Ignition Grantees Examine The State of Change

“The retreat was a wonderful opportunity to evaluate where we stand with regard to an important initiative for our organization and to determine a game plan for maximizing our success in the months ahead,” said Jason Benkendorf, director of National Leadership Initiatives at The Curriculum Initiative in New York, awarded an Ignition Grant to expand a high school program for emerging Jewish leaders.

The one-day retreat focused on various theories and tools of organizational change, including approaches for evaluating the climate within an organization, and for harnessing forces to embrace new ideas and ways of thinking.

Sarah From, a New York-based organizational change consultant, led participants through exercises to evaluate programs and organizations.

“Force Field Analysis,” for example, is a tool used to identify organizational forces advancing change, and those hindering it. Participants huddled to note those within their own professional environments, then shared their experiences.

“I can take this back and figure out what is working and what is not,” said Rabbi Ari Weiss, director of Uri L’Tzedek, an Ignition Grant recipient organization creating a fellowship program to educate and empower student activists to assume roles in Orthodox communal leadership. “This analysis and articulation is quite valuable to us and the others here.”

Participants agreed that anything new is not easy, but that programs and initiatives will stall if an organization does not welcome fresh ideas and perspectives that can benefit an institution, its constituents and the broader community.

“We need to most effectively navigate the difficulties that can arise when change is sought,” Benkendorf said.

Through its Ignition Grants program, The Covenant Foundation supports new and untested approaches and initiatives in Jewish education with one-year grants of up to $20,000. Six Ignition Grants were awarded in the 2009 round, announced earlier this year.

The retreat underscored the importance attached by The Covenant Foundation to supporting organizations beyond the grants themselves.

“We are devoted to moving Jewish education to new levels of innovation and impact,” said Harlene Winnick Appelman, executive director of The Covenant Foundation. “So it is tremendously important to give our grantees not only the dollars, but also tools, knowledge and community so their ideas can grow and thrive.”