Growing Innovation in Day School Education: Joshua Venture’s New JDS Fellows

 Posted by on September 13, 2012 at 11:07 am  No Responses »  Tagged with:  Categories:
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By: Lisa Lepson

Below: Hyim Brandes and Sarah Blattner, Jewish Day School (JDS) Fellows of Joshua Venture Group’s 2012-14 Dual Investment Program.

This week, Joshua Venture Group (JVG) and The AVI CHAI Foundation announced the first fruits of our new partnership – the Jewish Day School (JDS) Fellows of JVG’s 2012-2014 Dual Investment Program. AVI CHAI and JVG embarked on an “experiment” of sorts – to combine our respective strengths in building a field and growing emergent ventures and leaders to support innovation within the field of day school education. We entered this partnership with an interest and willingness to try something new, and perhaps a bit complex, and to learn from the process.

As JVG has now completed the first phase of our program – the outreach and selection process – it is a good time (as well as an appropriate season) to reflect on what we’ve discovered so far.

Innovative Ideas are Out There

In the past, despite a strong showing of entrepreneurial ideas in Jewish education, the number of applications to JVG’s Dual Investment Program seeking to specifically impact day school education has been minimal. There are few day school educators who seem to identify as “social entrepreneurs” or even as “innovators.” Yet, our targeted outreach process surfaced educators, technologists, and parents across North America working diligently to realize new visions for day school education.

Of more than 150 applications submitted for our program, 20% were focused on day school education. Over 30 ventures were conceived of, or are in practice, that are focused on re-framing, re-imagining and improving day school methods, curriculum, technology, and access. An overwhelming majority of these ventures – 95% – are under two years old, and are actively seeking to acquire the skills, funding, and expertise that will enable them to grow their ideas into sustainable, impactful ventures.

Complementary Competencies and Communication are Key to a Successful Partnership

JVG has always aimed to support entrepreneurial projects to create a more inclusive, just, and vibrant Jewish community – and not to just support innovation for innovation’s sake. A year ago, as we thought about creating the 2012-2014 cohort, we realized that building relationships with partners who had strong visions and expertise around specific issue areas would be a huge asset to the program – and more importantly, to the entrepreneurs working to advance projects in that particular field.

AVI CHAI was our first partner, and an exemplary one through the process thus far, due to two key factors: (1) our competencies are complementary, and (2) our communication is strong and effective.

For the past decade, JVG has honed our selection process and the support we offer for Jewish social entrepreneurs and their ventures. JVG’s competency is in identifying the most promising emerging ideas to transform the Jewish landscape, refining them, and taking them to scale. AVI CHAI’s competency is in strengthening the fields of Jewish day school and camp education. Our networks intersect but branch out in very different directions. Through our partnership, we bring field expertise  together with expertise around early-stage venture development. Together, we will provide a more comprehensive array of resources, guidance, and expertise for our Fellows, thereby weaving them more seamlessly into the fabric of the existing organizational landscape and creating more sustainable structures.

The second key piece was communication and a focused vision. Both entities are confident and focused in their mission, and through open lines of communication, we built a process where each perspective was embedded from the very beginning. At each step of the process, JVG succeeded in leveraging the networks and institutional knowledge of The AVI CHAI Foundation. Our outreach targeted traditional day school environments as well as innovator circles, and our reviewer process included experts, funders, and practitioners in education, entrepreneurship and Jewish communal life.

This is Only the Beginning

Our five-and-a-half-month outreach and selection process has ended, and this week we announced our two JDS Fellows, Sarah Blattner with her venture Tamritz: Digital Badging and Hyim Brandes with his venture Online Jewish Academy. Now the hard work begins for the Fellows – to develop their young ventures into impactful organizations. We look forward to sharing with you more about their ventures and about this ground-breaking partnership in the coming months.

Lisa Lepson is Executive Director of Joshua Venture Group.