September 29, 2009

Training the Best of the Best

The latest briefing from Steve Schwager, CEO

Time and again, people call or email me after they travel abroad to comment on the unique quality of JDC and the staff they meet in each overseas community. I could simply say “thank you” and that we have an excellent recruiting process, but truthfully that is only part of the story.

JDC is a complex organization supporting hundreds of programs at thousands of sites; we spend in excess of $1 million a day in the process. Since our operating model around the world is to empower local communities, those communities must be prepared to shoulder the responsibility of carrying out JDC programs—and this requires high quality professionals. How can we best guarantee such an outcome?

The answer is that we devote significant time and effort to training. This is critically important in countries where community development skills and leadership skills are not equal to those we find in the West.

Given the size and breath of our activities, each person in our organization and in the local communities must be trained to handle effectively the many and varied scenarios they may face. We train dedicated JDC professionals, local community staff, volunteers, and lay leaders so that they have the know-how to most efficiently and effectively help those in need. If we do not inculcate this essential knowledge into the process and that information is not passed down through training one generation after another, then the chain will be broken and essentials—such as food and medicine—will not reach clients in need in the most efficient manner.


JDC tackles this issue through a pillar of its training activities: the Buncher Community Leadership Program. This program teaches critical leadership and management skills to lay and professional leaders across the globe. As Buncher graduate Alyona Van-Yu from Tashkent, Uzbekistan remarked: “I understood that the rich and diverse knowledge that I've received from the training has to be passed to all the members of the JCC professional team. Through Buncher, we are arranging short- and long-term training programs based on the professional needs in the current social and economic situation. I believe that the skills of analyzing, planning, and leadership that Buncher gave me will no doubt assist my employees to effectively run the JCC programs."

Throughout its 18 years, Buncher has ensured the continuity of knowledge and skills within a community in order to help as many people as possible. It is apropos to highlight Buncher in its 18th—“chai”—year, as the program truly gives “life” to leadership skills, which in turn improve the lives of the people we serve.

Today, Buncher has trained lay leaders and professional staff around the world, including the FSU, Eastern Europe, the Baltics, India, and Latin America. As Buncher graduates take on key roles in running their own organizations, they bring their staff to Buncher training programs, thereby continuing the Buncher legacy of excellence in training. Refresher courses, currently given to graduates in more than 30 countries, are another means of ensuring that this knowledge is developed and passed on year after year. “I was happy to learn a very structured and practical skill of planning community work. I will have to teach it to my team and to start planning together with them,” says Ezri Cristian, a participant from Romania. “Today, more than ever, we have to be well-trained, and pass that training on, in order to perform community work efficiently.”

Simon Gurevitchius , CEO of the National Jewish Federation of Lithuania and Vice President of the Jewish Community of Vilnius, defines the success of the program succinctly: “Buncher made the most crucial change in my life. I have now a clear vision of how to approach my community work, from running welfare programs for elderly and children to initiatives for families in need.”

Trained personnel silently keep the wheels of the machine moving, while creating the illusion that it runs all by itself. An ever-changing world requires new and innovative training to help those most in need, and Buncher’s training programs have made this possible year after year. As we look toward the challenges ahead, we know that high quality training such as the Buncher Program will continue to make the difference for Jews in need around the globe.

Irv and I want to thank Bernita Buncher for her continued support of a program started by her father, Jack D. Buncher, as well as the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh. Their help and assistance has created this critical tool, and all of us in the global Jewish communal world are the better for it.

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