Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Living Jews: Margo Schwartz, Leader of the Next Gen

Despite what you may think of Malcolm Gladwell's ideas in The Tipping Point, we all probably have met a Connector. Connectors "link us up with the world ... people with a special gift for bringing the world together."

Margo Schwartz has this gift.

As former head of the Young Professionals Division of the STL Jewish Federation, Margo is no stranger to the needs and strengths of the St. Louis Jewish community.

She is in many ways responsible for the connections that led to the creation of the Moishe House in St. Louis, as well as the much of YPD's recent successes.

So how did this young Yid get to where she is today?

"Jewish Community work sounded like a dirty work to me," explained Margo of her early twenties. "But I moved to St. Louis, not knowing anyone, without any connections, and I turned to the Federation to help me network."

It just so happened that JFed offered her a job which, despite a lack of interest, she took. Six months in, she was bored out of her mind and, never lacking in assertiveness, she made her feelings known. As luck would have it, the then-YPD staff person was leaving, and JFed saw in Margo the energy that has made her so successful.

Margo believes that her success was based on the partnership she was able to form the the then-president of YPD. In fact, she believes that a lay leader in close coordination with a staff-person provides the ideal model for collaboration.   "Lay leaders can burn out, move, or simply move on to other things, but when you have staff people who are paid to work on these programs, it is more likely to survive."

Also, as a transplant, Margo wanted to make sure that events were things in which she, herself, would want to participate.

It was in this position that Margo's natural abilities were able to thrive as she began meeting people in the community and cultivating them into leaders.

A staunch defender of the Federation, Margo makes it clear that despite what some do or don't like about the way that things are run, JFed is a crucial part of the Jewish community.

So what does she actually do? "My job is to go to young leaders with the 'it' factor and ask 'what do you want to make happen, and how can we get it there'."

Now that you understand a bit about Margo, you can probably appreciate why we felt it was so important to sit down with her and ask a few questions about the current state of the Jewish community in St. Louis and future directions.

Margo was clear in stating, "I want leaders to be thinking about a succession plan. . . how to transfer knowledge and experience. I want them to think about who they are investing in."

"The question is," explains Margo, "what is your living legacy?"

"A lot of people who give so generously to the Federation do it because they want to be able to leave a fingerprint, a positive impact on the community, which is a wonderful thing."

A big issue according to Margo, is having faith in the next generation of Jewish leadership and building partnerships.

Where does Margo see all of this taking her, as the next generation of Jewish leadership?
"Do I want to be Barry [Rosenberg, VP of JFed STL] someday? I think so, but he makes some hard decisions I wouldn't want to make."

Some of those hard decisions come from the fact that the community is changing. A fact which Margo understands.

"Any Jewish professional who is reading the research knows that we need to take events out of the institutions, and if they haven't read it, they shouldn't come back to work until they have."
Luckily, for all of you Jewish professionals out there, you can read up on it, here.

No comments: