jewish people is palpable. Lynn said, “I care so much.” She invests in young Jewish minds. I personally was inspired by her energy, vision and passion. She explained how 75% of the Schusterman Foundation grants are for Jewish causes because if we don’t support ourselves – who will? It was a privilege to be associated with Lynn, Seth, Jen and the Schusterman Foundation.
A central theme of the 24-hour event was each individual finding what they can bring to the Jewish world that is unique – “What exists because you are here?” Why do you as a Jewish innovator feel it is important for the Jewish people to thrive and continue? How can you bring your local innovation to the global Jewish community?
We look forward to being involved in many stimulating, passionate global conversations.