The PresenTense Group, the scrappy social entrepreneurship incubator, has named new co-directors who will be based in New York instead of Israel. Naomi Korb Weiss, previously the group’s training director, and Shelby Zeitelman, its former program director in North America, say they want to broaden the reach of PresenTense, which received official non-profit status in 2010.
Founded by Ariel Beery and Aharon Horowitz, the $1.4 million PresenTense works with much larger groups including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and is known primarily for helping a range of grass-roots Jewish-life projects in Israel, the United States and the former Soviet Union, get off the ground. The group also has a director in Israel.
“The U.S. is catching up to Israel,” said Weiss, 31. “The fellowships have been on the ground there longer, they’re already get [many] calls from other organizations looking to partner. [U.S.-based fellowships are] a year or two behind that.”
PresenTense operates in seven cities in the U.S. so far. It started fellowships here in 2009; in Israel, in 2007. Examples of groups that started out with PresentTense’s help in the United States: The Jewish Plays Project, which mounts plays and runs playwriting competitions in the New York area; Jewish Kids’ Groups, an independent Hebrew school in Atlanta and Heart to Heart, a movement to share Jewish life on campus.
Because Israel is so small, it was easy to organize PresenTense’s growth there out of a single location in Jerusalem, said Aliza Mazor, the director of Bikkurim, a New York-based organization that like PresenTense supports fledgling nonprofits, although Bikkurim work with a smaller number of more established groups.
Here, the group plans to grow its consulting practice, put its curriculum online and work more actively with alumni, Zeitelman and Weiss said.
“Their hub in Jerusalem is alive,” Mazor said. “There’s individual entrepreneurs. There’s for-profit entrepreneurs. In each city, [PresenTense] takes a different form, but they’re the gathering ground for that early-stage entrepreneurial energy.”
The organization uses an application process to select a group of fellows with ideas for bettering Jewish life. It then helps the fellows implement their vision by giving them support and training — but not funding.
Besides Bikkurim, other groups that similarly work to support young nonprofits and Jewish innovators include Upstart in the San Francisco area, JumpStart in Los Angeles, Joshua Venture Group in New York and ROI Community, a creation of philanthropist Lynn Schusterman.
“The organization started in Israel, and now we’ve made this reverse commute,” said Zitelman, 27. “It will be easier to develop relationships with the organizations we’re partnering with. Ariel and Aharon were on a plane every month.”
PresenTense has already worked in a consulting mode with such groups as BBYO, the youth group, and Masa Israel Journey, the Israeli nonprofit that administers and supports work and study programs. Its plans for its alumni include a summit that would feature competitions to devise new business models and facilitate fellows’ efforts to replicate successful models.
“What PresentTense does best is being one of those places where idea can bubble up,” Mazor said.