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Thursday, December 18, 2014

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Program supports Jewish social innovators

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Paul Alofs

Leaders of non-profits who participate in a new initiative called Genesis will get skills training to help their organizations achieve success, as well as free office space for their groups.

Launched by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto on Jan. 31, Genesis will help five “incubator” organizations at a time, selecting new residents each year.

The first group consists of the Annex Shul, the JED Institute, the Jewish Business Network, Project A.I.M. and Shoresh Jewish Environmental Progams.

Genesis supports “Jewish social innovation” through offering mentorship and skills training, focusing on a different skill each month through workshops and instruction from a mentor

The initiative is “about building a Jewish community that’s relevant to the next generation,” said Genesis director Alexandra Kuperman.

 Spiritual leader of the Annex Shul, Yacov Fruchter, a non-denominational, independent minyan that serves young professionals and families, said, “We’re trying to figure out how to build and how to become sustainable.” He added that having access to free office space is especially helpful.

Rabbi Rafi Lipner of The House runs Genesis’ speaker series, which brings successful people in the non-profit world to an event where they speak about their work, sharing with the public the wisdom they’ve gained through experience.

Speaking at Genesis’ launch, Rabbi Lipner discussed Jewish social innovation. “Innovation is doing things differently… Social innovation realizes we are here to serve others,” he said, adding there’s no set definition for “Jewish social innovation,” specifically whether it means the innovation is for Jews or innovation that stems from Jewish values

The launch featured the first speaker in the series: Paul Alofs, president and CEO of the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation, which recently received a $50-million donation from Emmanuelle Gattuso and her broadcast mogul husband, Allan Slaight.

Alofs shared his wisdom on “passion capital,” which he called the most important aspect of success. He described the seven building blocks to finding passion capital: defining your organization’s creed, culture (meaning nourishing your passion), courage, building your brand’s reputation, finding resources, planning a strategy and persistence.

“Passion capital is the world’s most valuable asset,” he said, adding that if you have passion capital, it will eventually lead you to success in raising money.

On Feb. 28, four-time Olympic gold-medal speed-skater Johann Olav Koss will share wisdom from his experience as CEO of Right to Play, a non-profit that brings sports to disadvantaged communities around the world. April 4 will feature Marc Kielburger, co-founder of Free the Children, and on May 30, Elisha Muskat, CEO of Ashoka Canada, will speak.

Having these great speakers and professionals to guide the Annex Shul is a huge help, Fruchter said, adding that he especially hopes to learn fundraising strategies and board governance.

“[These organizations] started to do the work… because in their heart they believe it’s what they have to do,” Kuperman said. “Genesis is working to support these change-makers.”

The participating organizations get temporary office space in the Wolfond Centre for Jewish Student Life, sharing the building with Hillel of Greater Toronto.

This arrangement is perfect because many of the non-profit organizations are targeting young adults, and so perhaps young people who are graduating might feel inspired to continue their involvement in the Jewish community through joining one of the resident organizations, Kuperman said.

“If you leave Hillel and you don’t know where to go next, I think that’s a real loss,” she said. “It’s a connection point, which I think is really important.”

Although the program picks only five resident organizations annually, other non-profit groups can find help through Genesis, but without the free office space. Anybody can attend the Genesis speaker series, and Kuperman said she has a mailing list of organizations that seek assistance. Interested organizations should approach Genesis to be placed on the mailing list since they will be called for submissions in the autumn when Genesis accepts applications for the next round of residencies, she said.

Groups must fit certain criteria, such as being established in and having a track record in Toronto, and they must include several people.

For more information, visit the website ujagenesis.com.

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