Bedouin education effort provides example for global development

'Momentum' seeks to increase the number of Bedouin high school graduates in Rahat with high-level matriculation certificates in math

Bedouin participants in Social Finance Israel's "Momentum" program (photo credit: PR)
Bedouin participants in Social Finance Israel's "Momentum" program
(photo credit: PR)
An Israeli initiative to improve education among Bedouin high school students is now aiming to serve as an example for other disadvantaged and under-served communities across the world.
“Momentum,” a program developed by the nonprofit Social Finance Israel, seeks to significantly increase the number of high school graduates from the southern Bedouin city of Rahat with high-level matriculation (bagrut) certificates in mathematics.
Approximately 15% of Rahat high school students currently graduate with four to five units in mathematics, significantly below the national average of 35%. Some 1,200 students in grades 10-12 are currently participating in the program operated by the nonprofit Beit Yatziv Beersheva in collaboration with the Education Ministry and Rahat municipality, which aims to boost graduation numbers by approximately 50%.
The program is entirely financed by a social impact bond, or a “pay-for-success” approach, raising equity from private investors, yielding returns according to the initative’s social benefit.
Anchor investors include the Rashi Foundation and Mizrahi Bank, with overall investment at NIS 14.8 million. Should the program prove successful, investors could see government-financed returns of approximately 5% on their investments.
The innovative program and other local initiatives were presented to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday during a voluntary national review of the State of Israel’s implementation of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including quality education and reduced inequalities.
In addition to raising the number of students from Rahat graduating with four to five units in mathematics, the program also aims to improve the participants’ Hebrew language skills. Enhanced language skills are expected to lead both to higher matriculation exam grades and more opportunities in higher education, thus increasing employment opportunities.
Cofounded by chief executive Yaron Neudorfer and chairman Sir Ronald Cohen in 2013, Social Finance Israel has identified innovation and social impact bonds as the key to solving a range of social issues.
Ahead of showcasing the project at the UN, Neudorfer told The Jerusalem Post that other countries can learn from their model as a way to reduce gaps between populations and promote equality of opportunity.
“If you look deeper at the project, it’s not just about teaching the kids mathematics or Hebrew, but dealing with the global problem of inequality,” he said.
“This provides a good example for how a government can use innovation, both in intervention and financing, to deal with inequality and social issues. It’s a strong partnership between the private sector, government and NGOs.”
The project will also serve as a pilot for the Education Ministry, which hopes to replicate the program locally for other under-resourced populations and communities if successful.
“Our aim at Social Finance Israel is to create best practices and then put them on the desk of the government. We show the government our successes, and they can use it in other periphery townships and globally as well,” Neudorfer said.
“This approach enables governments to do pilot projects on difficult or complicated social issues without taking the risk. Investors will take the risk and the government will only pay back investors on successful outcomes.”
The 17 SDGs and 169 sub-targets, adopted by all UN member states in 2015, are a collection of objectives set by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to end poverty and other deprivations worldwide.
Based on indicators allowing coverage of 81 of the 169 SDG sub-targets, Israel says it has so far achieved 10 of the goals and is close to reaching other targets. Targets have already been met relating to neonatal, infant and maternal mortality; alcohol consumption; and R&D employment and expenditure.
Some significant challenges remain, however, in the case of 12% of the targets, including relative income poverty rate, students’ basic skills in mathematics, and socioeconomic disparities in education.