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Before participating in the six-month Women's Empowerment Program (WEP) sponsored by Cisco Systems Israel and JDC Israel, Nibal Zoabi was a cashier at SuperPharm. Today, the mother of two works as a computer science teacher at a school near her home in Nazareth.
"I always felt it was my destiny to do something else, that I was overqualified for the job," says Zoabi. "I was looking for a way out."
She found that way out through an online advertisement for WEP, part of a growing initiative by Cisco, a multinational corporation that designs communications technology, and JDC to reach out to women of low socio-economic status across Israel and bring them into the business sector. Through intensive daily training and monthly workshops in computer technology, business etiquette, and personal and social empowerment, the women gain important skills to help them find and keep a well-paying job.
"As soon as I started the course, I felt like I was finally taking my life into my own hands," says Zoabi. "I am more confident after this program."
Since its inception two years ago, the program has graduated 250 participants, with a dropout rate of only eight percent, according to Ifat Baron, Area Academy Manager. Seventy percent of the women go on to find jobs in leading technological companies, she adds.
"The program was established in order to decrease the digital gap and help women find jobs in quality positions," says Baron. "Our students are unemployed or working in unprofessional jobs. They come for six months, five days a week, to a technological center in their town, and learn very high-level technological courses that high-tech employers need."
Baron adds that the programs are individually developed in each town to meet the needs of local employers. "The courses are focused on the needs of the market. Before we launch a program in a city, we check with the employers in the area to see what the job profile for that city is. We find out what the employers' needs are, then we design the curriculum by those needs. If in Haifa we have Netvision and they need a course in IP (Internet Protocol), we'll teach IP."
Baron says the program is also shaped around the needs of the local population, and differs based on ethnic and religious makeup.
"The content is different from group to group," she says. "In Nazareth, most of the women do not want to work outside Nazareth, so we need to work with this issue. In Carmel City, it's more conservative, we need to just get the women outside the house."
"I think only in Israel can you find Jewish, Druse, Arab and Christian women sitting around a table and leaving their differences outside to focus on learning technology," says Cisco spokesperson Zofnat Prizant.
In fact, with some exceptions, the programs are open to women exclusively so that religious women can feel comfortable attending.
"When there are only women in the class it's more relaxing, they are more focused and available to learn. Especially in religious groups, where they cannot express themselves if there are men. Some women would not come at all if it was mixed," explains Baron.
The workshops, however, are not about getting to know other religions, rather they are about "getting to know the technology," says Baron.
To maintain their low dropout rate and ensure the success of program participants, interested women must go through a rigorous application process before being selected for WEP.
"It's a very expensive program so we really want to choose the women who want to make a change in their lives," says Baron. "They pay a small deposit of [about] NIS 1,000 just to show that they're serious about this. If they're paying, they really want to take part in this course."
Before being accepted in the program, the women also have to take an English exam, and complete a personal interview.
"We have to have a tough selection process," says Baron. "For a woman to come to this course five days a week for six months and not find a job, it's really disappointing... for them and also for us. We know each of these women by name and by rÃ©sume."
Meanwhile, women who have completed the program have gone on to work at Cisco, Netvision, Bezeq, Teva and 012, among others.
"Our company highly values diversity in the workplace," says Dikla Giladi, recruitment manager at YES. "We strive to recruit employees from all facets of Israeli society. We receive recommendations from Cisco for potential YES employees who are close to graduating from their program. This collaboration has already yielded outstanding results. I hope that through the continuation of programs such as this, we can continue to hire more employees who would not necessarily reach us without our commitment to this cause, Cisco's training, and this positive collaboration."
The program operates centers in Nazareth, Migdal Ha'emek, Carmel City, Ashkelon, Netanya, Kfar Saba,Â Deir Hanna (near Acre), Tamra and Kabul, Beersheba, Upper Nazareth, Ramle, Baka al-Gharbiya.