Jewish New Media Innovation Fund Winners Go Beyond Those Awarded Funds

Today the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund announced the winners of the exciting process that help catalyze our community to focus on new media, our missions, and our strategy for the digital age. It was a fascinating experience to read the applications of the final 30, think deeply about the criteria of the fund, collaborate with an extraordinary team of advisors, and work with three visionary foundations. I am honored to have been part of this pilot year, and I hope that this initiative, and others like it, will continue.

While I’m quite excited about the projects that have been awarded funding, I’m even more excited about the broader impact that this fund has had on established organizations, entrepreneurs, and funders alike. Having worked to advance the Jewish community’s use of digital media for over 10 years now (wow, that went fast), I can see that even the announcement of the Fund changed the conversations among staff and lay leaders throughout the Jewish community. While a social media and mobile strategy might have been pushed to the bottom of the agenda over and over again, the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund forced them to put it at the top of the agenda, and to think about it strategically, not just tactically. Regardless of whether or not these ideas were funded today, providing an incentive, structure and time line I’m sure has deepened and advanced the work of many applicants.

It’s also important to note that the criteria used to evaluate the proposals has an impact beyond the short term decision making about fund allocation. For example, one requirement was that the projects would be able to launch or achieve results within 12 months. While in some cases this felt like a really compressed time line, the reality is that we are all in a permanent beta mode — we have to throw ideas against the wall, assess their effectiveness, and continue to refine over time. If you’re spending more than a year putting it together, either the idea wasn’t sufficiently thought out to begin with, or you’re not prepared to develop in an agile and iterative process.

The fund also set a priority on innovation – though the term was fairly broadly defined. In many cases, I think the made applicants really think beyond the obvious. I was impressed by how many applications viewed their mission through a new lens as they developed their applications. While the technology employed may not have been so “innovative” and new, the ways that they were thinking about their work clearly were. Kol hakavod to those that busted through the walls of their buildings, put the freedom of exploration in the hands of their users, and researched technologies, platforms and models outside of their immediate sphere of influence, or even their comfort zones.

There are many more lessons to be learned from the applicant pool, process, and over time, the outcomes of the projects funded. Regardless of who receives a check, this Fund was a tremendous gift to our community. I hope that those who used the opportunity to think in new and deeper and riskier ways will still find inspiration and value from the process, and will resolve to continue to take action on these ideas by incorporating these costs into their operating budget where appropriate, writing other grants, and seeking the support of other funders – foundations and individuals – who also recognize that these tools, ideas and approaches are critical to our communal future.

Are you an applicant to the #JNMIF who didn’t get your project funded this round? How are you going to proceed with this work? What non-financial assistance do you need? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Jewish New Media Fund Injects Energy – and Cash

jnmiflogoFor years the Jewish community has lagged behind general society in creative and effective use of technology and new media. This observation (and personal frustration with it) was the genesis of Darim 10 years ago. There are many obstacles – skills, staffing, design, willingness to take risks, or to know where to take risks. And of course, money. In recent years a number of creative, and largely independent, social entrepreneurs in the Jewish community have taken matters into their own hands, building and launching interesting applications on a shoestring, sometimes at night while holding down a full time job to pay the bills. But in general, the organizations, their audiences, the designers and programmers, and the funders haven’t been speaking the same language. Some people are preaching open source and others and pressing CDroms. Where do we go from here? Three of the nation’s largest Jewish foundations – the Righteous Persons Foundation, the Jim Joseph Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation – have announced the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund to help energize the community to focus on the need for new media innovations, and to help bring them to life. While a pool of $500,000 injects important dollars to jumpstart new and support developing projects, I think this fund — and the role of three prominent foundations — is a critically important statement to the community. This is not optional anymore. This is our present, and our future, and there is no time to waste. I know a lot of people with some very creative ideas, and this is a tremendous opportunity for us to recognize the talents that exist within the Jewish community, and to take advantage. The fund intends to support interactive, digital efforts that are creative and impactful, and which and engage with Jews and Judaism in ways that promote moremeaningful and vibrant Jewish life in the 21st century. The Fund will support individuals, 501c3 non-profit organizations, social enterprises, and for-profit businesses. Collaborative projects are welcomed and encouraged. All the details and the application form are here. Deadline is November 22, 2010. Funding decisions will be made in February, 2011.