Jodi Lox Mansbach’s priority in her new job as the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s chief impact officer isn’t to develop measures of the effectiveness of Federation’s programs, but to figure out what the Jewish community needs.
From there, she can help figure out how Federation and its partner agencies can meet those needs to have the greatest impact.
“It’s really putting the community first,” said Mansbach, who started Feb. 22 at Federation in a new role that enables her to provide leadership and strategic vision for the organization.
“Jodi is a bold and innovative thinker with unique strengths in planning, marketing and nonprofit business,” Federation President and CEO Eric Robbins said in early February when Mansbach’s hiring was announced. “I deeply believe we will all be invigorated and energized by her leadership.”
Mansbach and her husband, Ross, a lawyer, moved to Atlanta 20 years ago as a compromise between her desire as a native of northern New Jersey to live in a city and his desire as someone who grew up in Durham, N.C., to live in the South.
“I love it,” she said. “It really does have the best of both worlds in most cases.”
The Mansbachs have one son at Amherst College and another who’s a freshman at Grady High School. In between is a daughter who’s bound for Brown next fall.
Mansbach most recently helped the city of Atlanta launch a moving, pop-up urban design center. Before that, she served as the vice president for development and sustainability of Ponce City Market developer Jamestown.
Just as important, she and Robbins worked together on a transformational project for Jewish Atlanta: bringing Limmud to Atlanta and the Southeast more than a decade ago. That effort earned them Federation’s Mary and Max London People Power Award in June 2015, before either of them knew they’d have the opportunity to transform Federation.
“Eric sees Limmud and the way volunteers work together and the way community comes together at Limmud as a wonderful model for what could be in our community,” Mansbach said.
Robbins’ leadership since September is one reason Mansbach took the job. Another is the chance to apply her knowledge as an urban planner and a developer to solve the challenges of the diverse Atlanta Jewish community, which she said usually operates as many communities.
“I’ve always had a passion for this,” Mansbach said about Jewish communal work in general and Federation in particular. “This is where I’ve been spending a lot of my volunteer time. I’m very impressed with the staff here.”
Mansbach also looks forward to adapting innovations introduced by new organizations around the country.
She has been exposed to Jewish communal creativity through her involvement with Limmud, her time as a Wexner Heritage Fellow, and her position as a board member of Repair the World, which she said excels at engaging the millennial generation by making service a meaningful part of Jewish life.
She has learned as an urban planner not to try to cut and paste a program from somewhere else because every community is different, but good ideas can be customized for Atlanta.
“It’s about being entrepreneurial and taking risks,” Mansbach said, explaining that while it’s important to ask people what they want, sometimes you must recognize additional needs and trust that if you build it, they will come. That’s what Jamestown achieved in the Old Fourth Ward, she said.
Like Robbins, she’s interested in assessing Jewish Atlanta’s use of space and how to make Jewish places feel more inclusive, energetic and interactive.
“For years we focused on physical space,” then attention turned to programs and initiatives that were less about location, Mansbach said. “But I come from a background and a belief that place matters. … Whether that’s a permanent space or a nonpermanent space, it matters.”
She liked an example provided by Melissa Miller, Federation’s events and public relations manager: 55 Federation staffers took a bus tour of Atlanta Jewish Music Festival locations with Executive Director Russell Gottschalk, and he said that what was just a bus had been transformed into a place of Jewish learning when they climbed aboard.
Transformation is crucial for Mansbach, who has long tried to be a change agent. That’s why her job starts by working on Robbins’ “transformational plan” for Federation and the community.
The plan will address questions such as “What is our shared community, and what is Federation’s role?” Mansbach said. “That will drive a lot of what comes next, including impact.”