History & Mission
The Wexner Foundation focuses on the development of Jewish professional and volunteer leaders in North America, and public leaders in Israel.
In the early 1980’s Les Wexner reached the conclusion that what the Jewish community and Israel needed most was stronger leaders. When established Jewish organizations showed relatively little interest in investing in the development of leaders, Les decided to take up the mission with his private philanthropy.
Originally Les founded two separate organizations to pursue this mission: The Wexner Heritage Foundation created the Wexner Heritage Program to strengthen volunteer leaders; and the Wexner Foundation created the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, for emerging professional Jewish leaders, and the Wexner Israel Fellowship, for mid-career Israeli public officials. In the 1990s Abigail Wexner joined Les in charting the Wexner philanthropic vision in their roles as chairmen. In 2003 the two foundations merged, and since then The Wexner Foundation has run all three programs as a unified organization under Abigail and Les’s leadership. The Foundation has also added new programs to expand upon its mission of strengthening Jewish leaders. Since 2013 The Wexner Foundation has launched four additional programs: Wexner Service Corps (2013), Wexner Field Fellowship (2013), Wexner Senior Leaders (2014) and The Wexner Summits (2015).
The Wexner Heritage Program (1985) was designed to provide young North American Jewish volunteer leaders with a two-year intensive Jewish learning program, deepening their understanding of Jewish history, values, and texts and enriching their leadership skills. By the end of 2019, more than 2,205 North American Jewish leaders from 35 cities will have participated in the program.
The Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program (1988) was created for outstanding rabbinical students and graduate students in Jewish education and Jewish communal service programs. In its early years, the Foundation established a grants program for academic institutions of all types to build and improve training programs for Jewish community professionals. Eventually, the Fellowship Program was expanded to include top candidates for academic Jewish studies and the cantorate. By the end of 2019, more than 570 outstanding Jewish professional leaders from a wide array of religious affiliations and professional groupings will have participated in the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program.
Wexner Israel Fellowship Program (1989) annually selects up to 10 outstanding mid-career Israeli public officials to study for a master's degree in the mid-career program of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. The goal of the fellowship is to provide Israel's next generation of public leaders with advanced leadership and public management training. By the end of 2019, 270 Israeli public officials will have participated in the Israel Fellowship, including leaders who have gone on to become Directors General of government ministries, Generals and Commanders in the Israeli military and top advisers to Prime Ministers.
The Wexner Service Corps (2013) is a program designed to inspire and unite Columbus-area Jewish teens to engage in service learning. The Service Corps is open to high school juniors and seniors to participate in a week-long service trip followed by a year of monthly volunteering and Jewish learning. A select group of Corps members can return for a second year to join the Senior Leadership Cohort (SLC). The Service Corps launched in June 2013 with an inaugural service trip to New York and has since served in New Orleans, Houston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and most recently in Detroit. Columbus Jewish teens have cumulatively put in thousands of service hours into serving both the Columbus community and the communities it visits. The Wexner Service Corps was inspired by Hannah Wexner and the mantle was taken up by her sister Sarah.
The Wexner Field Fellowship (2013) is a special opportunity to grow as a Jewish professional, deepen your leadership skills and develop a rich network of colleagues to support your career. The Wexner Field Fellows Program, in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation, aims to provide opportunities for professional growth to promising Jewish professionals who plan to continue to pursue a career as a professional leader in the North American Jewish community. More than 60 Field Fellows have engaged in the program since its inception.
The Wexner Senior Leadership Program (2015), is an executive model leadership initiative and aspires to leverage The Wexner Foundation’s long-established partnerships with the Israeli Government and Harvard University with the goal of strengthening Israel’s public service leadership. The program aims to strengthen skills and design strategies for leading transformative change, acquiring new tools for better decision making, and developing strategies to be employed by some of Israel’s most promising and influential senior leaders in the public sector. To date, more than 120 executives have taken part in the Senior Leaders program.
From its origins in the 1980s, The Wexner Foundation was a pioneer in the field of Jewish private philanthropy, a field that has grown to include dozens of foundations that devote themselves on a national and international scale to the needs of the Jewish people. In the last decade, the Foundation has actively pursued partnerships
with communities, foundations, philanthropists, alumni, federations, and
other stakeholders in our work. The Wexner Foundation has never wavered from its focus upon Jewish leadership. The Foundation’s professionalism, standards of program excellence, and strong relationships with Jewish communities and organizations have created a model of practice for Jewish private philanthropy that has stood the test of time.