28 February 2020
If we took a comprehensive look at the landscape of Jewish Greater Washington, we would recognize a plethora of stellar organizations—large, small, established, and burgeoning. In fact, many of us who moved (or moved back) to the region as adults first established our connection to the community through a specific organization and have remained involved ever since. This is great. We would hope that a robust community such as ours would be host to a strong and diverse set of organizations, supported by passionate and engaged community members. But a collection of individual organizations does not a community make. That’s why Federation is more focused than ever on building up the spaces in between, so as to continue transforming a landscape of bright lights into a cohesive, vibrant community.
You see, there is a term circulating in our Federation offices, “silos of excellence.” Depending on who you ask, the term either originated in the halls of a notable consulting firm or from the desk of community member Eliot Goldberg. Regardless, this concept has struck a chord because it seems to reflect the current state of affairs in Greater Washington—one we are eager to build upon. Our goal is to help reduce the barriers between silos and bring organizations together in the pursuit of common goals. We want to help create a more fully-realized communal network better able to serve the needs of the country’s third-largest Jewish population.
The question lies in how best to proceed in this work. Here in Greater Washington, we know a thing or ten about organizational change. But as community-change expert Rich Harwood describes, transforming a community requires a wholly different process. Harwood is the president and founder of the Harwood Institute, and recently came to speak with our Board of Directors about ways we can help bring our community’s silos together. Reinforcing the main points Harwood shared with us is the idea that each and every step toward change must stem from the bottom up.
Harwood emphasized that the most effective efforts are those that reflect what truly matters to people in their daily lives. And in order to understand what keeps people up at night—and what gives them hope—we first have to ask and then really listen. Indeed, the reasons for creating change should reflect the needs and desires of community members, while the methods for creating change should account for and be tailored to the dynamics of the local community. This advice is particularly salient in faster-growing areas like Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon, and Prince William counties, where there are many newcomers seeking to connect.
With Harwood’s lessons in mind, it would be easy for Federation to simply tout grassroots change and call on others to step up to the plate. But we have a crucial responsibility here, too. As one of the institutions with a bird’s-eye view of where our community stands today and where it could journey together tomorrow, we have an obligation to act on what we see. In particular, we are focused on empowering, engaging, and connecting those organizations and community members who want to lead the way forward.
We also know this work starts with your voice. On behalf of all of us at Federation, we want to hear from you. What are your aspirations for yourself, for your family, and for this community? In what ways can we work together to make them a reality? I hope that in the days and months ahead, you won’t hesitate to offer your input and join us in our efforts to ensure that our silos of excellence give way to a community of excellence.