The Influencers

Jackie Rotman

11. Jackie

Jackie Rotman, 24, leverages philanthropy as a universal tool. From a professional history that began with bright ideas as a teenager, Jackie’s career is rooted in quality of life. At 14 years old she founded Everybody Dance Now!, a nonprofit organization with a knack for instilling self-esteem into the lives of underserved youth through dance. Now, Jackie serves as the Executive Director for Spark. Based in San Francisco, Jackie and her team at Spark use strategy and investment of the global sort to support women’s initiatives around the world and spark altruistic discoveries along the way.

In a way, your creativity as a young adult was the impetus for the career that was ahead of you. How does creativity show up in your life today?

For me, creativity and spirituality are inextricably linked. There is a beautiful TED talk by Liz Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, about how – unlike our society today where we think creativity comes from the self and the individual–ancient Greeks and Romans thought that creativity was a divine spirit that came to human beings from an unknowable source. I feel this way when I feel inspired and creative–that sometimes an idea or organization or vision wants to be born, and I get to serve as a vessel to make that happen, but it comes from somewhere bigger.

When I founded Everybody Dance Now! at fourteen years old and discovered the beauty of “social entrepreneurship,” that creativity extended to my work as an organizational leader. I have always felt social entrepreneurship is a creative art form. Developing an organizational vision/mission and organizing the team, strategies, and resources to serve a purpose. It’s a similar creative process to me as conveying a theme on a stage and organizing bodies and movement to serve a purpose.

Everybody Dance Now! was your first foray into the professional world of philanthropy. What were the most valuable lessons you learned through that organization that you apply to your work life today?

One lesson I learned from Everybody Dance Now! (EDN!) is that you don’t have to wait to make a difference. A philanthropist in San Francisco, Helen Diller, always used to say, “It is never too early, too late, or too often to make a difference.” I think we often perceive that to be in the role you want, you need to work your way up a ladder in an institution to gain the necessary skills. When you have a vision and you’re passionate about manifesting it, you learn the skills and ropes along the way. You find mentors and team members to help you—whatever it takes. The scrappiness, resourcefulness, and “learn-as-you-go” mentality I learned at EDN! are very helpful going forward.

Which professional freedoms or advantages within the nonprofit sector have you found to be the most enriching?

My work allows me to be a professional “relationship builder.” A lot of what I do at Spark can be called “fundraising,” and at first I felt uncomfortable strategically interacting with people when financial contributions are a potential goal. One of my incredible mentors, the CEO of Moishe House, David Cygielman, helped me reframe and see the work I do as “building authentic relationships.” When I saw it that way, I loved that work more and began to thrive at it. Getting to form deep bonds with many different people and helping them fulfill their passions and needs for helping others, it is very gratifying.

Who are the women who inspire you most?

In my professional life, Amy Rao and Kathleen Kelly Janus are two women who inspire me tremendously. Amy, a CEO and a philanthropist for human rights, is incredibly empathetic and action oriented; this past month, she has hopped on planes twice to Lesbos, Greece to help with the refugee emergency. Kathleen, a co-founder of Spark, is so tactful and strategic based on years working with social entrepreneurs; I learn so much from her.

In popular culture today, I greatly admire Lena Dunham, creator of the TV show Girls. She’s bringing attention to trans and women’s issues (like women in politics, reproductive health, and female sexuality), and she has also shared her own experiences to spark dialogue on mental health.

I am incredibly inspired by Everybody Dance Now! leaders–mostly young women across the nation under 21–who give so much to affect thousands of youth, while balancing high school and college. And I admire Spark’s Board, staff, members, co-founders, and past Board Chairs who have committed their energy for the past decade to building this powerful network of Millennial activists for gender equality, while redefining who can be a “philanthropist.”

Text by Kyle Thornburg
Photograph by Lucas Deming