Jewish & Arab women unite in the spirit of entrepreneurship

The difficulties in empowering women entrepreneurs has brought Jewish and Arab women together, bringing down political and social divides for the sake of mutual economic advancement.

yvonne davis 8 8298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
yvonne davis 8 8298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The difficulties in empowering women entrepreneurs has brought Jewish and Arab women together, bringing down political and social divides for the sake of mutual economic advancement. "What struck me about Israel is the diversity and the hunger of women whether Israeli or Arab to unite, gain information and help each other to become financially self-sufficient," said Yvonne R. Davis, president & chief executive officer of DAVISCommunications and an expert in constituency building for women's issues, small businesses and welfare reform in developing countries, during her first trip to Israel. "There is still discrimination of women in the corporate and political world and women feel that they don't want to fight the system and thus they open their own business and see entrepreneurship as a more viable way." Speaking at the "National Jewish and Arab Business Women's Conference" on women's rights as independent workers, organized by the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development (CJAED) and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Davis said there were 10.6 million women-owned businesses in the US accounting for nearly 30 percent of all businesses there. In Israel, the Women's Unit at the CJAED has, to date, trained over 1,200 women leading to the establishment or expansion of 600 businesses. "But the challenges here are greater as in the US we have legislation, women are a protected class and have mandate legislature and are recognized as an important economic force," said Davis, who was invited to Israel by the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. The Women's Unit at the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, which was launched eight years ago, advances cooperation between Jewish and Arab women in Israel, and between women in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It has been implementing an entrepreneurship training and support program for women to provide them with the tools and skills with which to establish their own businesses, enabling them to achieve personal empowerment and generate income for themselves and their families. The center's work has a multi-tiered approach, which incorporates training, mentoring, regional business networks, a loan fund and public policy work. In September, the center launched Jasmine, the Association of Business Women in Israel. "We are seeing an increasing number of women developing small businesses in Arab and Israeli villages and there is much support from organizations such as the CJAED but it is not enough," said Nadia Hilou, member of the Committee on Advancing the Status of Women in the Knesset. "What we need is government legislation and policy for working women such as the recognition of child care costs." Hilou added that, today, more than 50% of Israeli women had economic power or were working, compared with about 22% of Arabic women. "One of the main obstacles for women in building their businesses is access to capital," said Davis. "The problem is that in Israel, the larger banks seem to have no interest in small businesses although they are the backbone of the economy." Davis added that in the US, the government answered the need of women and minority business for more access to capital, noting that the Small Business Administration there has taken aggressive measures over the past six years to focus on women-owned businesses by easing access to credit and capital, federal contracts and international trade opportunities. "Following the footsteps of the SBA, American Express has a small business network program for women to help them gain the economic tools for business expansion, while Bank of America has created specialized programs and plans for women and minorities who need access to capital," Davis said.