7 Days of Israeli Social Entrepreneurship

Posted by on March 14, 2013 in Entrepreneurship, Featured, Middle East

A few months ago I was contacted by Kinetis, an Israeli nonprofit that invites bloggers and journalists from around the globe to experience different aspects of Israel from design to food to fashion. The program is called Vibe Israel.

I joined the Vibe Israel social entrepreneurship trip with three other bloggers from the U.S., U.K., and Taiwan. Our trip lasted seven days and involved intensive tours and meetings with organizations throughout Jerusalem and Tel Aviv discovering myriad Israeli social innovations. I’ve chronicled below some of the stories I heard and all the organizations I met. Stay tuned over the next two weeks for additional coverage diving deeper into some of the trends I saw while in Israel.

Day 1 – Monday

After over 20 hours of travel time from San Francisco to Philadelphia to Tel Aviv, I arrived in Israel as in true weary traveler form. I met Adi Koren and Joanna Landau from Kinetis and they made me feel like home immediately with a large Israeli family-style dinner.

Kinetis Vibe Israel Dinner

Day 2 – Tuesday

Joanna Landau, the founder of Kinetis, describes the Vibe Israel initiative as an avenue to show the vibrant and creative side of Israel not seen in the mainstream media. “I have three young children growing up here,” Landau explains, “and I want Israel to be a viable option for them to flourish later in life.”

That explanation was shown in vibrant color to me over the seven days I spent in Israel and started with David Kramer from the Nu Campaign who tells the story of changemakers through artist-designed T-shirts.

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Each T-shirt has an inspirational story printed on the inside of the shirt across where the wearer’s heart is. The “15” shirt pictured above represents the 15 seconds it takes for a missile to hit Sderot from Gaza, “something that has happened over 10,000 times in the last eight years,” explains Kramer.

Jonny Cline also met us at the Nu Campaign store in Jerusalem. He is a Brit turned Israeli and one of the foremost experts on social innovation in the country. He shared some very interesting facts that aren’t highlighted as often:

-Israel has the most nonprofits per capita in the world (32,000+).

-5,000-7,000 of these account for most of the impact.

-Israel is also first in the world for its water recycling (70%) and literacy (97%).

Jonny’s focal organization is, Melabev, the only nonprofit helping Alzheimer’s patients in Israel.

Later in the day we visited the Israeli H-P campus where we met Sivan Ya’ari, the founder of Innovation Africa. Innovation Africa brings Israeli water, solar and electronics technology to Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Malawi. If any equipment breaks, repairs are sustainably self-funded by the villages through pay-per-use charging stations.  Currently Innovation Africa has completed over 63 projects positively affecting over 454,420 people — “a very modest number,” says Ya’ari.

Krembo Wings also drew my interest as the only nonprofit in Israel, and potentially the world, to empower youth between the ages of 14-18 years old to mentor and play with disabled youth.

We capped off the day with a late Italian-Israeli dinner with representatives from Es-Sense, Mafteach, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

All organizations met:

Nu Campaign — designer T-shirts that give back.

UKToremet — culture and philanthropy in Israel.

Good Deeds Day — a global day of service started in Israel.

Hevraty — social entrepreneurship blog.

100% Social Business — a scalable model where 75% of net revenue is donated.

Global Shapers — an initiative of the World Economic Forum.

Mission Intelligence — technology training program for top students.

Tmura — bridging the tech-social investment divide.

Innovation Africa — Israeli technology exported to Africa.

Krembo Wings — youth helping disabled youth.

Es-Sense — soap made by autistic youth.

Mafteach — employment for ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jews.

Day 3 – Wednesday

After meeting for breakfast and hearing from Karen Brunwasser, a Philadelphia native and the Deputy Director of Jerusalem Season of Culture, an amazing organization that promotes and creates cultural events and experiences during the Israeli summer, we toured Old Jerusalem.

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Although the history of many of the buildings, churches, tombs and the Western Wall is impressive, large crowds of tourists — including everything from a bar mitzvah to a wedding photography shoot — took away from the deeply spiritual experience that I’m sure Old Jerusalem can offer.

