Israeli NGO Nahshonim hooking up Start-Up Nation to social impact

An Israeli NGO connects private-sector business executives from companies like Google and Microsoft to mentor and develop non-profits and fledgling entrepreneurs in the periphery.

Israeli entrepreneur Sagi Shahar connects hi-tech business executives with charities and small shops in the periphery, doling out strategy and professionalizing businesses.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israeli entrepreneur Sagi Shahar connects hi-tech business executives with charities and small shops in the periphery, doling out strategy and professionalizing businesses.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Mention the word “NGO” and entrepreneurship may not come to mind. Unlike private sector businesses, which can pay top dollar for talent and strategists, scrawny social impact organizations are often forced to make do with the little that they have.
Entering the picture is Nachshonim, an Israeli NGO which connects executives from companies like Google and Microsoft with nonprofits and fledgling entrepreneurs from the periphery to mentor and help develop a business strategy.
Take Amany Al’zinati, 24, an Arab-Israeli woman from Lod. Al’zinati has operated a nail salon out of her home since she was 14. With Nachshonim’s help, she professionalized the business, relocating it to a retail space and bringing on two employees, which has increased her revenue by more than 40%.
The selection process to become a mentee is competitive. Charities and small business owners who make the cut enjoy blue-chip consulting services free of charge.
“We channel the ingenuity of the Start-Up Nation to solve intractable social problems,” says CEO Sagi Shahar, meeting at a Tel Aviv WeWork space he uses for free. “Israeli society suffers from income inequality, extreme poverty, a lack of religious pluralism. And our nation, with the great talent we have in house, can’t solve our very own problems. For us, that doesn’t make any sense.”
Nachshonim connects its mentees, many of whom are from Israel’s neglected periphery and Arab sector, with executives who talk to customers, build a benchmark analysis of competitors and create a financial model for the mentees.
“Most of our talented young professionals today join the hi-tech sector and the business sector,” says Shahar, who founded Nachshonim with Arik Fuss less than two years ago.
“We’re asking: What if we could harness these talented young professionals to serve not just these start-ups, but also Israel’s most urgent problems,” helping fledgling entrepreneurs and charities along the way.
Some 60% of Nachshonim’s mentees are nonprofit organizations and the remaining 40% are Israeli-Arab businesspeople from Lod – most of whom are female – and entrepreneurs from the development town of Ofakim.
Nachshonim mentor Raz Atias, an industry manager at Google, works with a nonprofit that promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics education among kids in the periphery. He says it’s a highlight of his week.
“It’s an after-school activity that brings this type of project to places where they don’t exist, places where the government doesn’t provide enough resources for children to learn and experience science and learn coding,” Atias explains.
Acceptance to be a Nachshonim mentor, or fellow, is competitive, with some 2,000 people applying for just 150 slots. Most of the fellows work with mentees for months, meeting once or twice a week.
In total, Nachshonim fellows have worked with some 80 small businesses, helping them grow a combined $10 million in revenue.
Among its clients is Natal – the Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center, which helps treat victims of terrorist attacks and war as well as military veterans suffering from PTSD.
“Nachshonim connected between us and the Strauss company,” says Natal CEO Orly Gal. “They choose managers from different sectors and they work with them and they teach them how to think strategically – especially about NGOs.”
Natal paired with Nachshonim to develop a five-day emergency management international training program – a way of selling Israel’s expertise in dealing with trauma to garner funding for programming back home.
“I can share knowledge and sell knowledge. I can use this money to take care of people in Israel who need clinical support,” says Gal. Some 70% of Natal’s budget is from donations.
Nachshonim is funded by the Recanati Foundation and the Joint Distribution Committee. Other partners include WeWork and global auditing firm KPMG, which provide experts that help with the training of both the mentees and the fellows.