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Here's a 'Tribe' That Beats the Bushes, in Search of the Next Big Thing

October 21, 2010 By:
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Ross Berkowitz

Over the past few years, a young woman turned her idea to raise money for disaster relief by selling homemade challah into a national nonprofit that now includes chapters at more than 30 college campuses.

A technologically savvy New York librarian created an online media library for Jewish educators.

And an enterprising musician from Iowa City, Iowa, combined his love of music and Jewish pedagogy to create educational rap songs, workshops and curriculum that have been used by schools around the world.

These are just a few of the projects that young adults have cultivated through a growing variety of Jewish business incubators -- the PresenTense Global Institute, Joshua Venture Group and Bikkurim, to name a few.

Now, the concept is going local.

Tribe 12, a newly formed collective for independent Jewish projects, this month announced a Social Entrepreneur Fellowship for Philadelphia-area innovators with an idea that would benefit the local Jewish community.

Not only is it an opportunity for young people to get "very solid business training and connections they would not get otherwise, it's a way for the business community to look inward and create solutions," said Ross Berkowitz, executive director of Tribe 12.

The fellowship will be based on a model developed by PresenTense, which began running a six-week, summer business-training program in Jerusalem four years ago. Since then, 77 fellows have launched ventures in the fields of education, social action, environment, philanthropy and the arts.

Last year, PresenTense experimented with a "community entrepreneur partnership" in Boston. That expanded this year with pilot programs here, as well as in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Cleveland and New York City.

A Series of Night Classes
Like the global effort, the goal is to help future leaders find and meet a need within the Jewish community, but starting on a local level. Instead of cramming the training into an intense few weeks during the summer, the workshops, seminars and coaching will take place over a five-month period, starting in January. Most of the classes will be held at night and on weekends so fellows can continue to work or go to school.

"It really engages people in the conversation of what does our local community look like and what are the issues that are facing us specifically that we can address," said Shelby Zitelman, a 2009 PresenTense Global Institute fellow who is now helping Philadelphia and New York launch their local programs as a PresenTense staff member. "We're a creative community and a close-knit one, so I think we'll have some really interesting projects to help build."

The application process opened earlier this month; submissions are due by Nov. 12. A volunteer steering committee of about 20 people will select the participants, Berkowitz said, probably eight to 12 all together.

The fellowship is the first new program started under Tribe 12, a nonprofit Berkowitz founded this fall to foster programs serving the Jewish community. Both groups that Berkowitz was previously directing -- the Collaborative, a multifaceted social group for 20s and 30s, and LimmudPhilly, an annual education conference -- now fall under the Tribe 12 umbrella. Perhaps some of the fellows' future projects could land there, too, said Berkowitz.

On a personal level, the fellowship is the realization of an idea Berkowitz had been talking about for years. Floored to hear about the PresenTense expansion in Boston, he applied for a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia to duplicate the program in Philadelphia. His request for $50,000 was approved at the same time that other programs saw severe cuts.

"We liked the fact that it seemed to be a lot of bang for the buck," said Gail Norry, volunteer co-chair of the committee that recommended allocating the funding.

Not only does it engage young adults, whose lack of connection with Jewish life became a quantified concern in the recent population study, but it does so as they work on a project that will directly benefit the Jewish community, said Norry.

The Federation funds coupled with a matching grant from a private donor brought the program budget to $100,000. Most of that, Berkowitz said, will pay PresenTense to provide curriculum and instructors. Eventually, if all goes well, Berkowitz added, he'll learn to teach the material, and the program will morph into its own, independent model.

In addition to the PresenTense material, fellows will learn from guest speakers, coaches and mentors in the local business community. Though the fellowship doesn't guarantee any "seed" money for the new business ventures, Berkowitz said these networking opportunities would hopefully help the participants seek out funding sources.

The fellows will also get a chance to pitch their ideas to the community, high-profile business leaders and possibly even potential investors at a "launch night" event in May.

Tribe 12 is offering training fellowships for Philadelphia-area residents between 22 and 40 who have an idea that might benefit the Jewish community. The group is also seeking volunteers to lead workshops and mentor fellows. For applications, call 267-702-3510 or go to: www.tribe12fellowship.org.


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