The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian assistance organization, impacting millions of lives in more than 70 countries. JDC leverages a century’s experience confronting poverty and crisis around the world to assist the world’s poorest Jews, revitalize Jewish life, empower Israel’s future, develop tomorrow’s Jewish leaders and rescue victims of global emergencies.
In 2008, JDC made a strategic decision: encouraging young Jews in their 20s and 30s to respond to global Jewish and humanitarian needs must be central to JDC’s work moving forward.
What began as small pilot programs in 2008 quickly grew into what is now JDC Entwine (“Entwine”). Today, Entwine reaches over 20,000 young adults through a diverse set of international service, local education and leadership opportunities for young Jews that emphasize global Jewish responsibility and recharge Jewish identity.
As Entwine has expanded its reach and depth, the organization has faced a two-pronged challenge: how to engage the impressive volume of alumni of its overseas service programs and simultaneously build a captivating initiative for young adults, primarily in North America, around an issue that is outward-looking and globally-oriented.
By 2008, Entwine’s continuum of overseas service programs, including 7-10 day service trips and the year-long Global Jewish Service Corps, had reached over 160 participants a year. As the number of alumni grew, Entwine’s leadership decided that in addition to providing a meaningful overseas experience, the organization’s responsibility would extend to post-trip programming once alumni returned. The organization would achieve this goal by developing distinct pathways for alumni within Entwine and connecting alumni to programs in the broader community. Entwine also noticed that as participants returned from overseas service experiences, they were eager to share their newfound knowledge with their peers. With this in mind, Entwine piloted a few local educational events for the broader public, with these enthusiastic alumni serving as volunteer leaders.
Concurrently, Entwine worked with a group of students participating in a NYU-Wagner School capstone program to carry out one of the largest surveys of young Jewish attitudes in recent years. The findings indicated that young Jews are interested in helping Jews in need around the world, but know little about global Jewry or issues relevant to overseas communities. The study also revealed that in order to be effective, efforts to raise awareness of these issues must be authentic and must incorporate meaningful content—by and large, young Jews would rather explore high-level educational opportunities or intimate Shabbat dinners with friends than attend more casual social functions like bar nights.
Based on the results of the NYU-Wagner study and feedback from alumni, Entwine identified a unique opportunity to simultaneously create engaging programming for its alumni and address a problem in the broader community. The staff saw a growing group of passionate young people returning from global Jewish service experiences who were looking to share what they learned and to become Jewishly involved. Separately, there was a need to create locally-based educational programming for young adults unfamiliar with global Jewish communities and issues. Identifying these closely related trends gave rise to Entwine’s Learning Network Model.
Entwine Learning Networks
- Entwine designed its Learning Networks to achieve two critical objectives: 1) Provide service alumni with an opportunity to engage in meaningful follow-up work and to demonstrate leadership; and 2) Create an entry point for new individuals to engage with their peers.
- Entwine decided that the Networks would be peer-led through an informal volunteer Planning Group, which would create education-based programs to attract like-minded peers and provide unique, relevant content. The Networks focus on young adults, primarily 24 to 36 years old, who are looking to develop their career trajectory and forge personal relationships in their communities. The educational program content is delivered by peer experts, many of whom are also alumni of Entwine service programs.
- Each Learning Network is led by a volunteer Planning Group comprised of service alumni who conceptualize and spearhead the educational programming. The Learning Network events are intentionally designed to be informal, open to all and with no requirements to join. Built into the Network are volunteer leadership opportunities: all programs have Event Co-Chairs and each Planning Group is led by a pair of Co-Chairs, who serve for 2-year terms and help guide the strategic direction of the Network.
- The Network model is intentionally designed to promote volunteer leadership, with Entwine’s staff supporting and developing aspiring leaders. Even as Entwine’s professional team in charge of supporting the Networks has expanded, each staff member is still responsible for multiple Networks to preserve the leadership integrity of volunteers.
- By 2010, Entwine had established Learning Networks in five cities: New York, D.C., Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Through the work of their local Planning Groups, the Networks implemented peer-led, large-scale public programs around topics ranging from global Jewish communities—such as those in Morocco and Cuba—to JDC’s relief efforts in Haiti.
- As the Networks grew, Entwine began to strategically prioritize the recruitment of service program participants from cities with Learning Networks to ensure that alumni returning from their overseas service experiences would have opportunities for immediate follow-up and access to leadership pathways.
- Entwine also intentionally designed its overseas service programs with post-program follow-through in mind: from the interview process, which includes questions about participants' post-trip plans, to the final sessions on the ground in which groups discuss “bringing it home” and post-trip opportunities in their local Network cities, follow-through is woven throughout.
- Entwine organized a system of strategic communications to connect service participants with their local Learning Networks. Leading up to a trip, participants receive communications from local Network Co-Chairs, who introduce themselves and wish them a safe trip. This communication connects service participants to their local Entwine communities before they embark on their overseas experience. Upon returning home, alumni receive communications from their group leader, followed by one-on-one communication from local Co-Chairs or Planning Group members asking them to meet for coffee, share their experiences and attend upcoming meetings and programs.
- Local Network event attendees also receive follow-up communications, which include ways to get more involved both locally and through the overseas service programs. In this way, Entwine’s approach is truly global-to-local and local-to-global: the global service experiences for young adults fuel their Jewish involvement back home in the local Learning Networks and in turn, the local programs fuel participation in the global service experiences.
By 2013, Learning Networks had expanded to nine cities with the addition of San Diego, Houston, Dallas, and London. The Networks had attracted thousands of young Jews, many of whom were learning about global Jewish issues for the first time. Simultaneously, Entwine began to realize that the Networks were not only providing educational programming and leadership opportunities, but also building locally-based micro-communities of like-minded Jewish young adults who celebrate together, plan together, serve together and lead together. In response, the Networks began to offer smaller, more intimate programs focused on community-building, including Shabbat dinners, local days of service, “meet-ups” and other events, which are now a core component of Network programming.
Note: Case study reflects data through May 2014.
Since 2008, Entwine has experienced incredible growth:
- 3,100+ young adults have participated in Entwine’s short-, medium-, and long-term, immersive global service experiences;
- 150+ volunteer Trip Co-Chairs have led Entwine Insider Trips and nearly 100% are alumni of previous service programs;
- 15,000+ young adults have attended local Learning Network programs across the U.S. and the U.K.;
- 500+ volunteer Event Co-Chairs, of which 80% are alumni, have led local Learning Network programs;
- Of all large-scale Learning Network program attendees, 60% are new and 40% are alumni; and
- 70% of local Planning Group members and 100% of local Network Co-Chairs are alumni.
Today, Entwine has fostered a movement of young adults who see global Jewish responsibility as central to their identity and are making a meaningful impact on Jewish issues worldwide. Inspired by these values, Entwine’s local-to-global platform has created a space for alumni to take on leadership roles and serve as active members of their Jewish communities.
Entwine’s approach to alumni engagement is unique. Rather than develop a separate alumni strategy, Entwine’s model emphasizes an integrated platform of avenues for young people to deepen their involvement and leadership both at home and abroad, fostering ongoing engagement with global Jewish issues and Jewish life.