I arrive at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem mid-afternoon. I check into my hotel room to wash the hours of travel off of me before heading down to meet the group for dinner. After stuffing myself with Israeli salads and hummus galore, I head to the ROI Lab to officially kick off the summit.
In his opening remarks Justin Korda, ROI Community’s executive director, conveys that ROI is professional, but tries not to take itself too seriously. I agree. Opening night icebreakers are a series of improvisation games. I’m an introvert by nature, but I made a promise that at ROI I would challenge myself. We shout our names, throw imaginary balls to each other, and play a massive game of rock-paper-scissors. This is a lively and dynamic group of people. I can already sense that the next few days are going to be full of intense discussion and laughter.
The first full day begins with a speech by Korda in which he talks about how the ROI Community is investing in us as individuals — an empowering statement. Here I am with a new, influential network at my fingertips, cheering me on to succeed.
Following the speech, one of my favorite activities: the case study. It’s a great exercise, during which one young woman presents a business problem to a group of 20 participants — coming up with alternative ways to generate revenue for her nonprofit organization. Through a structured facilitation, we listen, ask questions, and propose solutions to her problem. Not only is the group making very strong recommendations, but we are being forced to think critically and spontaneously, which produces a lot of creativity. I’m very excited to use this exercise in my work at BBYO.
Meals at ROI are an adventure in themselves. I begin each day sitting down at a breakfast table full of unfamiliar faces. I don’t think I’ve eaten with the same people twice and the conversation is a constant debrief of the excitement of the summit.
These unscripted conversations are the best part of the ROI Summit. One of the most powerful conversations for me came with the Open Spaces facilitation. The group is given five minutes to write topics on blank pieces of paper. Anything is on the table, from “feminism in Judaism” to Game of Thrones. Once all the topics are hung up around the room, we go to the topic of our choice. I join a group where we talk about our journey over the next 10 years. Everyone approaches the question differently, discussing personal issues like the desire to have a family, or more concrete experiences, like learning to skydive. Every contribution is genuine. I am moved by how we not only answer the question but also analyze what it means to each of us. There is a lot of laughter and positivity. Listening to people share their dreams with a group of near strangers who encourage them without a shred of skepticism is uplifting.
After a full day of programming, we spend the final evening of the summit at the Israel Museum on personalized behind-the-scenes tours of the museum. The architecture of the museum is beautiful — rooms flow gracefully into one another and the last hours of daylight stream through the tall windows. We eat a spectacular dinner on the veranda overlooking Jerusalem. I’ll always remember listening to Lynn Schusterman, founder and co-chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network, speak about social entrepreneurship and why she invests in the Jewish community. She encourages us to be bold in working towards our dreams, to take chances and to stay connected to the Jewish and ROI communities.
In a very entertaining session, the ROI staff employs the use of magic tricks (seriously) to walk us through microgrant opportunities, partnerships and other ways to stay connected to the ROI Community. I’m excited to attend ROI meet-ups in D.C. and New York and use the ROI microgrants for future professional development opportunities to learn more about using data and technology in a nonprofit setting.
As I leave the Crowne Plaza Hotel and walk with two new friends to one’s Jerusalem apartment, I am exhausted but invigorated. My mind is running a mile a minute as I’m thinking about the conversations I had and the people I met. I know the ROI Summit was only the beginning of my involvement with this organization and this community, and I am energized by my ideas of what’s to come.
Emma Roberts is associate of development operations at BBYO in Washington, D.C.