From Alumni of Interfaith Youth Core to Emerging Leaders of Interfaith America
May 4, 2022
For the last decade, IFYC has supported young professionals to apply the interfaith leadership skills they developed during college out into the world. As IFYC becomes Interfaith America, the Alumni Network is also making an exciting transition to the Emerging Leaders Network.
Let’s take a look at the origin of our network and where we are headed in the future.
Hannah had the privilege of sitting down with our colleague Amber Hacker, now the Vice President of Operations at Interfaith America, and listening to her beautiful stories of how the Alumni Network started.
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Amber explained that it was “by a happy accident” that she had the opportunity to support a range of programs that engaged students, including the Faith Acts Fellowship, a fellowship program across three continents developed in collaboration with former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair; Days of Interfaith Service; the Fellows Alliance; and our first conference on college campuses. Amber would always ask, “What happens to the students after they graduate?” She knew that they took their interfaith leadership skills into other spheres, where they encountered new challenges and opportunities to promote interfaith cooperation. Then in 2010, when IFYC decided to focus on the field of higher education, Amber thought about creating an IFYC alumni network.
“It was the perfect time,” she said. “I had relationships with the recent graduates through the programs that I had supported over the past few years. People were hungry to be connected and eager to transfer their skills to their professional settings.”
Amber values the insights provided by IFYC Life Director Robert Gertner. He emphasized that IFYC should not underestimate the impact that an alumni network could have in carrying out IFYC’s mission, making interfaith cooperation a social norm.
The Alumni Program began with 309 members and three key programs: the Facebook Group, the Professional Development Fund, and the Speakers Bureau. Amber became the Manager of Alumni Relations. The original Facebook group still exists today with more than 1,100 members. It provides a venue for people to share opportunities, ask for recommendations, and most importantly, connect. The first applicant for the Professional Development Fund was author Chris Stedman, who needed a headshot for his book “Faithiest.” Amber, an evangelical Christian, recently reminisced about listening to the Christian band Jars of Clay while reviewing Chris’ book on how atheists can engage in interfaith work. The Alumni Speakers Bureau helped the organization share the story of interfaith cooperation, fulfilled the many requests IFYC received for speaking opportunities, and provided leadership development opportunities for the alumni. It was a win-win.
Fast forward a little more than 10 years, the network has grown to more than 2,000 people primarily in their early 20s to late 30s, from a variety of professional sectors, racial identities, religious and non-religious worldviews. They are rabbis, pastors, imams, doctors, nurses, professors, scientists, elementary school teachers, politicians, lawyers, community organizers, case managers, small business owners, journalists, graduate students, and much more. They are applying their interfaith leadership skills in their careers and communities.
We have the honor of supporting our network with many opportunities such as the Interfaith Leadership Fund, the Racial Equity and Interfaith Cooperation Awards, the Sacred Journey Fellowship, and the Interfaith Innovation Fellowship.
As we become Interfaith America, our network of young professionals will be renamed “Emerging Leaders of Interfaith America.” This new name captures the essence of the people in our network who are out in the world carrying out our mission of building Interfaith America.
The Emerging Leaders Network inspires, equips, and connects members of our network and the institutions they serve. We inspire by sharing stories of Emerging Leaders creating change in their communities. We equip our leaders to make an impact with grants and learning resources. Finally, we connect them with each other through convenings and fellowships.
With our new name comes new opportunities. We have decided to make the Emerging Leaders Network more inclusive to welcome in more people who are out in the world leveraging the foundational strength of religious diversity to achieve the common good. We know that when we welcome young leaders carrying out interfaith work in their communities into our network, our network becomes stronger. You can read more about how to help us connect with Emerging Leaders who might be interested in building Interfaith America with us.
We come to work excited every day about the ways our Emerging Leaders are working to improve our communities and the role our organization Interfaith America plays in inspiring, equipping, and connecting leaders to unlock the potential of America’s religious diversity. As one of our Interfaith Innovation Fellows, Melanie Young, explained, “The Emerging Leaders Network inspires me to carry out projects I had only dreamed about. We do different work in different places, but we all mobilize our communities to create change. We learn from each other and support each other to reach higher. “
Hannah Willage is Director of the Emerging Leaders Network, and Maia Moore is an Interfaith America Program Coordinator.