Grapevine: Prestigious prize laureates

Dan David was an inventor, international businessman and philanthropist whose vision was the driving force behind the international prize, which is awarded in conjunction with Tel Aviv University.

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February 17, 2019 01:05
Dan David Prize

Dan David Prize 390. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Climate change is one of the greatest challenges confronting the world today. So it is hardly surprising that one of the winners of the prestigious Dan David Prize is a dedicated diplomat, speaker and author on matters related to global climate change. She is Christiana Figueres, who will receive a $1 million award for her achievements in combating climate change.

Figueres, originally from Costa Rica, was the executive secretary for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2010-2016, where her efforts led to the historic Paris Agreement of 2015, in which 195 nations finally agreed on a collaborative approach to limiting future temperature increases. She is also the founder of the non-profit Center for Sustainable Development of the Americas. When informed that she was one of the people selected for the prize this year, Figueres said that she was completely surprised.

According to Ariel David, a Dan David Prize board member and son of the late Dan David, “Christiana Figueres was awarded the prize in the category of ‘Future’ for her leadership in putting together the Paris Agreements to mitigate climate change. Figueres has shown that it is possible to break through our differences and bring together the entire world to face the challenge of climate change, likely the worst threat to humanity’s future that we have ever seen.”

Dan David was an inventor, international businessman and philanthropist whose vision was the driving force behind the international prize, which is awarded in conjunction with Tel Aviv University. His aim was to reward those who have made a lasting impact on society, and to help young students and entrepreneurs become the scholars and leaders of the future.

The Dan David Prize rewards achievements in all fields of human endeavor, rather than in fixed categories. Each year, the Dan David Foundation awards three prizes of $1 million each to outstanding figures and organizations whose efforts have made significant humanistic, scientific and technological contributions to the world. Three unique categories are selected annually in recognition of remarkable achievements that represent the past, present and future.

Along with the award for combating climate change, the 2019 Dan David Prize also recognized the remarkable work done by professors Kenneth Pomeranz and Sanjay Subrahmanyam in the field of macrohistory, and by Reporters Without Borders and author Michael Ignatieff for defending democracy.

The total purse of $3 million not only makes the Dan David Prize one of the most prestigious, but also one of the highest-value prizes internationally. Notable Dan David Prize laureates include Yo-Yo Ma (2006); Prof. Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of the AIDS virus (2009); novelist Margaret Atwood (2010); filmmaker brothers Ethan and Joel Coen (2011); and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (2015).

Figueres, along with the four additional Prize laureates, will be honored at the 2019 Dan David Prize Award Ceremony, to be held in Tel Aviv in May 2019.

■ BRAZIL WILL receive a donation of 10 generators that use Israeli technology to produce pure, clean drinking water from ambient air, according to Brazilian Minister of Science Marcos Cesar Pontes, who was in Israel recently as a member of Brazil’s delegation to this year’s Cybertech Conference in Tel Aviv.

While in Israel, Pontes visited Watergen’s headquarters, where he tasted the fresh water produced by GEN-350. Pontes also took time to meet with Watergen’s president, Dr. Michael Mirilashvili, who is the visionary behind the organization’s goal of making clean, safe drinking water available to every human being around the world.

Each of the 10 units going to Brazil is a GEN-350 atmospheric water generator, a Watergen technological innovation that enables the production of up to 900 liters of water per day. According to Pontes, the GEN-350s will be installed in schools and hospitals throughout Brazil, particularly in areas where there is a lack of safe drinking water.

The GEN-350 is easily transportable and can be installed anywhere. It is provided with an internal water treatment system and needs no infrastructure to operate, except for electricity. As a transportable machine that can easily be placed on a truck or emergency response vehicle, the GEN-350 is specially designed to assist people in locations that are not easily accessible.

Watergen’s gift to Brazil comes at a critical time for the country, where only a few weeks ago, a dam at a mine in Brumadinho collapsed, leading to the deaths of more than 130 people and approximately 200 injured victims.

Brazil has also been coping with water shortages in recent years. In 2018, authorities restricted millions of residents to daily water quotas due to a continuous drought. In the previous year, Brazil declared an official emergency in hundreds of cities due to a significant lack of water. A number of experts claim that the water shortage in Brazil, which affects more than 800 municipalities across the country, is due to climate change, rapid expansion of agriculture, poor infrastructure and insufficient planning.


