On September 15, Repair the World is hosting Service Matters: A Summit on Jewish Service in New York City. This exciting gathering will convene leaders in the fields of service and social justice – both within the Jewish world and beyond – for a day of idea sharing, case studies, and conversation. In advance of the summit, we are opening up the blog to some of our inspirational speakers and giving them a platform to share their experiences and wisdom from the field. Here’s Abby Goldberg, a consultant and social entrepreneur who works to advance human rights and equality through media and other innovative modes of communication.
How did you decide to get into the field of service and social justice work?
Honestly, I don’t remember a time when I actively decided this was the work I was going to do – it is just who I am. Service has always been a part of my experience. I also grew up sort of strangely bicultural. My parents both worked full time, and I had a nanny who was a recent refugee from Nicaragua. By the time I could speak, I was bilingual in English and Spanish and as a young child became interested in other languages and cultures. One particularly formative moment came in college when I spent a semester abroad in Cuba. During that time, I felt a real responsibility as an American. I knew I was someone in a position to have a voice and that I should use it. Cuba also prepared me for a lot of the difficult international work I’ve done by giving me an awareness that there are alternative world views, and you have to understand where people come from and how to work with them.
Where is one area that you feel organization and change makers could do better in terms of social justice and service work?
My expertise and what I focus on is how to use media effectively as a tool for action and advancing social justice. I think it’s changing, but still today non-profits are afraid to spend money on communications. It’s not the first priority, and I think that’s a huge mistake – particularly when it comes to reaching younger generations. Effective communication is about understanding and thinking through who your target audience is, who your influencers are, what your goals are, and who your best spokespeople are. The video is the product, but the process of getting to a point of production and asking these basic questions is just as important. I hope to see more non-profits begin to invest resources into media.
Can you share an example of how your work with video and media has been impactful?
After the earthquake in Haiti, I did some video work on gender-based violence in the country. Using video, colleagues and I were able to get more than a dozen senators to work with USAID to change funding to Haiti and ensure that gender-based violence was a greater part of their considerations. The videos were incredibly powerful, because these women were talking directly to the senators about their personal stories.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re proud of?
I’m currently developing a video series about the United States and Cuba. My life was really changed during that semester in Cuba. There are a lot of eye opening things about living in the developing world. But the most lasting thing for me was a better understanding of my role as an American. The series is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. And now, as Cuba and the United States reengage diplomatically very quickly, there is a disconnect between the countries. We fundamentally don’t understand each other as a people. So the idea of the video series is to humanize both sides and facilitate greater understanding and success in building relationships.
What are your thoughts about the role of Jewish tradition in service and social justice work?
I think it matters a lot. Judaism in particular, but really any organized religion, can be an incredibly powerful force. My experience of Jewish communities is that they tend to care about the world and tend to be philanthropic. There’s a ripe opportunity there to be a collective influence for positive change.