An answer to Israel’s brain drain

Sadly, Warshel left because he was not able to get tenure in Israel at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Arieh Warshel celebrates Nobel Prize win 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Arieh Warshel celebrates Nobel Prize win 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There has been much talk in recent days surrounding Israel’s so-called brain drain, particularly in the area of academia. Every year more and more professors are leaving Israel to teach in the United States and Europe.
This issue was brought to the forefront with the release of a new report by the Taub Center, which states, “Israel’s academic brain drain to the United States is unparalleled, with 29 Israeli scholars in the US for every 100 remaining at home in 2008 (the most recent data available).”
Just last week two Israeli professors, Arieh Warshel and Michael Levitt, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which should have been a great source of joy for the country but instead highlighted this disturbing trend, as both of these professors reside in America.
Sadly, Warshel left because he was not able to get tenure in Israel at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
While almost all of the discourse in the media and news sources has been focused on Israel’s brain drain, little to no coverage has been given to organizations working to combat this phenomenon. Gvahim is one such organization, that works specifically with olim to keep their talents in Israel and promotes a very much needed “brain gain.”
Founded in 2006 with the Rashi Foundation, Gvahim is dedicated to assisting olim in finding work in their fields of expertise. In the words of executive director Mickael Bensadoun, “Israel is blessed with a new strategic human resource: highly skilled olim who decide to leave their home countries to build new careers and start-ups in Israel. Unfortunately, too many highly skilled olim are underemployed, and their talents are underused.
Some even go back to their home countries.”
It has been well documented that many native Israelis who have found success actually acquired the necessary skills and began making the necessary connections in the army. This was one of the themes of the well-known book Start-up Nation.
A large number of olim, however, don’t have these connections in the country, and this, together with the language barrier, means that often these olim, although highly qualified and knowledgeable, are not able to find the kinds of jobs they would like and have trouble building and growing their ventures in the country.
The difficulties olim face in building successful startups is an issue Gvahim dealt with head-on. Through its initiative, less than two years ago Gvahim’s TheHive was developed, which helps olim entrepreneurs accelerate their projects. Agilite, Parko and EcoBasalt are just a few of the ventures that have gotten off the ground because of TheHive.
Just several days ago Gvahim released its annual report highlighting successes from 2012 to the summer of 2013. Gvahim’s success rate for helping olim find quality jobs is quite high. For Gvahim, after just 12 months, 26 of the 32 participants were employed in quality positions. In only three months, 20 of Gvahim’s 27 participants had found jobs in their fields.
Not only does Gvahim have a high rate of success, it has attracted the attention of many high-profile Israelis.
Gvahim’s annual event, last held in August 2012, was attended by some 1,200 Israeli professionals and entrepreneurs, including then-governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer.
Although I have not personally participated in Gvahim, I have many friends who have built their careers in Israel with the help of this organization.
When friends who have also made aliya approach me feeling frustrated about the employment opportunities in Israel, I generally refer them to Gvahim because I believe strongly in its mission and have witnessed its successes.
As executive director Bensadoun rightly says, “With the proper guidance and professional support, highly skilled olim can fully express their talents in Israel, and we can transform the new wave of aliyah into a brain gain for Israel, with a huge economic, social and Zionist impact.”
The phenomenon of Israel’s academics leaving the country also requires this sort of attention and resources. Israel is a country that throughout its history has been faced with a myriad of challenges, but we must be proactive in forming plans to combat such problems and work to put the necessary measures in place to actualize those plans.
Problems cannot be ignored, because they will not disappear but rather intensify in the coming years.
Israel’s academics and its new immigrants must be encouraged to stay in Israel. The government must do more to support those who can reverse the brain drain trend, such as organizations like Gvahim.
Israel is not a country rich in natural resources, but we are a rich in human capital.
The author has lived in Israel for the past six years, and made aliya four years ago after receiving her master’s in Jewish Civilization from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.