From there we met Jerusalem Venture Partners who not only make investments in leading-edge technology companies, but also maintain a close tie to community involvement through JVP Community, their social impact arm. JVP Community focuses on educating youth in ways that go above and beyond a public education in Israel.

We then met United Hatzalah, by far the most impressive organization of the trip. United Hatzalah commands an army of over 2,000 dedicated volunteers. Through their multi-tiered technology approach (geo-location, mobile app, system integration), United Hatzalah volunteers are the first on the scene to most medical emergencies in Israel, from traffic accidents to missile attacks. They have been first responders in over 540,000 instances fielding nearly 600 calls every day.

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The organization’s genesis came out of the lagging 10-20 minute response times of ambulances in Israel when every second counts to save a life. United Hatzalah works together with hospitals and ambulances to provide the support necessary to save lives minutes after an accident happens. Their goal moving forward is be be on the scene in 90 seconds. Currently they are the first responders in less than 3 minutes.

Founder and CEO Eli Beer explained the spirit behind the organization, “We are Meshuganas (Hebrew for crazy people), each and every one of us.”

All organizations met:

Jerusalem Season of Culture — cultural muli-disiplinary events.

T-KG — consultancy for nonprofits and foundations.

Ze-Ze — youth community social events.

Jerusalem Venture Partners — JVP Community is a youth impact branch of the fund.

United Hatzalah — a network of over 2,000 extremely dedicated emergency medical volunteers who arrive on scene before ambulances arrive.

The Israeli Social Model — replication of successful Israeli social enterprises.

Perach International — pairs disadvantaged youth with university students who tutor them in life and education.

Day 4 – Thursday

A tour of Yad Sarah‘s care center kicked the morning off. From innovative, simple ways to improve the lives of people who are less mobile to harnessing the power of over 6,000 volunteers, Yad Sarah currently serves over 423,000 people every year through their many services, including an emergency phone line, home care, and equipment rental branches across Israel.

Our next stop was the gem of the jewelry world, Yvel, who can be found in 650 outlets across five continents. A few years ago Yvel started their school for jewelry making that gives new immigrants in Israel a chance to start a career through guaranteed work after the year-long program in the Yvel Design Center or at Megemeria, a social enterprise that sells the work of students, providing additional income to the school.

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The most emotionally powerful organization I visited was Vertigo, a dance company and art-eco village. Founders Noa Wertheim and Adi Sha’al were incredible. Starting with a contact improvisation dance in the studio we continued outside to observe the sustainability practices put in place. From compostable toilets to permaculture gardens to natural earthen art, their place of both home and work (built on the land of 64 year old Kibutz) was something to be experienced in person.

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All organizations met:

Yad Sarah — the largest voluntary organization in Israel, providing services to sick, disabled and elderly people.

YEDID — social justice organization for women, immigrants and community.

Yvel — high-end jewelry company with a jewelry making school for immigrants to Israel.

Vertigo Art-Eco Village — dance company that created their home to educate about dance, art and sustainability.

LunArt — promotion of art and art education in the Israel-Arab sector.

Committed to Give — highlighting Israeli philanthropy.

Day 5 – Friday

Friday morning started off with a breakfast at Bakery 29, a social enterprise started by an ex-Wall Street trader that donates all of their profits to low income Israeli soldiers. Here we also met Ziv Neurim, an organization who makes marine activities (rowing, sailing, kayaking, etc.) accessible to at-risk youth and turns them into team building exercises.

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The 8200 Entrepreneurship and Innovation Support Program joined us as well and continued to peak my curiosity about how technology companies and social enterprises join forces in Israel (something I will cover in my next blog post). 8200 developed an accelerator program that requires company founders to give back to a community.

After a short drive, we had a chance to experience first-hand the world-reknowned Biet Issie Shapiro center for children with disabilities. We watched their teachers work with the children via sensory methods and then experienced their innovative therapies ourselves by entering the Snoezelen room.

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The room featured everything from light stimulus from multiple active sources to a chair with speakers in side that allowed one to feel the music as well as hear it. Impressively Biet Issie Shapiro uses some of these same methods for their dentist office, allowing children that have a hard time settling down a high level of comfort during a checkup.

