When we partnered with Penni and Stephen Weinberg four years ago to establish the Penni and Stephen Weinberg Center for Lay Leadership, the concept of lay leadership as known in the United States was almost unknown in Israel. Since then, the Center has made significant progress in encouraging Israel’s emerging lay leaders to “step up to the plate”.
One of the Center’s initiatives, in partnership with Microsoft Israel and Zionism 2000, is called Synergy. This groundbreaking partnership is bringing the best of the business and non-profit worlds together for the benefit of Israeli civil society. By matching promising managers from high-tech companies with Israeli non-profits, Synergy is strengthening non-profit boards while creating a new path for high tech leaders to engage third sector organizations and impact Israeli society.
Synergy has successfully recruited senior Microsoft managers to the boards of eight non-profit organizations. This initiative has created mutually beneficial relationships, as the new board members bring business rigor to the non-profit culture, while gaining new social leadership and management skills and enjoying the opportunity to be part of social change. Microsoft has recognized the value that Synergy has brought to participants, and indeed to the company itself.
In fact, this “carryover” of abilities is one of Microsoft’s expected returns on their investment. Therefore, Microsoft’s performance evaluations of Synergy members take into account their effectiveness on their respective boards. This motivator for the new board members to excel in their lay leadership roles upgrades the functioning of the entire board, and ultimately benefits the organizations. This symbiotic relationship is at the heart of the Synergy program.
Synergy board members are playing important roles in their lay leadership positions. In one organization, the Synergy member was critical to helping the board translate their strategic plan into measurable goals and a work plan for 2011, something that the board had not accomplished in years. In addition, she has been actively involved in fundraising and has used her business skills to present the organizations accomplishments to foundation representatives visiting from the U.S.
In another organization, the Synergy member is contributing his considerable expertise to advance the finance and fundraising committee. In a third, the Synergy member has become extremely active on the board, and recently asked to lead a strategic process to better define the responsibilities of the organization’s local branches versus its national headquarters, as well as those of paid staff versus volunteers.
In order to ensure the success of the program, the Center invests considerable effort in each and every board member and organization. We interview potential board members, train them in advance of their placement, identify organizations based on clear criteria, match each board member with an appropriate organization, and provide ongoing support and consult to each organization over a two year period.
An independent evaluation of the program indicates that participating organizations are extremely pleased with their experience. They report that Synergy board members have used their management experience and results-oriented thinking to impact critical board tasks. They have served as change agents, increasing their boards’ efficacy and recruiting new board members.
It is also clear from the evaluation that Synergy has been beneficial to the board members, who report that their service has contributed to them through:
– Understanding and appreciating a new sector and exposure to new ways of thinking
– Ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with people from diverse personal and professional backgrounds
– Opportunity to have organization-wide impact through influencing policy and strategy
– Collaborative, non-hierarchical team-work and decision making skills
Deep sense of personal satisfaction –
Together with Matan (Israel’s United Way), we recently launched a new Synergy partnership with Ness Technologies. With campuses in Tel Aviv and Beersheva, Ness is one of the leading technology services firms in the Middle East, and its managers will begin serving in approximately 14 non-profit organizations throughout Israel. In another exciting development, Microsoft has decided to expand the program, and is now recruiting more senior level managers – direct reports of the CEO – to participate in the program.
Synergy is not only an effective program, but a successful cross-sector collaboration. The experience we gained through Synergy will help us develop other collaborations among leaders, including a model for recruiting senior civil servants to non-profit Boards. More on cross sector collaborations next time…
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Penni and Steve Weinberg for their support, vision and leadership, which have enabled the development and success of this innovative program.