There is nothing that bothers me more than people who complain but never take action to change things.  This generally stems from a lack of leadership.  In the face of criticism that the Los Angeles Jewish community was not doing enough to train effective new communal leaders, I decided to create a new program.  After two years of planning, the development of a creative funding strategy and the hiring of leadership professionals, the Community Leadership institute (CLI) has launched. I share the process and details with you, in case you would like to build something similar in your community.

CLI is a 15-month Jewish leadership and learning program.  The groups meet monthly, take a free trip to Israel in the middle and attend an upfront retreat. Sound familiar? (Hint: hats off to the Wexner Heritage Program.)  This is where we diverge — there are four tracks in the program: real estate, entertainment, Russian and universal.  Each track consists of 15-18 young Jewish lay leaders and business professionals between the ages of 25 and 40.  The tracks meet once a month, sometimes separately and sometimes together, with teachers from all over the country.  The curriculum is divided into three areas: Jewish identity and learning, leadership training and an introduction to community organizations and their needs.  Each participant is provided with a mentor (a respected communal leader) and encouraged to take a leadership role in a Jewish community organization.

The program is funded by a lead gift from me; the Jewish Federation, which also hosts and administers the program; and a commitment from the mentors to fund at least $18,000 over four years.  This results in a serious commitment from the 70 or so mentors, who assist their mentees in finding volunteer leadership opportunities and in their personal and career development.

Natural communities are formed both within and among the groups, who regularly meet voluntarily in between meetings, as do the graduates of the first class.  About two-thirds of the first class have been placed in leadership roles in the community.  A new entity under our umbrella, called The Network, has been created to provide exclusive programming for current participants and graduates of all past programs, creating a community of leaders.  The second cohort received almost 300 applications for the 72 available spots.

The professional staff running the program are inspirational and innovative, and the advisory committee, made up of volunteer community leaders, are dedicated to ensuring that our community has a cadre of well-trained, young leaders who are aware of our communal needs, have an opportunity to find areas of passion and possess the tools to become effective leaders in our community.

We are now in the process of endowing the program so that it can exist permanently. The impact on our community will be transformational.  Over the next ten years, we will identify and train over 350 leaders, 200 of whom we expect to become informed and thoughtful future leaders of our Jewish community.  They will be connected both with the leaders that preceded them and with the other young leaders that share their passion.

The Wexner Heritage Program gave me the insights and the tools not to be another annoying complainer, and instead to create this program. I, and our community, will forever be appreciative.

Brian Shirken, a Wexner Heritage alum (Los Angeles 03) is the co-founder and principal of Columbus Pacific Properties, a Santa Monica-based real estate investment and development company. He is a former chair of the Jewish Federation’s Real Estate & Construction Division, co-founder of the Los Angeles Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund, former board member of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation and board member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. He holds a Bachelor’s of Commerce & Accounting degree and an Honors Graduate Degree in Finance and Management Control Systems from the University of Cape Town. Brian can be reached at