One man's drive to empower the weak

By
June 24, 2011 16:11

Chanoch Barkat takes the old adage of giving a man a fish and applies to the world of modern business.




Chanoch Barkat

Chanoch Barkat 521. (photo credit:courtesy)

Chanoch Barkat, 51 Toronto to Ra’anana, 1971

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Making big money is every businessman’s dream. But in Israel, a number of businesses also practice a form of philanthropy that involves, for example, employing people from the weaker sectors of society – the drop-out youth, the single mothers, the mentally retarded. This way, not only do these people have jobs, they also receive training that will stand them in good stead for life, and everyone gains – the businessman makes money, and the employee acquires valuable skills.

Chanoch (Allan) Barkat, one of the leaders in this new philanthropy – the fusion of business acumen with a social conscience – is passionate about the idea, which he adopted after many years in the conventional business sector.

ARRIVAL

The 51-year-old Barkat came to this country as an 11-year-old boy with his parents, who made aliya from Toronto. His family name was originally Borovoy, and he grew up in Ramat Hasharon, where his parents settled in 1971. After his army service, he studied for a BSc in computer engineering at Haifa’s Technion, and he has an MBA from the Kellogg-Recanati Executive Management program.

For several years, he lived in Japan while representing DSP, a start-up company that sold microchips to Japanese manufacturers.

In 1995, he became Israel managing director for Apax Partners, one of the world’s leading private equity investment groups – a position he held for more than a decade.

CURRENT WORK

Three years ago, he established the social venture fund Dualis (www.dualis.co.il). With its carefully chosen name suggesting a duality of ideas – the business and the social sector – and its logo, a tree with two flourishing sides, Dualis introduces the venture capital model into the world of social entrepreneurship.

As an investment fund that aims to bring about social change in Israel, it represents a new philanthropy that takes away the outstretched hand of the supplicant and replaces it with a profitable business where both the donor and the receiver benefit.

Probably the best-known project Dualis supports at the moment is the chain of Liliyot restaurants, one an established gourmet eatery in Tel Aviv, and a newer one recently opened in Ra’anana.

At Liliyot, 15 at-risk youth – recommended by Elem, a nonprofit for youth in distress – work and are trained in the restaurant business, learning to be chefs.

Says Barkat, “A restaurant is a great place to provide vocational training. We provide a social worker who is there all the time; we pay the youngsters a salary and employ a top chef to teach them. In a lot of ways, it’s like giving them a big hug.”

Does every troubled teenager taken on in the program manage to turn his or her life around? “We have had very few failures,” says Barkat, adding with a smile, “At the beginning, it’s a challenge just to get them to show up for their shift on time. Over time, they become very committed, and in many cases, it’s the first time they feel they are being given a real chance to make something of themselves.”

The project very much resembles Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant – and in fact, when he was in England, Barkat visited Oliver’s foundation to pick up ideas and inspiration.

In 2010, the Bar-Ilan School of Social Work conducted a study to discover what impact this project had made.

“Ninety percent of the youth five years down the line were back to living a normal life,” says Barkat with obvious satisfaction.

He is now concentrating efforts on a newer venture, the Ringelblum café in Beersheba, which works on the same principle as Liliyot. It was started by Noam Horowitz of the Beersheba nonprofit Tor Hamidbar, dedicated to bringing educational projects to the Negev, together with the municipality. It is situated in what Barkat calls “a challenged neighborhood.”

“It’s a high-end professional eating-place in a difficult area, so it improves the quality of life of the people there, as well as providing training for 15 drop-out youth from problem backgrounds,” he says. “We also maintain a full-time social worker there, and the teenagers are trained to be waiters and chefs.”

Another venture is an investment in the Galil Software company, which provides jobs for engineers in the Arab sector in Nazareth – an area with notorious employment problems.

While the employees all feel they are getting something positive out of the arrangement, Barkat points out that although the business side of the venture is financially profitable, it doesn’t maximize profit, as a significant percentage of the financial gain goes back to support the social program.

“If we closed the social program, of course the investor would make much more money,” he says.

Nonetheless, the work Dualis does gives him enormous satisfaction, knowing he is contributing to social causes in Israel – and in fact, it makes good business sense.

“If I’m in the not-for-profit world, every year I have to fight to raise funds,” he says.

“In the business world, after the initial investment, the business is sustainable and I don’t have to raise money again.”

FUTURE GOALS

His vision for the future includes training young women to work in retail stores, helping the elderly and contributing to the environment.

He is also lobbying the government to put the necessary infrastructure in place to encourage businessmen to support social businesses, by introducing a taxation support system.

Mohamed Yusuf, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who pioneered the notion of social business, used to say, “A dollar donated to a social cause has one life, but a dollar invested in a social business has an endless life.” This is a sentiment with which Barkat heartily agrees.

HOME LIFE

A Ra’anana resident, Barkat is married to interior designer Orna and has three sons, two in the army and the youngest in school.

Besides his business interests, he has held several public positions, including being on the board of Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer team.

Between leaving Apax in 2006 and starting Dualis, he had some time on his hands and, together with his social activity, studied a variety of subjects: He became a skipper, studied massage as treatment, learned coaching and developed a firm belief in mind, body and soul balancing and meditation.

Somewhat unusual preoccupations for a hardened businessman, but Barkat proves that being a successful businessman doesn’t mean losing your soul.

“I want to help Israel to flourish, to help the less fortunate and really to try and make the world a better place,” he says.

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