Mikhael Mirilashvili: Making an impact from Georgia to Israel

Mirilashvili is a leader in the international Jewish community with a focus on countries in the former Soviet Union.

Mikhael Mirilashvili, an Israeli-Georgian businessman and philanthropist (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mikhael Mirilashvili, an Israeli-Georgian businessman and philanthropist
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Mikhael Mirilashvili is a successful Israeli-Georgian businessman and philanthropist based in Israel. Mirilashvili’s business enterprises range from technology companies, real estate, shopping malls and commercial centers to infrastructure projects, renewable energy, management offices, sports and finding solutions to COVID-19.
Mirilashvili is also a leader in the international Jewish community with a focus on countries in the former Soviet Union. He currently serves as President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, Vice President of the Steering Committee of the World Jewish Congress, Vice President of the Russian Jewish Congress, President of the Maccabi Union in Russia and President of the Torah and Chessed Center for Jews in Georgia. In 2015, He is a recipient of Keren Hayesod’s Isaiah Award for his work on behalf of the State of Israel and the international Jewish community.
Born in May 1960 in Kulashi, a small town in Georgia, he moved in 1977 to St. Petersburg, then known as Leningrad. Originally trained as a mathematician, he qualified as a doctor from Saint-Petersburg University, and specialized in pediatrics. In the early 1980s, Mirilashvili joined the family business established by his father, Moshe Mikhael. By the mid-90s, the business had developed several real estate offices across Russia, and he expanded it beyond the borders of Russia.
The Mirilashvili family launched Vkontakte, a Russian social network in 2006, selling their shares in the company in 2013 for $1.12 billion. Mirilashvili himself has established several companies in Israel, including Kitaim, a venture capital fund, as well as Flarium Global, Be’er Itzhak Energy, Hoshen Argaman, and most recently Watergen, the global leader in drinking water from air technology, Vertical Field, a leading ag-tech company, and Nanosono, which develops nano-material proven effective in destroying harmful bacteria, including COVID-19.
Mirilashvili is a major donor to Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman’s Migdalor charity and the ZAKA emergency response organization, serving as the chairman of the latter’s International Board of Trustees. Mirilashvili has donated Torah scrolls to units in the IDF, teamed up with Alexander Mashkevitch to create a fleet of fire-fighting vehicles after the Mount Carmel forest fire in 2010, and provided the planes for a medical delegation to aid terror victims of an attack in Burges, Bulgaria in 2012.
He is involved in health services, such as hospitals; environmental programs, such as Tel Aviv University’s Water Research Center; Jewish historic preservation, such as Yad Vashem’s Center for Research on the Holocaust in the Soviet Union, and many other initiatives and causes that enrich communities worldwide.
What motivated you to do all you do?
According to the Jewish religion, repairing the world and assisting our fellow man are essential parts of serving God. We must care for all human beings and make sure that no one in the world is left without the basic things needed to survive.
I had the great fortune of growing up in a family with the means and tremendous commitment to caring for others and providing for the community. I have very early memories of my grandfather who died when I was very young, but I was raised with stories my family told about him, which were full of his giving heart and generosity. My family was part of a very strong community in Georgia, and Jewish and non-Jewish people alike would come to ask my grandfather for help. Even after these people would receive what they asked for from my grandfather, I learned that he would worry privately amongst the family about whether what they had asked for was enough – would it last?
When I was a child after my grandfather died, it was my grandmother who continued his legacy of giving. I remember people coming to her gate and asking for assistance.
I would ask her to give me money so that I could give it to them, but she taught me that this is not the proper way to give. Instead, she would invite them into the privacy of her home, feed them and send them on their way with food, in addition to providing with the requested funds in hand.
My father also made a great impact on me and the model of philanthropy that I try to follow every day. During the Civil War of Georgia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my father came to live with me in St. Petersburg. By this time, I had many businesses in Russia, and a great number of residents from our area in Georgia – Jewish and non-Jewish alike – came to St. Petersburg to flee the violence. My father asked me to hire as many as I could, even though many were not equipped with the necessary skills. When I pointed this out to him, he insisted that I should hire them anyway! At his request, I did.
