Leadership in Social Change Stosh Colter

Stosh Cotler on the Jewish Community’s Role in Progressive Social Change in the US

About This Episode

In this time of heightened social activism, Stosh Cotler sees tremendous opportunity and need for Bend the Arc, the National leading Jewish voice dedicated to mobilizing Jewish Americans to advocate for the nation’s most vulnerable. In this episode, Stosh talks about impactful leadership, current day Jewish identity and social movements.

About Stosh Cotler

Stosh Cotler is the Chief Executive Officer of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action. With 30 years of experience as an organizer, trainer and leader within movements for justice and equity, Stosh is helping to renew and expand the Jewish community’s role in progressive social change within the United States. In 2015, the Center for American Progress named Stosh as one of the “15 progressive faith leaders to watch” and in 2017 Stosh was named an Auburn Senior Fellow.  Previously, the Jewish newspaper The Forward named Stosh one of its 14 Jewish Women To Watch in 2014 and placed her on its Forward 50 list of American Jews who have had the most impact on the national conversation.

In her words…

“In this moment when immigrants, undocumented folks, migrants, and asylum seekers are being overly criminalized and when racism continues to be so chronic, toxic, unresolved, and unaddressed at the deepest levels- American Jews are, I believe, really feeling and seeing how this set of injustices, while not new in many ways, is hitting a different kind of tipping point with this particular president and administration that doesn’t want to necessarily uphold just basic liberal democracy. But I also think with the rise of antisemitism, seeing the ways in which Jews as well are part of this fabric where we need to come together with others and form even deeper bonds, stronger coalitions and link our work in ways- that’s at scale that we haven’t seen before.”

“Part of what I think is attractive to funders are leaders who are really clear that they are moving an agenda that is so forward thinking, that is so imaginative, that we don’t see the possibilities in this current moment- but those possibilities exist in a time frame that we need to be putting ourselves in. The vision of some leaders is just really dynamic and important. How, as leaders, can we really do our own practice of visioning? How are we carving out the time in our day or week or month to really be thinking about the vision of our organization, and also our field or our movement? What are the things that we can do that are not yet possible?”

“I would say for any of the organizations whose leadership- whether it’s the senior leadership team or the boards of those organizations that don’t see the value in having women and/or people of color or other minoritized groups of people in leadership roles- I think part of the work is to help that set of gatekeepers and decision makers understand why it’s so critical to have a shift in who is actually leading our organizations. Why that shift in leadership is both an equity issue but also really a strategic issue for us to be effective and to win as progressives.”

“Leadership, especially in this moment, is so much about really rooting and anchoring to what my particular unique contribution is. My job is to find what my special piece of this can be and then really leaning into that as much as I possibly can.”

Questions Answered on this Episode

Tell me about the work that you are doing to expand the Jewish community’s role in progressive social change.

Why is that a priority now?

Are there specific issues that full under that umbrella?

You’ve been in the sector for over three decades. Do you think the role of a leader has changed and what does that look like in your leadership?

There are lots of reports and data that speak to the need for more women and people of color in the nonprofit sector. What are you thoughts on this?

One of the things I don’t think we talk about enough is intergenerational leadership. How do we take advantage of the wisdom of some of our older leaders, while still creating opportunities for young leaders. In your work to expand the role of the Jewish community, has this come up and if so, how do you manage it?

How do you define your leadership style?

In this climate of increased activism, are there parts of your leadership skillset that you find yourself relying on more heavily?

Ana Oliveira, CEO of New York Women’s Foundation, said to me, “money follows leadership.” Can you share any tips or advice for how people can put this perspective into practice, based on your success?