Participants in Vibe Israel.
(photo credit: VIBE ISRAEL)
When I traveled in Israel last month as part of Vibe Israel’s online influencer tour of the women’s entrepreneurship community, I expected to learn about cool startups. And I did. Israel has more startups than any region outside of Silicon Valley in the U.S., and many of them will go on to become powerful forces in the worldwide economy.
What I did not expect, however, was to see how Israel’s entrepreneurial, can-do spirit manifests in the complex worlds of diplomacy and science. Americans, you see, like to talk. Someone has an idea, so we set up a meeting. Then we have another meeting. We have to keep meeting until everyone agrees to proceed.
In the Israeli culture, when someone has an idea, execution is immediate. Of course, some ideas don’t work, but the pace of innovation is so swift that genuine breakthroughs are made all the time. Two intriguing examples I witnessed were the Peres Center for Peace and the Weitzmann Institute.
Our tour visited the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, which is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental, and non-political organization founded in 1996 by former president Shimon Peres. The Center’s vision is to build peace between Middle Eastern peoples through socio-economic and interpersonal cooperation.
Funded by a mix of corporate donations, family foundations, and worldwide governments, the Center sits in a location known for its history of peaceful, neighborly relations. Yarden Leal, director of external relations and development, shared that the center is a “do tank” rather than a “think tank” – it’s focused on implementing realistic and scalable programs. “This is a nuanced, complicated region, but we want to show that positive things can happen,” said Leal.
One positive thing is the “Saving Children” program. The Peres Center provides funds for Palestinian children to be treated in Israeli hospitals when the resources do not exist at home. The program also aims to build treatment capacity in Palestine by training its medical professionals in Israel, and to create a network of information and trust between Palestinian and Israeli physicians.
A second notable initiative involves peace education. The Center recruits Palestinian and Israeli children to join together in camp-like gatherings. The participants get to know each other via activities like sports, culture and the arts, and technology. Israeli children return home with the notion that Palestinian children “are not so different from us” – and vice versa. The program encourages both the children and their parents to view the other side with a more open mind.
At the Weizmann Institute of Science, a public university in Rehovot, 2,500 scientists and team members conduct basic research that results in groundbreaking medical and technological applications every year. Three Nobel laureates and three Turning Award laureates hail from here, including Ada Yonath, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for mapping the structure of the ribosome.
Our group had the opportunity to meet with Prof. Ruth Arnon, who developed the code for Copaxon, the first drug for multiple sclerosis. A modest woman who loves to hear MS success stories decades after her drug was approved, Arnon shared that her team recently team developed a universal flu vaccine. In just 3-5 years, people around the world will be protected against the influenza virus without having to worry about varying, incompatible strains.
I left Israel with the impression that the culture tries to guide its citizens into the right jobs, and then once they’re there, allows them the freedom to be creative and productive. Much larger countries can learn a great deal about “making things happen” from this society.
Alexandra Levit is an internationally recognized bestselling author and thought leader on business and the workplace. Her goal is to help companies better understand and communicate how business is conducted in different cultures so that they can ultimately succeed in the global economy.
Vibe Israel is a non-profit organization promoting Israel as a hub of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. For more information go to