Birthright Israel Excel

Challenge

Since its founding in 2011, Birthright Israel Excel (“Excel”) has created a prestigious program that consistently attracts top young Jewish talent and provides them with invaluable business experience that bolsters their careers and strengthens their connection to Israel and Jewish life.

Excel is an elite, year-long fellowship program that begins with a 10-week business internship and educational program in Israel. The program recruits talented Jewish college sophomores, juniors and select seniors who are pursuing careers in business and technology. During the program, each Excel fellow is assigned an internship at a prominent Israeli company with global reach in industries such as finance, venture capital, consulting, hi-tech, bio-tech and social media.

By 2013, Excel had been operating successfully for two years and had grown its alumni base to more than 180 participants (including Israeli Peers). Despite all that Excel had accomplished through the immersive 10-week Israel experience, the Excel staff believed it was essential to have a strong framework in place for participants upon their return from Israel. Furthermore, another community that Excel felt was being underserved was the growing number of Israeli Peers—the Israeli students and soldiers matched with Excel participants upon their arrival in Israel. As Excel matured, the significance of the Israeli Peers and of the bonds they formed with U.S. participants became apparent. Excel’s leadership came to realize that the Israeli Peers played a crucial role in the Excel experience and that they required additional attention, and as a result, they decided it was time to strengthen its alumni programming. Excel proposed a long-term goal: to establish a social network of 1,000 key business leaders in the Jewish world and in Israel--a network that would allow development of innovative joint programs and ventures for the benefit of Israel and the Jewish community.

Approach

To ensure that Excel alumni maintain long-term business ties with Israel and continue to support the Excel program as they progress professionally, the staff concluded that the development of a robust alumni association was critical.

They decided that they should develop separate programming for their U.S. alumni and Israeli Peer alumni communities, tailored to the specific needs of both groups. Once Excel established a strong network in each location, collaboration between the two groups would be increased. The staff developed a set of action items within the following areas:

  1. Develop Alumni Infrastructure
    • Hire Alumni Coordinators in the U.S. and in Israel, who work in tandem to develop alumni programming suited to their regions.
    • Collect alumni information through Birthright’s customer relationship management (CRM) system and update it following all interactions (including conversations, meetings and written correspondence) between the Alumni Coordinator and alumni.
    • Use Facebook for internal correspondence and cross-organizational communications, including alumni discussions and relevant business and social information regarding the U.S. and Israel.
    • Utilize an alumni app called “Keep In Touch” to allow more targeted and intimate discussions among alumni fellows.
  2. Empower Alumni in the U.S. as Business and Social Leaders
    • Offer Excel alumni opportunities to participate in the annual Birthright Israel Excel Leadership Conference, the centerpiece of ongoing leadership development and relationship building available to Excel alumni.
    • Create an Excel Advisors Program that connects Excel alumni with role models in North America to continue their personal and professional development. Advisors are charged with advising Excel alumni on topics like career development, involvement in the Jewish community and philanthropy.
    • Institute a quarterly newsletter to better connect Excel alumni, provide community opportunities, highlight programs and projects, and share ideas and best practices. Designate “Excelers” to be responsible for a majority of the content.
    • Continue to offer regional get-togethers, webinars and conference calls, which bring the Excel alumni community together to discuss issues such as anti-Semitism, community service and entrepreneurship.
    • Involve alumni in the recruitment of future Excel fellows.
    • Encourage alumni to staff Birthright trips to Israel.
  3. Empower Alumni in Israel
    • Provide opportunities for previous Israeli Peers through the development of the Israeli Peers Alumni Community.
    • Develop a systematic programming schedule and an active community for the Israeli Peer Alumni, effectively providing a platform for the cultivation of Jewish leadership in the business, social and public sectors among its members through continuous partnership with the global Excel community.
    • Develop a committee to connect Excel alumni and Israeli peers through business, current events, social justice and political issues.
Impact

Note: Case study reflects data through May 2014.