■ ISRAEL’S COUNCIL for Higher Education (CHE) has approved a multiyear plan to boost internationalization in higher education. The CHE set a goal of having 24,000 international students studying in Israel by 2022, compared with 11,000 international students in 2017, an increase of 118%. In order to facilitate the changes needed to attract additional students, a budget of NIS 435 million ($120 million) was approved.

Currently, the percentage of international students studying in Israel is approximately 1.4% of the student population. While many international students take advantage of Israel’s excellent higher education system, the figure is significantly lower than the average in other OECD countries, which is approximately 6%. While the perceived security situation might deter some students from studying in Israel, the main obstacle is largely because most courses in Israeli universities are offered in Hebrew only. There are also political obstacles, such as visas and work permits for spouses, which hinder the ability to open the gates of these institutions to international students who may be married or are citizens of countries hostile to Israel, for instance, Iran.

In order to increase the numbers and to better attract and accommodate outstanding students from around the world, many of the institutions plan to make changes to their infrastructure and programs. The CHE’s budget will be used to provide greater incentives for institutions of higher learning to implement these changes, as well as for a number of scholarship programs for exceptional international students and post-doctoral researchers. The CHE has started working with various government ministries with the aim of removing many of the bureaucratic obstacles which make studying in Israel difficult for international students.

Strengthening internationalization in Israeli universities and colleges is intended to increase the competitive level of Israeli academia by accepting outstanding students from abroad, and bolstering the international reputation of Israeli institutions. Another important factor is that outstanding students often progress to leadership positions in organizations and institutions in their home countries, and in many cases become unofficial ambassadors for Israel.

Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, chair of CHE’s planning and budgeting committee, said, “The CHE is committed to turning Israel into a magnet for outstanding students from countries around the world. Significantly increasing the budget will permit many more international students to be accepted into Israeli institutions. Similarly, we will encourage Israeli students to enroll in overseas study and internship programs, and thus encourage reciprocal relationships which will greatly enrich the academic quality in Israel and enhance Israel’s international reputation.”

Opening Israeli universities and colleges to more international students is not just important from an academic standpoint, but also from a political one, as Israel continues to build and enhance diplomatic ties with foreign countries. It also helps to promote closer relationships between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. The upcoming changes will enable thousands of additional students to study in Israel, and from an academic standpoint, strengthen Israel’s image around the world.

■ BAR-ILAN University has already made a major move to attract more students from Diaspora Jewish communities by entering into a partnership with Maccabi World Union. A 40-member MWU executive delegation comprising representatives from 14 countries recently visited BIU, and were told by MWU CEO Eyal Tiberger that they represent 250,000 members of MWU and are in a position to convey plans for future cooperation.

“From the time of our founding over 60 years ago, we have shared core Jewish and Zionist values with Maccabi World Union,” said Bar-Ilan University CEO Zohar Yinon. He noted that BIU stands at the forefront of scientific research, and offers students all kinds of programs at a juncture in their lives when they are considering their options for higher education. One such program, he said, is the Israel Experience Gap Year Program, which offers a combination of Jewish studies, fully-accredited university courses, and educational tours of Israel from north to south.

Prof. Rachel Dekel, academic director of Bar-Ilan’s International School, told the delegation the school offers winter, summer and semester courses, and is working to increase the number of international students studying at the university. “With the highest number of new immigrant students in Israel, we see you as important partners in this venture,” she said.

Maccabi World Union co-chairmen Jed Margolis and David Korenfeld will head the committee advancing the MWU-BIU partnership.

The delegation also met with Dr. Shira Eluz, director of the simulation unit at Bar-Ilan’s Churgin School of Education; Dr. Aviad Bakshi, of the Faculty of Law, who discussed the constitutional meaning of Israel as a Jewish nation-state; Dr. Jonathan Schler, who heads Bar-Ilan’s Israel Prize-winning Responsa Project – a database that consists of one of the world’s largest electronic collections of Jewish texts in Hebrew; Dr. Isaac Hershkowitz, of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, who discussed obedience to the law in religious Zionism, and Dr. Micah Goodman, author and director of Ein Prat Midrasha, on the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

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