'Mini Me' helps young Jews make a big difference

Actor Verne Troyer stars in video clip to promote innovator group’s global micro-grants for Jewish youth around the world.

Mini Me at Mini Israel 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mini Me at Mini Israel 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Mini Me is telling the world about a new “mini” grant fund for young Jewish leaders.
In an online video filmed at Mini Israel, actor Verne Troyer, best known for playing Dr. Evil’s diminutive protégé Mini Me in the Austin Powers film series, explained how the ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators’ $100,000 microgrants fund can make a difference in Jewish communities around the world.
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Within 12 hours of posting the video on its website Wednesday, ROI received five applications for grants from the new fund – two from Israel, two from the US, and one from Latin America. The microgrants fund will give recipients chosen from ROI’s network of young people up to $1,000 to travel to conferences, participate in special courses or training exercises, sponsor events, or pay for corporate services such as graphic design and media relations that are needed for initiatives. ROI is open to suggestions from program participants about other types of grants, said No’a Gorlin, the group’s grants manager.
The video featuring Troyer and co-starring ROI member Vera Wisterova, who works for MTV in Slovakia, was the winning entrant in the Jewish group’s video contest to promote the fund and application process. Wisterova collaborated on the video – filmed when Troyer visited Israel last month to take part in an advertising campaign for the TNT clothing line – with ROI members William Levin, who created the Shabot 6000 online comic strip, and Traci Szymanski, a talent agent at Hollywood Knights International in Encino, California, who brought Troyer on board.
“Giving small amounts of money to young people at a critical point in their professional development can have a huge impact,” said Gorlin. “We want this to be known outside of our online network as a philanthropic model that people should consider for funding young Jewish innovators.”
For the next six months, potential micro-grant recipients will have to answer questions for a study commissioned by ROI. Awardees will be contacted to provide more information for the study when they make use of the funds.
ROI will publish a report, aimed at other Jewish philanthropic organizations, with its findings about the applicants and funded initiatives next year.
“We’d like other foundations and federations to consider opening up these types of funding pools to young people in their areas,” said Gorlin.
ROI – which currently includes 550 people in their 20s and 30s from 38 countries – was established in 2005 by the Israel Democracy Institute and Taglit-Birthright Israel with funding from the Bernie Marcus Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
The following year, it became a partnership between Taglit-Birthright and a Schusterman foundation affiliate, the Center for Leadership Initiatives.
The idea of providing funding to members of the network emerged as ROI grew.
“It was something we thought about when the program was created, but as it’s evolved and matured, we’ve come to the realization that there is very positive strategic leverage in these kinds of grants,” said Sanford Cardin, president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
The micro-grants fund is a follow-up effort to ROI’s speakers’ bureau, a microgrant initiative established in 2008 to pay travel expenses for young Jewish adults interested in attending conferences. The speakers’ bureau is now under the micro-grants fund umbrella.
Besides the micro-grants fund, ROI has provided seed funding for various projects since 2008. Last year, almost $500,000 was given to 35 initiatives in 11 countries. The next round of seed funding begins in July. Unlike the seed funding, money from the micro-grants fund will be available year-round and there is no set deadline for applications.
Past projects that received ROI funding include Jewcology.com, an Internet portal for Jewish environmentalists to share resources, and El Toratrón, a Buenos Aires-based theater ensemble that presents Jewish- and biblical-themed shows.
ROI, which became an independent operating foundation in Israel and the US earlier this year, holds an annual international conference, the ROI Global Summit, for 120 new members – 40 from Israel, 40 from North America and 40 from other parts of the world.
The next ROI Global Summit will be held at the Dan Jerusalem in the capital’s French Hill neighborhood from June 12-16.
ROI received over 550 applications for this year’s ROI Global Summit. Selections of applicants, who come from a variety of countries and all of whom had to be referred by a Jewish organization, are expected to be completed by April.