Ruth Messinger, Executive Director of the American Jewish
Factors in Career Choice:I
chose the job of running an international development agency
when I was looking for something different to do after I
left local government. It gave me an opportunity to transfer
all of my skills and at the same time to learn a whole new
field in international development. It’s a combination
of fundraising, public speaking, staff management and looking
for the right ways to make social change. One of the benefits
of this job is that we work at a very grassroots level on
small projects. Even though they are not creating revolutions,
the projects are making a difference in their communities
so you get to see
Obstacles: One of the
fun about politics is that it’s full of challenges everyday,
trying to convince people both legislative and government colleagues
of new ideas and finding
new ways to make change. I find that really exciting to do.
That’s a major challenge and was true most of my life.
At the American Jewish World Service, I have had to meet the
challenge of running a small successful organization. To have a staff and a budget that continues
to grow I confront managerial issues continuously such as figuring
out how to grow and expand an organization and figuring out
how to take an operational staff and help them to become managers
and public leaders in their field; how to find new ways to
talk to various factions about the importance of global work
and getting people to develop a greater international sensibility.
It’s always a challenge to convince people that they
can make a difference. A lot of the information about the state
of the world is overwhelming but I don’t think people
can retreat to the convenience of being overwhelmed.
Mentors: My mentors include my mother, who was a professional
who did important leadership work in public relations at
the Jewish Theological Seminary for many years. She was also
involved as a lay activist and was on a variety of boards
and took all of her work very seriously. My other role models
include women in politics and a former boss, Fred Watson,
the director of a community school where Messinger was an
assistant. He taught me that if everyone thinks you are doing
a wonderful job, then you are probably not implementing change.
Steve Sutherland, a social activist, taught
me that life is too short not to enjoy.
He would always poke fun at himself and help other people
see the humor in what he was doing.
Turning point: There
is no specific turning point in my life. I try very hard
and I continue to try very hard to keep growing.
try to give people lots of responsibility and keep encouraging
them to take some chances. I would tell young people these
days, despite what their parents may tell them, there is
much too much emphasis on choosing a single career path. Kids
should feel that they have the luxury of looking into a variety
of jobs and picking and choosing among them and that’s
one way to grow. They should find bosses that give them a
chance to grow and shouldn’t stay in work situations
or with bosses that are keeping them from growing. It’s
better to keep moving. Everybody should take economics and
learn something about the structure of government, and people
who choose to work in not-for-profits should learn something