A few years ago, Shawn Landres and Joshua Avedon produced a report looking at Jewish nonprofit ventures that thrust them to the forefront of thinking and action around social and cultural innovation in America. Their work convinced the Jewish Community Foundation in Los Angeles and other funders to invest in building the then-fledgling Jewish Jumpstart, an effort to address the needs of emerging Jewish community organizations. Josh and Shawn knew part of Jumpstart’s efforts would need to include services to help Jewish social innovators develop their projects. Inspired by Community Partners’ full service capabilities as a fiscal sponsor, the pair proposed a partnership: Jumpstart would identify social entrepreneurs with worthy new ventures and provide them with technical assistance and peer learning opportunities; Community Partners would nurture them and their projects under its umbrella. We inked a three-year pact and launched the Community Partners/Jumpstart Project in 2010.
Last Wednesday, July 11, the White House placed this unique alliance in the bright and inspiring beam of its national spotlight at the first White House Faith-Based Social Innovators Conference. The conference was the mutual brainchild of Jonathan Greenblatt, who directs the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and Joshua DuBois, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. I was honored to be in attendance along with Joshua and Shawn and the many other distinguished innovators.
During one conference panel discussion, Shawn highlighted the key features and philosophy of the Jumpstart-Community Partners partnership. One of his most compelling points addressed the importance of finding common ground around those sometimes-prickly places in American society where values that are faith-based and those that are more secular and civic in origin frequently intersect, but too often collide.
“Faith-based need not mean faith-bound,” Shawn told the gathering. “And secular social enterprise need not isolate itself from faith-born creativity.” It’s important that Americans remember, in other words, to pave a two-way street in every community wide enough both for those driven by a sense of civic duty to meet human needs and people powered by fuel of a more spiritual sort.
The message of such a radically centrist notion of social action – in which values-driven secular and faith-driven actors may have genuine differences and yet move forward on the basis of strong, shared purpose – seems to elude too many leaders in today’s polarized politics. Of all the sharp objects slicing up the common good today, the “values wedge” and all the collateral casualties it claims when whipped wildly about is one of the nastiest in use. Indeed, Shawn cited Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter’s observation that religion in the public square sometimes stops conversation when it should start them.
That’s what’s so refreshing about the White House stepping up with the July 11 gathering. And that’s why Jumpstart and Community Partners will explore how best to bring our Washington conversations home to Southern California. We look forward to sharing the results of our efforts in the months ahead.