To get lost is to learn the way, an old African proverb teaches us. For years, I have been learning the way in Israel and across Africa. What I have learned through my work, both with Mitrelli Group and Menomadin Foundation, is that to succeed, it is sometimes necessary to get lost in unconventional approaches and take the path less trodden. A path that couples social impact and finance, alongside philanthropy and impact investing.
Our goal has always been to create sustainable solutions, while paving the way for future entrepreneurs to change the way they change the world. Not just to build buildings, but to build communities.
Over the years, a school of thought has been developed that identifies the inherent paradox in the notion of development through outside assistance – be it funding or expertise – without undermining the independence and agency of the local beneficiaries. Building infrastructure without investing in the local authority or agency could provide a tactical win, but would inevitably take place at the expense of any strategic success.
These ideas embody the Zionist story and to an extent, my own story. As a country primarily made up of immigrants, Israel has developed its own model to help people help themselves over the years. For example, Israel has one of the most comprehensive absorption systems in the world for new immigrants, providing new arrivals with everything from free healthcare to housing and education. However, this has rarely served to undermine the ability of new immigrants to fend for themselves and thrive. In Israel, education and skills training, and investment in creativity and innovation have enabled the country and its citizens to fend for themselves and flourish.
Take my own family, for example. Arriving from Tunisia with no family history of farming, we found ourselves operating a farm, growing everything from flowers to vegetables. This was one of my fondest memories growing up. The pioneering spirit was supplemented with a thirst for education and a desire to succeed, which embodied my parents’ generation. This legacy instilled in me the entrepreneurial drive I seek to now implement, through my organizations, around the world.
When I set up the Mitrelli Group, with the mission of “Empowering people to help nations grow,” I was motivated by this spirit. Operating in a diverse range of fields, from education and healthcare to IT, we provide local communities with what we call the creative synergy for success. Instead of simply providing off-the-shelf solutions, we work with local actors to map out and analyze the on the ground challenges and work – together – to address them with sustainable solutions. Throughout the process, we maintain a strong and vital emphasis on knowledge-transfer for local personnel.
The relevance of this unique development model is pertinent across an array of industries. We have embraced this approach in a diverse range of fields, ranging from housing and alternative energy to medicine. This is perhaps best represented in our educational models. Instead of simply building schools, our team builds futures by making education sustainable. The synergetic nature of our project management model emphasizes the importance of long-term local operational capacity, empowering those who will shape the future of their own nations and their own destinies.
Indeed, one cannot enact impactful change without respecting local traditions and culture. Furthermore, physical buildings can never be enough. We must endeavor to approach each and every project, whether for profit or not for profit, through a community-oriented lens. Social inclusion, protecting the vulnerable in society and developing young leadership programs are at the core of all our work. From fish farms to clean water projects and wastewater treatment, we believe that economic development is only truly effective if combined by real social benefits.
Our approach has already impacted the lives of tens of thousands of youngsters across the continent and in Israel, but it must not end there. It is my hope that our impact extends far beyond our own projects, impacting the way in which billions of dollars are invested in development projects around the world each year.
This understanding of sustainable project management and innovative creative synergy has inspired me throughout my years of both business and philanthropy. It is an understanding that I hope to pass down to fellow philanthropists and entrepreneurs of the next generation, who together with those who need it most, can construct a new world.
The writer is founder and president of Mitrelli Group and Menomadin Foundation.