In 2013 and 2014, Excel made major headway in building a robust alumni community for its U.S. and Israeli participants by focusing on its three core action items:

  1. Develop Alumni Infrastructure
    • Excel hired an Alumni Coordinator for each region to drive alumni programming.
    • Excel selected a Chairman for the North American Excel Alumni Community and continues to work with four Excel Class Representatives (one from each 2011-2014 Excel class) to serve as lay leaders and guide activities across the country.
    • The organization maintained an active and engaging Excel Facebook page through which alumni share current events, business ideas and social opportunities on a regular basis.
  2. Empower Alumni in the U.S. as Business and Social Leaders
    • Annual Excel Leadership Conference: An extraordinary turnout of 95 Excel alumni (73% attendance rate) came together to attend the Leadership Conference in November 2014, which featured the theme of “Global Connections: Building Business and Community.”
      • Excel alumni were given the rare opportunity to meet with prominent business and Jewish community leaders who have made a lasting global impact. These leaders discussed topics related to business and entrepreneurship, leadership, Israeli business and culture, Jewish identity and philanthropy.
      • As part of an effort to empower alumni to take on leadership roles within the Excel community, Excel provided its participants with tools and workshops to help fuel the next phase of their alumni experience:
        • Excel alumni took part in a Giving Circle Express workshop facilitated by Amplifier, a network of Jewish giving circles operated by The Natan Fund. Through this experience, participants discussed their giving values, discovered potential grant recipients in Israel and decided which organization to support.
        • Excel alumni participated in over two hours of small group workshops to determine annual programmatic goals for Excel, as well as “big ideas” to guide them toward their future as a community. From these sessions, they developed a multi-dimensional platform that supports meaningful connections between Israel and the U.S. through business, personal relationships and tikkun olam (repairing the world)
        • Over the course of the conference, Excel alumni created an agenda of alumni-driven opportunities that they plan to pursue as a community during the upcoming year.
        • One Excel alumni participant noted, “Though I generally enjoy the speakers the most at these conferences, I appreciate that Excel is moving more in the direction of alumni leadership. I think this is crucial to ensure the fellowship network’s continuity.”
      • Excel Advisors Program: In October 2014, Excel launched the initial phase of the Excel Advisors Program, connecting business leaders across the country with cohorts of Excel alumni. As of December 2014, Excel had 15 Advisors spanning the fields of finance, high-tech and consulting. Excel alumni have been granted invaluable access to and forged connections with business and community leaders. Similarly, Excel Advisors have had the opportunity to meet with exceptional students, mentor participants and learn about the program directly from enthusiastic Excel ambassadors. The Advisors will meet with Excel cohorts twice a year (in fall and spring).
      • Excel will continue to send a quarterly newsletter driven by alumni content. Following the 2014 Annual Excel Leadership Conference, alumni also decided to create an annual newsletter with Israeli peers to highlight the holistic nature of the Excel experience. The newsletter will feature connection points, inspiring stories and cultural interest pieces.
      • Alumni took a very active role in recruiting and interviewing suitable candidates for the 2014 Excel program—in fact, 50 percent of new cohort participants learned about the program from Excel alums. Excel hopes to further empower its alumni by providing them with tools to create their own information sessions on campus.
      • Following the retreat, Excel selected an Alumni Advisory Board to better promote and execute their initiatives.
      • A record number of 15 Excel alumni staffed trips to Israel during 2014, a demonstration of their increased desire to stay connected to the organization and to Israel.
  3. Empower Alumni in Israel
    • In 2014, Excel continued to see considerable development in the structure, activity and direction of the Israeli Peer Alumni Association. The organization started a strategic planning process during the first Israeli Peer Alumni Retreat in February 2014.
    • Approximately 60 participants attended the retreat, bringing many of the 2011 alumni back into the community. The retreat gave participants opportunities to connect with each other, hear from noted speakers and discuss issues of community, innovation and philanthropy.
    • Following the retreat, Excel held several more sessions that focused on formulating a strategy and building infrastructure to execute the group’s 2014-2015 goals. In August 2014, the strategic plan was approved by Excel management.
    • The Israeli Peer Alumni Association has created numerous community events, including retreats, gatherings, seminars and webinars with the U.S. alumni association to connect Israeli and U.S. entrepreneurs. The Israeli Peers have also created “Excel on the Bar,” a series of casual gatherings in Tel Aviv bars where Excel alumni and their friends hear from Israeli leaders about different topics.
    • In 2015, Excel continues to work with key partners such as the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and 8200, an elite IDF intelligence unit, to support the Israeli Peer Alumni program.

As Excel enters its fifth year, its alumni community is maturing into a vibrant and active network of young professionals promoting meaningful connections between the U.S. and Israel and throughout the global Jewish community.

To learn more about Birthright Israel Excel’s work, please visit their website at www.birthrightisrael.com/sites/excel.

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