Ben Lusher reflects on the values he brings to his role as JEWISHcolorado’s Board Chair
After serving on boards of various local and national Jewish organizations for the past nine years, including more than six years on the Board of JEWISHcolorado, Ben Lusher will assume the responsibilities of JEWISHcolorado Board Chair on July 1, 2023.
As the CEO of Nexus BSP, he is responsible for ensuring the successful strategic direction and operations of the company as it makes investments in traditional, new alternative, and emerging energy technologies. Prior to his time at Nexus BSP, Lusher worked as a Managing Partner of Bay Energy Partners LLC.
In 2007, he joined the Office of Governor Bill Ritter, Jr., as a policy advisor. By the time he left his role as Senior Policy Advisor for Economic Development in 2010, his work had contributed to the passage of more than 20 individual pieces of legislation, which resulted in the creation of over 6,000 new jobs and $400M in direct capital investment.
Lusher graduated Phi Kappa Phi from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, earning an MBA with Distinction. He also holds a Master of Public Policy from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and a Bachelor of Arts in American Culture from the University of Michigan.
Lusher recently sat down with JEWISHcolorado to talk about the ways his experience has prepared him to be board chair.
After working for Governor Bill Ritter as a high-level policy advisor, your next step was to move with your wife to Nairobi, Kenya, to do volunteer work in Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa. What motivated you to make such a significant professional and personal change?
Following four years in government, my wife and I wanted to take some time and space to figure out our next steps. We both share strong values around tikkun olam, which led us to look for ways we could potentially work abroad. We got connected with American Jewish World Service, which created an opportunity for us to move to Nairobi, Kenya, to work with an NGO. I worked with an organization called Carolina for Kibera (CFK Africa), whose primary mission is to improve public health and economic prosperity in the informal settlements in Kibera.
It’s estimated that anywhere from 200,000 to over a million people live in Kibera, and they live in extreme poverty, lacking access to education and basic services like electricity, clean water, and medical care. CFK Africa uses sports as a tool to create opportunities for young people. My job was to spend six months leading the strategic planning process for the organization, including new initiatives that could be grown from their platform to help create a more cohesive community in Kibera.
Though it may appear there is no connection, was there anything about that experience in Nairobi that informs your philosophy as you prepare to take on the role of Board Chair at JEWISHcolorado?
Actually, there is a connection—it has to do with the importance of building community. In Nairobi, I rode public transit and walked into the informal settlement every day. Over time, I got to know the local people, spend time with them, and see how their work was building a cohesive community in a place where you didn’t think community could really exist.
That drove it home for me—no matter where you are and what your circumstances are, everyone is looking to build community. I realized how important it is to be a member of whatever community you identify with, including JEWISHcolorado and the Jewish communities across the state.
Your board experience at JEWISHcolorado started when you chaired the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) for three years. What drew you to the JCRC?
I have a background in public policy, and I still believe it is one of the best ways to drive change. When I was in the Governor’s office as a young policy advisor, one of the first things I did was meet with the leader of the JCRC to talk about the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) divesting any assets associated with Iran. Working with the JCRC, we accomplished that goal.
I always had a great working relationship with the JCRC, so when I returned from Kenya and finished graduate school, I reconnected with JEWISHcolorado, and when there was an opportunity to serve on the JCRC board, I jumped at the opportunity. Serving as Chair of the JCRC Board was a fantastic experience and was formative in my approach to acknowledging the importance of process, listening to communal voices, and maintaining stakeholder engagement.
You chaired the national board of Moishe House for three years. Moishe House is a platform for young adults around the world to create meaningful, welcoming Jewish communities for themselves and their peers. Just after you took over as chair, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. In what ways does that experience serve you well in your new role with JEWISHcolorado?
My time on the Board of Moishe House was another lesson in the importance of community. The Moishe House network operates in more than 30 different countries and impacts more than 70,000 young people in a year. Suddenly, with COVID-19 restrictions, everything that the organization did—in-person gatherings and retreats—was taken away from us. Very quickly, we had to figure out how to continue to build community without the tools we thought we had. When you lose personal access to others, it is a reminder of just how much you depend on people. That really reinforced my passion for building Jewish community.
The experience also taught me the importance of being able to pivot and focus on values and not necessarily the mechanisms. We could not be in person, so we asked, “How else can we get people together?” We used that opportunity to be creative and innovate and still deliver core values—even though the pandemic had removed our traditional mechanisms. We had to learn to take what the world had given us and not wish for something different.
Serving on the Moishe House Board was not what I expected because of the pandemic, but looking back on it there is a silver lining to that experience. I learned how to manage through a global crisis and pandemic and still be meaningful and relevant to the young adults we were serving.
As Chair of the JEWISHcolorado Board, you will have oversight of a number of programs. Do you have personal experience with any of those programs?
Our family engages in and supports PJ Library because it helps us build our home’s Jewish identity. With the books that arrive in the mail, PJ Library gives me the tools to teach my children about their Jewish identity. It also offers so much support about how to make Jewish holidays meaningful to kids. The resources for our family are amazing. PJ Library really interweaves Jewish identity into the DNA of our household.
The Joyce Zeff Israel Study Tour (IST) is the origin story of my Jewish journey. When I was growing up, my parents were active in the Jewish Community Center (JCC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)—those were their passions and that was the lens through which I saw Judaism. We did not go to synagogue regularly, and as a result, I was actually hesitant to go on IST because I didn’t feel that I had the Jewish learning and background. But when I went, I had this unbelievable experience as most teens do on IST. I generated connections with my Jewish peers, and I connected to my Jewish identity and the land of Israel in a way I never thought possible.
Without IST, I would not be who I am today, and I absolutely would not be the Chair of JEWISHcolorado.
Listening to you, I have the sense that philanthropy and serving the community was a large part of your family’s life as you were growing up.
It was huge, it was everything in our household. My father was the national chair of the ADL, my mother was a longtime board member of the JCC and supporter of Jewish Family Service (JFS). Around the dinner table, we would talk about social justice, Judaism, and philanthropy which was one of the primary ways by which my parents have expressed their Jewish values. My parents have always believed that part of being a human being is giving back to your community, whatever that looks like, and they taught me by their example.
At this time in the world and in the history of JEWISHcolorado, what do you see as both the challenges and opportunities?
JEWISHcolorado as well as Judaism broadly are at an inflection point. The community is changing, experiencing generational turnover. The way that people interact with Judaism has fundamentally shifted, particularly in the past five to seven years, and that means the ways in which we can build community here in Colorado have changed.
The Colorado Jewish community is growing, the interfaith portion of the community is growing, the number of people looking to be a part of something is growing. We need to ask, “How do we work with our key institutional partners and synagogues to offer, build, and support programs where anyone who wants to can enter and engage with the Jewish community?” For me, it’s an exciting time for JEWISHcolorado to have those conversations, and I want to be involved in a way that is meaningful.
JEWISHcolorado has had amazing long-term donors and leaders. The organization has had tremendous board support and leadership for a long time, and I feel humbled to be part of that group. I grew up learning how to be a board member by watching people I now call colleagues. I’m fortunate enough to stand on their shoulders and build on top of the foundation that they have laid.