Lunch was with an inspiring conversation with Yuval Bdolach founder and CEO of the Re-Lod Project and an active voice in the youth movement of Israel that challenged the government during the time of the Arab Spring and Occupy movements. As a result of the movement in Israel, Bdolach has seen three main changes already in effect:

(1) The hundreds of thousands of people that united during and after the movement.

(2) The Israeli government seats have seen a major shifting of power.

(3) There was a study published about the movement and what needs to change.

This was welcome knowledge. As someone who personally stood with the protest movements that occurred around the globe and continue today, I often worry these messages are forgotten when they are so very necessary in the dialogue of our human future.

As the sun set, we visited an area of Tel Aviv filled with culture, history and revitalization. ClassiKid co-founders Ilana Brand and Maestro Nir Brand showed us around the nieghborhood and welcomed us into their home for a wonderful made-from-scratch dinner followed by music that they have played across the world for kids to reinvigorate a love for classical music.

All organizations met:

Bakery 29 — cafe who donates all profits to low income soldiers.

Ziv Neurim — marine programs for at-risk youth.

8200 Entrepreneurship and Innovation Support Program — connecting high-tech and nonprofit entrepreneurs.

Beit Issie Shapiro — innovative therapy for children with disabilities.

Tzeva — network of youth building the future.

Re-Lod Project — urban renewal project in the city of Lod, Israel.

ClassiKid — classical music education for youth.

Day 6 – Saturday

Our first stop on Saturday was an hour south of Tel Aviv in the Negev region. Here The OR Movement is recreating what community can mean in the less populated areas in Israel through both urban and rural renewal projects. We visited a plot of land that will be used to create a new city from the ground up and their visitor center showing that a life outside of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem can be rewarding. Although this initiative was interesting, if The OR Movement makes building sustainable, smart cities at the core of their work, I think they could make an even larger impact and potentially build the Masdar City of Israel in the future.

We also visited a modern Kibutz, Kibbutz Hatzerim, that was established in 1946. It became a sustainable community through the creation of the first drip irrigation factory with patented technology by Simcha Blass and his son Yeshayahu in 1959, creating create an irrigation company called Netafim. From there they did away with any practices that weren’t benefiting the greater community and evolved into one of the most successful modern Kibutzs of today.

All organizations met:

The OR Movement — making Israel’s Negev and Galilee regions more livable.

Kibbutz Hatzerim — innovative Jewish community living.

Daniel Rowing Centre — world-class rowing and nautical studies.

Day 7 – Sunday

After visiting the NATAL trauma center for victims of terror and war, our group toured the most globally representative school in Israel, Bialik Rogozyn, a place where nearly 1,000 students — whose families have immigrated from South America, Africa, and beyond — receive a multi-layered education from elementary to high school. Appleseed Academy also operates out of this school and provides additional curriculum and programming for students to excel.

After another delicious meal on the Tel Aviv beach (I was told before I came by Raz Godelnik of TriplePundit that “Israel is just like any Western country but with better food.” A statement that held true.), our group had time to decompress and reflect on what the true Isreal vibe was like. All of us were inspired and impressed by the social entrepreneurs and social enterprises and businesses we met. Dedication, multi-cultural acceptance and youth empowerment were very much ingrained in everyone we met. Israel is always the first to give internationally aid and this mindset shows through their citizens.

The Israeli military also surprised me. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) in many cases provides citizens with an early platform for entrepreneurship, confidence and community mindedness, not of a war-hungry nation but of both men and women who truly care about peace building and everyday good deeds.

Israel was a place I could see returning to again and again, specifically Tel Aviv and the social-tech scene there that is complemented nicely by tranquil beaches and a Berlin-San Francisco nightlife. And, of course, a view like this:

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All organizations met:

NATAL — Israel’s trauma center for victims of terror and war.

Bialik Rogozin School — education for children of foreign workers.

Appleseed Academy — equal opportunity for Israel’s socially disadvantaged.

Google TLV — Google’s Tel Aviv campus.

Tristan Pollock

Co-founder of SocialEarth and Storefront. AngelPad alum. Ex-BestBuy.com.

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