Advice and Vision from Leaders in the Field
Mentors are a core island of stability in the fellows’ experience, meeting with fellows approximately once a month to serve as role models and provide practical advice and wisdom.
Ronit Ziv-Kreger - Educator and Consultant
Tell us about your background. My academic training is in management sciences from MIT’s Sloan School where I focused on the connection between motivation and identity. While I enjoy the rigorous theoretical modeling, I also love to dance, hike, tell stories, and be creative. Working in education allows me to apply concepts in motivation and identity, be playful and creative with meaningful content, and build bridges between people and among disciplines. One of my favorite projects was working in Israel, serving as founding director of a program in 50 middle schools and high schools that supports religious, secular, Arab, and Jewish students to create their own environmental solutions and present them at an annual professional conference of the Israel Ecological Society. In Israel, I also graduated from the Pardes Educators’ Program and have been serving as consultant and educator in the Boston area since—working in schools, synagogues, and teaching adults through Ikkarim, Me’ah and at the Isabella Freedman retreat center.
What are you most passionate about? What do you really love doing? I love weaving content from traditional Jewish texts into contemporary issues for different populations, including parents of young children, young adults, businesspeople, and families. I am passionate about creating a welcoming space for people with different Jewish backgrounds to learn together. I am also passionate about a variety of issues, such as food, leadership, parenting, and interpersonal communication.
What is the achievement you are most proud of? I am proud of the transcendent moments that I help catalyze in my classes—when there is an insight, an “aha” moment, a new connection being made that deeply touches people. Such moments foster a deepening of appreciation for the wisdom of our tradition and its relevance to people’s lives. What I share—and people often perceive—is my ability to connect with their wrestling with our tradition. I show them that they are not alone in that wrestling, and often that there are voices within the tradition that have been dealing with similar difficulties for centuries. I am proud of my successes in making connections for people through bringing the wisdom of the tradition to shed light on important issues they have in their own lives. Many are left surprised to find that ancient texts offer fresh insights.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way that you would like to share with budding social entrepreneurs? One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that we should aspire to do work that comes from the heart that is so connected to who one is that it’s hard to distinguish between the dance and the dancer. With that, people sometimes get really excited about an idea, and start implementing it only based on what resonates for them and their immediate circle of acquaintances. But this can be a liability if entrepreneurs assume that others will think as they do and will have similar needs. Instead, social entrepreneurs today should work to understand different segments of the population, and then design a program or service which both comes from their heart and is based on our community’s needs.
What is your vision or hope for the Boston Jewish community in the future? My vision is that the different segments of the community—Orthodox, Reform, and so on—will understand that they have wonderful things to learn and teach one another. I wish the community to be a learning community that increasingly accesses the wisdom of the tradition, in diverse ways, with people gaining value that is relevant to their daily lives. I believe that we each have personal Torah wisdom to teach each other and that much of our work is dependent on our ability to grow an appreciation of klal Israel—the whole of Israel.
Scott Yaphe - General Partner, ABS Ventures
Tell us about your background. I grew up in Montreal and moved to the United States in the 1990s. It’s not totally different, but there are cultural differences from the French-speaking city of Montreal with its European cultural focus. Having this international background has helped me think about things in a more global context. That was one of the things that drew me to PresenTense, with its global origins in Israel. Social needs extend beyond Israel—there are needs around the world, and social entrepreneurship extends beyond anyone’s geographic borders.
What is unique about CJP/PresenTense? It’s impressive to see people who are doing things outside of the norm of business to build and grow new organizations. There are many resources available for people starting for-profit businesses in the mainstream, but that’s not the case for entrepreneurs in the nonprofit world. I’ve been involved in helping other social entrepreneurs before, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in a Jewish context.
What are you most passionate about? Most of my career has been spent making investments in small, rapidly growing companies, helping entrepreneurs who have a vision to achieve success. It’s fun to help a group of impressive people with limited resources to build a business that is profitable. From this, it was a short leap to move to working with CJP/PresenTense to build organizations of value.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way that you would like to share with budding social entrepreneurs? It never ceases to amaze me that things rarely go as you expect with new ventures. You start off going in one direction, but there are always twists and turns along the way. This can be scary, especially when something unexpected smacks you in the face. But there is an old adage that’s helpful to remember: if you’re on a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere. Overcoming unexpected obstacles often opens up more opportunities and can lead to something better than you originally planned: a better business, a better job, etc. This is true in life as much as it is in business. I try and always ask questions about how we think a new venture will proceed, and then look at the possible obstacles so that we can try to foresee as much as possible. Obviously, you can’t foresee everything. However, taking this approach takes away the emotional part of dealing with changes. You don’t get as upset by them.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Life is random, no matter how much you try to plan. Whatever business plan you write, the venture will likely end up looking different. This isn’t a problem and it certainly isn’t a weakness. Is that advice I wish I’d given to myself 10 or 20 years ago? Absolutely. The key is not to look backwards but to move on.
What is your vision or hope for Boston and its community of social entrepreneurs in the future? Boston is in a unique position because it’s filled with smart people, numerous universities, and an active investment community full of businesspeople who are used to investing in risky endeavors. So the DNA is in place to support social entrepreneurs. To me, the social entrepreneur moniker is a bit of a misnomer because it implies that social entrepreneurs are different from other types of entrepreneurs. That’s not really true. While social entrepreneurs don’t have the goal of making a profit, they face the same challenges in growing their organizations as entrepreneurs who are running for-profit ventures. In Boston, there is a ready community of investors, and there is no reason why Boston shouldn’t be a global center for these types of ventures. The CJP/PresenTense program is a great example of what can be achieved. PT
Andrew Becker, member of the Boston Fellowship Steering Committee, has been volunteering within the Boston Jewish community for 10 years.
Jamie David was a fellow at PTI ‘08 in Jerusalem and started the nonprofit Shomer Achi. She serves on the Boston Fellowship Steering Committee.