Each day after work, my father would invite these new employees to his home and take great interest in them, asking them how work was? how were they doing? and most importantly, he taught them how to be efficient and really thrive in their new positions.
One of the Jewish people’s greatest scholars named Maimonides taught that there are eight levels of charity, and that the highest level is to give a person their own work. But I believe that my father went even one step further and created a ninth level, because the people he brought to work in my companies became so important to our work that today it is not clear who is more indebted to whom: the people he brought or the company that benefits from their professionalism and skill. These workers are pillars of my companies, and we could not imagine our work without them.
In this vain, I see my work and success in business as an opportunity to solve a global problem that threatens the whole world and humanity. We must work in order to make sure that all people around the world have access to the most basic things that they need to survive, and these resources are in ever-more danger. The current COVID-19 crisis has simply made this unfortunate reality clearer.
You have recently becoming involved in “impact” investments to help solve critical problems in the world, ranging from food and water shortages to medicine. How did you get involved in this?
I have had the great fortune to be financially successful in life, but financial success requires a great deal of good luck and blessings from God. What is up to us and in our control is how we treat people, both those who are in our community and those on the other side of the world.
Unfortunately, we are seeing today that much of the most basic resources that we have taken for granted and on which we depend for our health and well-being are in danger. The air we breathe is polluted and carries diseases, of which COVID is only one. The water that flows from our taps is no longer safe, fresh-water supplies are shrinking, and billions of people around the world suffer from drinking water insecurity. Our food is increasingly expensive, inorganic, and in danger. Who would have imagined before this crisis that there would be a run on the supermarkets and supplies would be limited?
Therefore, my focus on impact investing is really a result of what I see in the world, and the responsibility that I believe God commands us to take care of our fellow human beings. Watergen, for example, is completely solving the world’s water scarcity crisis through its unique technology to make drinking water from air. The solution offers an immediate, secure, and sustainable source of clean drinking water, and has already been deployed in more than 80 countries around the world in order to combat water insecurity while eliminating the need for harmful plastic bottles and containers. This Israeli company is bringing health, prosperity, and security to people around the world.
Tell us about your investment in Vertical Field and why it’s so special?
Vertical Field is an amazing Israeli company that has developed a unique technology to bring crops, vegetables, and fruits into our cities. The company is transforming the way we grow and consume food and make shifts in the food supply chain, shortening the distance from the consumer to the edible plant and largely removing transportation expenses. VF’s soil-based farms let you grow crops even when you don’t have acres of land to plant: you simply set up one of their containers and bring fresh produce directly to your restaurant, supermarket, or home. The technology also brings the many benefits of plants into the urban ecosystem including air and noise filtering, decreasing waste, creating pesticide-free and naturally bug-free plant walls. Urban agriculture is a new way to meet the rising global population’s need for food supply by growing plants in any indoor or outdoor space in cities.
The geoponic (soil-based) platform is capable of growing over 200 types of crops! This type of holistic solution that looks at how to make cities healthier, more livable, and more enjoyable, while also increasing food security, is the forward thinking that is so critical to today’s challenges.
The company is an amazing effort to build new capacities for growing food and securing our health even as huge disruptions occur to our climate and technology.
Have the firms you invested in participated in finding solutions to the coronavirus?
We recently became involved in an Israeli company called Nanosono, which developed a unique anti-microbial nano-technology that can be synthesized into a powder, gel, or liquid. Extensive research has shown that the nano-material almost completely kills harmful bacteria, and recent tests of the material on COVID-19 shows that it kills the virus.
The material can be put in personal protective equipment like masks or medical clothing, wall paints or creams, and even in the near future directly splashed on skin – or on every surface with which we come into contact. Imagine if, during this crisis, we had antiviral masks which killed any virus that existed in the air we breathe. The company is already working in many locations around the world in order to assist in corona prevention and eradication. The possibilities are endless, and we see this as yet another opportunity to help people and deliver new technologies that serve all of humanity.