by Eric Hal Schwartz
Six young, Jewish entrepreneurs and leaders from the Washington, D.C., area will travel to Israel next week for the eighth-annual, five-day ROI Summit, a chance to meet and engage with other innovative Jewish young men and women from nearly 40 countries.
“We want to create a global community of reciprocity,” said Justin Korda, executive director of the ROI Community.
The ROI Summit helps give ambitious young professionals an opportunity to advance their ideas and projects with others from around the world, getting feedback and help in their goals. Korda said that citizens of more than 50 countries have participated over the years and extended the network to millions of young Jewish people.
“They’ve really helped me realize my value,” said Evonne Marzouk, who will be attending the summit for the third time, having first gone in 2008 and then attended an alumni version in 2010.
Marzouk is the executive director of Canfei Nesharim, a group that works to educate and encourage leadership among Jewish environmental activists. She also pursues her promotion of Jewish environmentalism as the team leader for Jewcology.
“The participants all in one way or another make Jewish life more exciting and relevant to young people all over the world,” Korda said.
The conference draws Jews in many fields of Jewish activism and endeavors. The application process takes place months ahead of time and an international committee scores the applicants carefully before choosing those who will attend. This year around 650 people applied for only 120 spots plus 30 reserved for returning participants like Marzouk.
“It looked really interesting when I first saw it,” said Emma Roberts, one of the attendees this year.
Roberts, who works as associate of development operations for BBYO, said she is looking forward especially to the networking possibilities provided by the trip, as developing relationship building skills is essential for her position.
“It seemed like a very unique opportunity,” she said.
The interactions and possible new partnerships that can be formed at the conference is one reason Marzouk said she is looking forward to attending again as each time offers new possibilities.
“I’m interested in meeting new innovators,” Marzouk said.
The main content of the Summit combines networking and idea-sharing sessions to get feedback and brainstorm collaboration possibilities floated for future ventures. Working together after the conference is encouraged and not uncommon, helping advance projects to come. Korda said among other activities, they hold smaller conferences to let participants follow up with each other as well as offer microgrants of up to $1,000 for professional development.
“They invest in people, not just projects,” Marzouk said.
Long-term involvement has always been a hallmark of ROI, she added, and is a key aspect of the overall vision the summit offers to participants.
“They cultivate leaders regardless of what the project is and how long it lasts,” she said.
Once back from the conference, the cachet of having attended along with the practical benefits may prove a big boost for participants.
“People see it as very prestigious,” Roberts said, explaining how she wants to apply the lessons taught at the summit to her job overall.
“I can promote myself to be an advocate for what I believe in, like community building,” she said
Since her first involvement with ROI, Marzouk has said that she has been able to grow not only her projects but her professional skill sets, as well.
“ROI has been very supportive and really helpful,” she said. “The conference gets better and better, I’m looking forward to it.”