“The question isn’t – ‘how can we get people to come?’ It’s ‘what do we need to offer so that people actually want to come?’”
Rabbi Ron Stern first started playing with design thinking at an UpStart workshop presented at a URJ Conference. Today, he’s using UpStart entrepreneurial tools and mindsets, guided by Jewish wisdom, to drive change in his congregation. Here’s a snapshot of the work he’s doing in – and outside of – the UpStart-powered Los Angeles Federation Jewish Teen Accelerator.
Rabbi Stern’s temple planning meetings get to the point with questions laser-focused on human needs:
Rabbi Stern: “Too often, planning meetings start off with idea generation. I’m trying to encourage people to learn first – to operate from a place of empathy – so that we generate ideas that actually gain traction.”
How would you design a civil society? Authorities like Nechemiah were left to grapple with that question after the destruction of the Second Temple, when the Israelites were challenged to rebuild Jerusalem and an accompanying civic infrastructure. In this vacuum of centralized rule, a few families became rich — while forcing the general populace into generations of debt. Nechemiah goes among the people, and listens to the people’s woes:
(Nechemiah 5:5) “Now we are as good as our brothers, and our children as good as theirs; yet here we are subjecting our sons and daughters to slavery—some of our daughters are already subjected—and we are powerless, while our fields and vineyards belong to others.” See full text here.
Nechemiah hears them, and works to design a society that meets their needs. He leads them to share their concerns with the rich, securing their promise to never enslave their fellow Israelites again.
Rabbi Stern: “The Nechemiah story teaches us the power of empathy. What would civil society have looked like if he never went out to hear the cries of the people? At best, it would have been out of touch. At worst, cruel.”
The Stephen Wise staff are now using the same entrepreneurial tools – guided by lessons from the Nechemiah story – to increase engagement in their Freedom School High School volunteer program. The Freedom School program provides a six-week summer literacy and leadership program that serves over 225 students (scholars) from low-income, at-risk communities, free of charge. Teens volunteer for up to six weeks in the classrooms.
As participants in the UpStart-powered Los Angeles Teen Accelerator, they’re asking similar questions about the needs of their volunteers and scholars:
As a result of asking these human-centered questions, the program is piloting “remote reading,” giving a sets of books to both the volunteers and the scholars so they can read together over the phone.
Rabbi Stern: “Like any entrepreneur, we took a big risk in building the Stephen Wise Freedom School. Now we’re teaching high school students to not only be good volunteers, but to use some of these same tools, too. We want empathy to be their guide.”
Learn more about working with UpStart to drive change at your organization.
Learn more about Stephen Wise’s Freedom School.