An innovation experience: The ROI Summit

The ROI Summit is the key annual event of the ROI Community. 120 new members (first time summit participants) as well as 30 alumni gathered in Jerusalem. As someone attending ROI for the third time, I’ve seen it start as a mind blowing experience, and get better each year. From technical innovators to artists, from those strengthening community, to those expanding our diversity, every angle was not only covered, but working in harmony. This alone is a colossal achievement.
Lynn Schusterman, creator of the ROI summit, personally invests not only her money but herself in the Summit. Not only does she attend each summit, and get to know all the participants, but she emotionally invests in those ideas that strike a cord with her, and offers encouragement and an emotional understanding of the risks, uncertainties, and daily challenges faced by Jewish innovators. Real innovation is revolutionary, and that is what Lynn invests in, shaping, changing and improving Jewish life in Israel and in the Diaspora, not only now but also for the future.
Pervading the ROI summit was the spirit of Charles Schusterman, Lynn’s late husband. The Foundation started as a partnership between Charles and Lynn, and as Lynn told us, death does not need to end a relationship. It was that relationship that is the real magic of the ROI Community. From a relationship between a loving couple, it has become a relationship of a family 600 hundred strong. At one point Lynn told the gathered participants she saw us all as her children, and how proud she was of us. At another, I saw her playing peek-a-boo across the room with one of the participant’s babies. Lynn told us that she made it possible, but we, the ROI Community members, make it happen. Lynn, and indeed Charles, have made it possible not only by bringing people together and making the connections that make projects logistically feasible, but by inspiring us.
The final part of the ROI Summit program, the ROI Innovation Showcase, gives a window into the ROI Community. It was the culmination of a three day process involving both summit participants and other members of the ROI Community. It started with an invitation to summit participants to submit project ideas in groups, then all members of the ROI Community could vote on the best ideas. 35 ideas were generated, 630 votes were cast and 92 comments were received, all empowered by web-based technology. ROI brought summit participants together to think and plan collaboratively, and used technology to remove the barrier of distance for participation in the process.
The most popular three projects were presented in front of an expert panel. The panel included Bambi Sheleg, Naomi Fortis, Sandy Cardin and Yossi Vardi. The panel composition shows the depth the ROI Summit brings to the participants, the chance to learn from leading experts. Bambi Sheleg, is a journalist, commentator, editor and champion on pluralism and promotion of Jewish and Israeli identity.  Naomi Fortis, is a highly claimed artistic director, co-director of the Jerusalem Season of Culture and former executive director of the Bat Sheva Dance Company. Sandy Cardin is a leader in Jewish communal service and President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Yossi Vardi is the godfather of the Israeli start-up industry, a strategic advisor to companies like Amazon and AOL, and a legendary community builder. Three ROI Projects were presented by the participants who created them.
There were two moments that standout for me in the Innovation Showcase. The first was when Yossi Vardi opened the questions to the first project. It was immediately clear that he felt this project was well developed and ready to move forward, his questions had an implicit assumption that this project was well established. The response however blew him away. The project proposers explained that they had the idea just 48 hours earlier.  This experience showed ROI’s hyper-incubation for innovation.
The second moment was after all the projects had been presented. What made this special was that Lyn Schusterman decided to weigh in to personally endorse the projects. The second project was about the future of involvement for those in their late 30s, and Lynn assigned the ROI and Foundation staff to work on this. The other idea was a Jewish / Israel Global Peace Crops. Lynn explained the difficulty with making this idea happen in the past, then announced she would work to overcome those difficulties and try to make this project happen.
Lynn knows the challenge of causing change, she has for example been an integral part of the miracle that is Birthright, and she personally knows the challenges, pitfalls and frustrations all in the ROI Community face as they try to make a change in the world. Today, however, she is head of a 600 strong family of change makers. From the opportunities of vibrant Jewish living provided through Moishe Houses to the renewal of enjoyment in bible studies through G-d Cast, and online activism for causes like Gilad Shalit, a change is happening not only in the Jewish world, but in the world in general. Lynn Schusterman, Charles Schusterman and an ongoing relationship with the Jewish people is making that change possible.