Last year, to mark my first anniversary of working on behalf of Ottawa’s Jewish community, I wrote an article for the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin that began with a question from the play Rent.
“525,600 minutes. How do you measure, measure a year?”
It is a challenge to answer because how do you condense 525,600 minutes of learning, activity, success and failure, passion and commitment into a few hundred words? This year, as I mark the conclusion of my second year, I am pleased to share three thoughts.
On a recent vacation, I attended a speech by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. I was expecting a speech about Israel and the Middle East. Instead, he spoke about issues such as technology and leadership. During the Q&A, he explained that he had adopted a policy of not speaking about Israel – unless asked a specific question – because the rhetoric becomes too heated. People are so entrenched in their positions, so passionate, that they do not always hear what he has to say.
As I reflect further on this and think about how we conduct business in Ottawa’s Jewish community, we certainly can and do get passionate about issues we care about. Ultimately, what will help make our community stronger is honing our communication skills. Are we interested in learning and understanding new information or are we mostly just committed to persuading others of our position? Do we take the time to engage decision makers or do we simply converse with other like-minded individuals?
While the Jewish Federation of Ottawa is not perfect, we are always open to having respectful discussions – sharing and learning from each other and working on our common goal of creating a stronger Jewish community.
Last June, the Federation adopted a new strategic plan. Over the past year, one of our challenges has been to devote energy and time to achieving the strategic plan’s objectives, while balancing other issues that come to the forefront of our agenda. This past summer, it was Operation Protective Edge. In the fall, it was the rising levels of anti-Semitism, and security concerns, and the winter months were devoted to Jewish education.
Part of Federation’s responsibility is to ensure that we devote appropriate attention to urgent, emerging and important community issues, while not losing focus of our broader mandate and strategic objectives.
Do we get it right?
Some days more than others, but we certainly do our best. Ultimately, we will be able to show the community a “report card” on strategic plan milestones when we report on the Year 1 work plan; thus allowing community members to answer the question for themselves.
My colleague Deborah Corber of Federation CJA in Montreal recently wrote a thought-provoking piece on the difference between a not-for-profit corporation and one that is profit driven. Her piece spoke about a movement to rename the “not-for-profit” sector as the “social-profit” sector. She built on the work of Paul Alofs, president and CEO of the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, who asked in a piece in the Globe and Mail, “What other sector of the economy refers to itself by what it’s not? Grocery stores don’t call themselves ‘not furniture stores.’”
Federation, as a social-profit organization, does have to be concerned with revenue, because it is through revenue, primarily generated by the Annual Campaign, that we gain the ability to help. As Corber wrote, “We need to make the case for our own, unique value proposition, that no other gift has the power to impact so many Jewish lives. The extent to which we succeed determines our market share or ‘penetration’ rate: the number of donors who give to the annual campaign and volunteers who give of their time, both of which impact directly on our ability to do good.”
The Jewish Federation of Ottawa is a social-profit business with a plethora of stakeholders, from donors to all who benefit from the programs and services we fund, to all who care about Jewish life. And we have a responsibility to all of our stakeholders.
These three issues, communication, focus and defining what business we are in (social profit), are all interconnected.
Having just completed my second year working on behalf of our community, I view the past 525,600 minutes as a gift I have tried to use wisely. Looking forward to the next 525,600 minutes, I am energized and enthused!
And, as always, I invite anyone interested in a conversation about how our community can be further strengthened to please be in touch with me at 613-798-4711 or email@example.com.