(From left) Leili Davari, Jonathan Matus, Gilad Shamri, Alona Metz, Misha Safyan, Angel Alvarez-Mapp and Courtney Cardin. (Photo/Snir Kazir)
(From left) Leili Davari, Jonathan Matus, Gilad Shamri, Alona Metz, Misha Safyan, Angel Alvarez-Mapp and Courtney Cardin. (Photo/Snir Kazir)

Four from Bay Area at annual Israel gathering for people improving the world through ‘innovation’

Alona Metz, a San Francisco nonprofit health professional, recently traveled to Israel for career networking and found herself singing in a talent show in front of her peers.

Metz was in Jerusalem with three other Bay Area Jewish entrepreneurs and 150 of their international colleagues for the 13th ROI Summit last month. The networking conference brings together young adults who are seeking to better the world through professional innovation, and offers development training and resources for fostering social change through the workplace.

The summit’s goal is to advance initiatives based on Jewish values that address global humanitarian causes. Projects have ranged from prison rehabilitation through the arts, to film documentation of LGBT immigrant experiences, to making surfing accessible for the disabled. The ROI Community, which includes the summit as well as year-round programming, is sponsored by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

Metz described her experience in Jerusalem from June 23 to 27 as “incredibly positive. I felt like it inspired me, with the quality of the other participants, and it left me renewed.”

She attended workshops that addressed management techniques and organizing principles, and participated in a session called “Brain Dates,” where individuals in similar professions shared skills and learned from one another. She also got feedback on how to infuse Jewish values into her work.

Metz made aliyah after finishing breast cancer treatment, and in 2017 she founded Thrivacious, an Israeli support group for English-speaking women affected by cancer. Metz previously worked for Shurat HaDin, an organization tending to terror victims in Israel. She recently moved to San Francisco and has a new nonprofit job.

“My new position in the Bay Area is as the executive director of Hemophilia Foundation of Northern California,” she said. “I have felt the sense of wanting to bring my Jewish values to a non-Jewish work environment by implementing the programming training I received at ROI. It is my first time working outside of the Jewish community, but ROI has helped mentor me into my new role.”

Though the summit was focused on professional development and social innovation, that doesn’t mean it was all work and no play. Metz was asked to sing at the “varsity showcase,” where participants were invited to demonstrate their talents and artistic skills. “I don’t usually sing in public,” she said, “but the ROI staff asked me to do it and they gave me support, which was an empowering and uplifting experience.”

Another Bay Area attendee was S.F.-based Gilad Shamri, co-founder and CEO of interp.me, a sign-language service that matches deaf people with ASL interpreters. The Israel-born executive is also the founder of Growth Artists, a marketing agency assisting startups. He has worked in the past with at-risk Arab Israeli youth and advocated for gender equality.

Shamri came to the summit with an interest in environmental justice. He said he was impressed by the spirit of gratitude. “On the first day, someone was thanking you. I can’t remember the last time someone thanked me for sacrificing a lot to make an impact in this world.”

ROI’s networking sessions gave Shamri the opportunity to meet officials from the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Environmental Protection to talk about environmental conservation and plastic waste reduction. They brainstormed ideas for taxing disposable plastic “in order to subsidize more ecological alternatives,” he said.

Shamri said that even though he is not religious, he appreciated how the conference emphasized Jewish values in an accessible and inclusive manner, and felt “empowered” by ROI’s integration of Jewish principles and innovation development. “It was absolutely outstanding to be in the same room with the smartest and most inspiring people I have met in my whole life,” he said.

The other Bay Area summit participants were Angel Alvarez-Mapp, program manager at Jews of Color Field Building Initiative, and Misha Safyan, vice president of launch at Planet Labs, Inc.

Tova Ricardo
Tova Ricardo

Tova Ricardo is an award-winning spoken word poet, writer, and Jewish advocate from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a digital producer with the Tel Aviv Institute, a nonprofit that uses social media to promote Jewish and Zionist perspectives. Follow her on Instagram @tovathepoet.