Looking Onward: Towards 2020 - 12/13/2019
by Ilan Wagner
Onward Israel President & CEO
The Year That Was, The Year That Will Be
From a programmatic point of view we can sum up 2019 as our biggest and best year to date: 2806 participants (12% growth) and quality improvements in six of the seven indicators we use to measure ourselves. When we originally planned 2019 we asked whether Onward Israel could truly grow with quality- the answer is a resounding yes. This of course doesn’t mean that we aren’t asking the same question as we launch our 9th year of operations in 2020. Growth is contingent on securing the needed financial resources, launching new partnerships, expanding recruitment, securing additional placement opportunities, finding sufficient housing solutions and making sure that our organizers grow in their capacity to implement additional programs for additional participants. Until now, the Onward Israel network of local partners, organizers, funders, and staff have succeeded in this task 8 years in a row. We are hopeful, and confident, that 2020 will continue this positive trend. As we grow, we plan to continue expanding our strategic partnership with Masa Israel Journey, now including some 75% of our participants. Increased synergy in our CRM systems, clearer branding and exploration of further collaboration on marketing, internships and education are all part of this stronger cooperation.
Onward Israel’s winter program mix is always a fascinating one: Latin Americans, South Africans, Australians, Europeans and North Americans arrive on different dates, live and work in different cities and participate in a variety of programmatic models. Some programs started in early November, while others won’t begin until mid-January. Many programs are internships, while others offer professional training, opportunities to learn coding, and even preparation for those wishing to volunteer in the IDF. We expect Winter 2020 registration numbers to be similar to those of Winter 2019: approximately 400 participants. Although the diversity of programs is impressive, it is a challenge to find points of interaction and encounter between programs – one of the strong points of the summer season. We believe that the sense of Jewish Peoplehood, which is one of the outcomes of Onward Israel, is fostered by such inter-program interaction and hence we will continue to think of creative solutions. Speaking of creativity, one of the interesting program ideas that we are exploring this winter is the idea of a remote work retreat in partnership with an organization called Gather. Their unique idea is to provide a co-work space in Israel for young people from abroad who already work remotely, and to combine such a space with educational, enrichment and experiential aspects. The pilot cohort is scheduled for a kibbutz in the North of Israel in the month of January.
One of our busiest times of year is actually not when the participants are on the ground (though that is busy too, of course) but in the period between September 1 and November 18. In these 10 weeks, we review all of the previous year’s programs, secure new partners, work with organizers to update continuing programs, and coordinate program approvals with our partners at Masa. Once program details (price, dates and number of participants) are agreed upon, account managers work with each local partner to coordinate the program launch, open the application and begin registration. Three programs – Camp Counselors, Toronto, and Montreal – were actually launched in October because they begin in May, but the vast majority of North American programs were launched on November 18. In the first few days of registration, 609 applicants registered for programs, an increase of 30% over the same time period last year. We don’t expect such registration pace to continue, but we are encouraged by this platform for continued growth in 2020. The 2020 menu includes some exciting new programs: In the campus initiative, we are welcoming new cohorts with Vanderbilt Hillel, University of Michigan Hillel, and University of Texas Hillel, as well as a new partnership with Olami and jInternship at Rutgers. We are very excited that the Detroit Federation has joined us with its own cohort and we are also initiating a new theme based program partnership with JNF around the Aleh Negev rehabilitation village. On the community side, we hope to grow the size of community cohorts in South Palm Beach, Chicago and New York. The final size of each cohort is a function of recruitment and funding, and even after program launch we carefully monitoring both of those vectors to assess final program size.