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An Interview with Susan Morrow, SketchPad Executive Committee Board Member

March 24, 2020

Susan Morrow was born and raised in Pittsburgh- Squirrel Hill. She lived in Washington, DC for 9 years, before making Chicago her home in 1997. While living in Washington, DC, Susan worked for the DC Jewish Community Center and was a very active lay leader for The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. In 1997 Susan moved to Chicago and joined JUF’s Young Leadership Division Board of Directors as Campaign Chair, as well as on the National Young Leadership Cabinet and the ADL junior board. Susan is also a licensed real estate agent and an avid traveler who loves entertaining!  Susan has been active on the SketchPad board of Directors since 2018. 

You have been on the SketchPad board of directors of almost two years. What have been some highlights for you? 

For me, the biggest highlight has been experiencing the warm and welcoming community at SketchPad! I love seeing the collaborations every day–members asking each other for advice, organizations running a combined event–and everyone’s so open and welcoming and helpful. The launch of the Community Membership was another big one for me too, because we could suddenly support so many more Jewish nonprofit professionals who just hadn’t needed a desk. 

With the rise of coworking around the world, what makes SketchPad unique? What attracted you to SketchPad? 

I started my adult life as a Jewish communal worker, and have always been a lay leader, so I’ve seen first-hand the value of bringing together people and organizations with shared goals. This value ranges from the convenience of a shared Jewish calendar, to the support of an entire network of professionals who understand the unique challenges we as Jewish nonprofits face. For me, though, the most intriguing way SketchPad differs from other co-working spaces is how we are an  ‘Intentionally Jewish” space. Jewish values guide every part of what we do, from how we program events, to our workplace culture, to the sustainability initiatives we pursue, radical hospitality, celebrations, decor–really, everything! Think about it: we spend most of our adult lives at work, and spending that time in an environment that integrates Jewish values, and supports the expression of Judaism however any individual sees fit is a remarkable thing, and something I’d really love to make available to many more Jewish professionals worldwide. 

What are the areas of opportunity for SketchPad? What are the challenges?

SketchPad has a lot of opportunities for growth–you can tell by our waitlist! We look forward to having even more organizations join us as members, but our ability to expand hinges on our ability to bring in more support. Right now we urgently need funding for a larger facility, but longer-term, we need the resources to grow our reach and make the benefits of intentional Jewish coworking known to a much larger audience. As we grow too, it’ll be essential that we can continue offering the facility, resources, amenities, and programming that meet the unique needs of our members and build community.

SketchPad is a young organization, and like many young organizations, we are a lean operation. That’s why we can’t keep doing this work without help. I want to take this opportunity now to invite you to partner with us, and maximize the support we’re able to provide the Jewish nonprofit community. I believe that together we can enable our organizations to serve communities in need far beyond individual capacity, because collaboration works, and we need the resources to keep growing. 

A final note here: supporting SketchPad does not just impact a single Jewish mission or community. It’s an investment in the entire Jewish nonprofit sector. Put simply, your investment in SketchPad goes far. And while the majority of our work impacts the Jewish nonprofit community in Chicago, our reach is global, because no community benefits from its members viewing one another competitors, and SketchPad’s success proves the old rule that we, in our case, Chicago’s Jewish nonprofit community, are far greater than our parts. 

What role does SketchPad play in the Chicago Jewish community?

Chicago has a diverse Jewish community, and SketchPad welcomes Jews of all backgrounds (and those who work closely with the Jewish community) to benefit from our collaborative, intentional workplace, engage in educational and professional development programming, and access the resources and support of a large professional community. SketchPad is also a welcoming, accessible alternative to other more traditional Jewish gathering places.

Crucially, SketchPad has a direct impact in supporting Jewish communities our member organizations serve, the ways in which reflect the great variety of missions that our members represent. Take a look at the list of our members–each one of their missions is our mission, too. 

Please complete these phrases as it relates to SketchPad:

I wonder what SketchPad 2.0 will look like. We are only in our third year of operation, but we’re already thinking about expanding our vision to allow for more people and more organizations to be part of this joyful and supportive community.

I notice the challenges that so many organizations face–and how SketchPad looks to help. Our professionals share, for example, the pressure of a lack of time and resources to accomplish their goals. They are often understaffed and over-tasked and it leads to burnout. By encouraging our members to work collaboratively and address challenges together, theys stay engaged in their work and focused on their goals. In this way the sector not only retains talented Jewish professionals, but nurtures them.  

I appreciate our Community. Chicago has a unique Jewish community and we have so many opportunities for growth, change, and innovation. The size of this community helps, too– it’s easy to collaborate and share resources while serving completely separate communities.

If you could pick three people to work at SketchPad, who would you invite? (Dead or Alive)

  1. Howard Tullman. His creation and growth of 1871 [the coworking space]  is a model I strive to emulate. 
  2. Joseph Teluskin. I remember meeting him 22 years ago and loving his words on Jewish values and observance. He made them seem contemporary and relevant, and I think he’d offer us some great insights and spiritual guidance.
  3. Sylvia Hassenfeld. Sylvia was one of the most important American Jewish communal leaders and philanthropists of the 20th century. She held a variety of national and international leadership positions in the Jewish community: she the first female president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (also known as the DC, or “Joint”), she served as national vice chairman of the United Jewish Appeal and chair of its National Women’s Division, and she was a member of Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel and many many other organizations. Her most significant contribution to the Jewish world was her term as chairperson of the Joint Distribution Committee. The liberalization process in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe coincided with Hassenfeld’s presidency of the JDC, and the skillful diplomacy she employed with heads of state, government officials, and leaders of non-governmental organizations contributed a lot to protecting  Jewish civil and religious affairs. SketchPad would benefit a lot from her guidance and intuition!

Why should people join and support SketchPad?

Come and see! The best way to “get” SketchPad is to experience first-hand  how collaboration, support, and community flourishes under the guidance of our shared Jewish values. SketchPad is rife with as many opportunities for supporters, too–to grow our organization via financial support, to offer mentorship to us or our organizations, to share your experience and knowledge, and to learn from us as well.  This is the opportunity for individuals who see the value of collaborative, intentional work, and want to support the Jewish nonprofit sector flourish as a whole. Join us, and maximize the impact of all Jewish nonprofit work!