Mashav foreign aid program fights depleting budget

After 50 years and 250,000 graduates of its courses, and despite cash crunch, officials are upbeat about new projects for developing countries.

Mashav, Israel's international aid program that has assisted millions of people around the world, is facing rising budget cuts as it prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary at the end of this year. But that does not deter Meron Reuben, Mashav's director of policy planning and external relations. Reuben told The Jerusalem Post this week that despite the financial constraints, he hoped to boost projects abroad "ten-fold." Mashav's focus used to be attracting people to study in Israel, but today the organization is mainly concerned with exporting Israeli expertise. The dairy farm in China that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited last week, for example, was established by Mashav. "It was Mashav that set up and has been running the farm together with our Chinese partners for the last five years," said Reuben. When Israel was still regarded as a developing country, Mashav received millions of dollars annually in aid from other countries, he said. But now that Israel is a developed country, this cash inflow has stopped. In the 1960s, the Mashav budget was 36 percent of that of the Foreign Ministry, today it is only 3%. Although the government continues to support Mashav, the lack of funding from other sources has severely hurt its budget, Reuben said. He declined to give the actual figures, saying they were not what was important. "In spite of all the challenges it faced and faces... Israel is classified as and has been a donor country for decades," Reuben said. "We're less reticent than other countries in handing over our know-how," he added. "It's something you can't put on a balance sheet." Mashav is an acronym for the Center for International Development Cooperation in the Foreign Ministry. It provides courses and consultation on agriculture, socioeconomic development, rural and urban development, education and health. Mashav was the brainchild of Golda Meir, who visited Africa in 1957 and decided Israel should help developing nations. It has helped countries with which Israel does not have formal ties, and has often been the basis for forging diplomatic relations with them. Since then, some 250,000 people have graduated from Mashav courses held both in Israel and abroad. They are invited to join the Shalom Club, which facilitates contact with Israel and sometimes leads to important economic and diplomatic dividends. Mashav works in conjunction with the Agriculture, Education, Environment, Finance and Health ministries. The Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center, the first of its three centers in Israel, was the first to be gender-oriented, and for many years refused to accept male teachers or students. "Alumni from numerous countries in which women were repressed learned how to become self-reliant and productive, both as individuals and as part of a cooperative," Reuben said. "Some have gone on to positions of leadership in their own countries."