This is my first contribution to WexnerLEADS since becoming Director General of The Wexner Foundation, Israel, six months ago. I’ve chosen this moment to write because I have something to “report”: we have just completed the admission process for the first cohort of our new Wexner Senior Leadership Program. Prior to my arrival, the Foundation engaged senior Israeli public service leaders, as well as a number of prominent Wexner Israel Fellowship alumni, to explore additional ways in which the Foundation could most effectively increase its investment in Israel’s public sector leadership. After 25 years of developing Israeli leaders at the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and with a vital alumni community of close to 250 Israeli leaders, the feeling was that the strong Wexner brand, coupled with the experience gained during three decades of leadership development, could be leveraged towards even greater impact on the quality of Israel’s public service leaders.
As a result, the Wexner Senior Leadership Program (WSLP) was born. It was designed to run parallel to the veteran Wexner Israel Fellowship (WIF), aiming higher up the leadership pipeline, at top-level public service officials (distinct from the mid-career aspiring leaders who are WIF). In fact, WIF alumni are eligible for the new WSLP once they reach the senior levels of government.
The advantages of targeting senior government officials are obvious — they are in a position to immediately implement their Harvard leadership learning and to exercise influence at the highest levels of government. The return-on-investment is immediate. On the other hand, top-level people can’t go to Harvard for a year, and most of them don’t want to. What they need is a compressed and focused leadership program of the highest quality, which they can attend without having to leave their jobs. That calls for an executive style program, which the Harvard Kennedy School delivers only too well.
The new program’s main component is an intensive 4-week executive-style program in Cambridge, preceded by a “prep and orientation” seminar, and succeeded by an implementation seminar, both of which take place in Israel. The program will focus on “solving wicked problems through cross-boundary collaboration,” a challenge faced by governments everywhere in our increasingly complex world.
The response was amazing; we launched registration on June 15th, just a short time before the breakout of hostilities in Gaza. Very soon after, top levels of government were fully immersed in the crisis, and the feeling was that our timing was terrible and we might not get the quality or quantity we were looking for. Applications came in very slowly at first. But during July and August, with fighting raging in the South and rockets raining down, the Wexner name nevertheless did get us meetings with practically all of our “customers” – Directors General of government ministries and agencies. The message got through, and come September, applications began flooding our website. We had planned to cap the cohort at 40. Our website received 246 online applications, from which we admitted 43, finding ourselves with more high-quality applicants than we could bring ourselves to turn away.
The cohort profile is everything we could have hoped for: two CEOs of large public hospitals, the Director General of an important government ministry, several two- and one-star generals and a large number of Deputy Directors General from across the spectrum. Twenty ministries and government agencies are represented in the cohort — 30% are women, and the Arab minority is represented as well. Given the relatively low representation of women and minorities at the highest levels of Israel’s public service, we are very pleased with these numbers.
This has been a great way to start my tenure with The Wexner Foundation. The next six months will be devoted to implementing the program. We have a great cohort, which is a key factor for success, but not a guarantee of it. I look forward to “reporting” again next spring, when we’re in a position to look back at a full cycle of launching, screening, selecting and training the first cohort of Wexner senior leaders in Israel.
Ra’anan Avital, Director General of The Wexner Foundation – Israel, spent the major part of his professional life in Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office, where he held a variety of positions at home and abroad, including, at one point, heading the office’s Senior Executive Development Program. During the ten years before joining the Foundation, Ra’anan was co-founder and CEO of an innovative high school in Emek Heffer, Israel. The school, promoting an ethos of leadership, academic excellence and pluralistic Jewish values and culture, was established by Ra’anan and his co-founders as an experimental model for 21st century Israeli schools. Ra’anan received both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Political Science from Haifa University, and over the years has graduated numerous programs in Jewish Studies, management and education, including “The Art and Practice of Leadership Development” at Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. Ra’anan can be reached at email@example.com.