When developing a project for your local community – which you have never worked on before – it’s ideal to look outside your immediate context for similar initiatives that may provide useful ideas.
In many cases that means searching for answers in countries – and even continents different from your own. When building the Chilean Federation of Jewish Students, Greece turned out to be that country.
You may ask, why Greece? The answer is not found in the fabric of Greece itself, but in a special meeting that took place within its borders: the Presidents Conference organized by the World Union of Jewish Students. Jewish Student Union presidents from all over Europe (and also South Africa) gathered in the same place for a couple of days sharing best practices, ideas for activities, and over all, visions on the substance of young, Jewish activists all over the world.
The experience taught me many things, but it also reaffirmed many of the core values I truly believe – but often do not have an opportunity to see put into action.
I want to focus on three key lessons in hopes that they may be of use to activists elsewhere, just as the conference was useful for me.
The first ] lesson refers to what I call the “reinventing the wheel syndrome.” Frequently, when faced with their first challenges in community building projects, people tend to believe the problems they are experiencing are unique and therefore isolate themselves from external advice.
This means time spent finding solutions that have already been discovered by others in similar situations but in other moments in time. Meetings such as the Presidents Conference are great examples of how challenges should be faced: not alone, but in teams (I prefer this concept to that of groups). This can be replicated at any scale. Team dynamics will not only improve efficiency but will increase motivation among the members and generate new ideas and perspectives.
The second lesson refers team unity. Being united and consistent as a team is good, but having the cohesive factor of diversity is even better. Surrounding yourself with people of different backgrounds and mindsets is the most powerful driver of success you can use. Of course, at times there will be disagreements and intense discussions but do not let yourself be overcome by those situations, because they are a natural part of any creative process.
Finally, always keep your mind on your vision. Don’t let changes frustrate you. It’s the balance between keeping focus and being able to improvise that give you true satisfaction in the end. Many are the lessons to be learned in the path of activism and community leadership, but it is my belief that if you internalize these three suggestions, half of the battle is already won.