Leaving the region better than we found it

The 2017 Forbes Under 30 Summit EMEA, held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in April, was our most ambitious attempt yet to “plant seeds.”

Tel Aviv as seen from the DC-3 (photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
Tel Aviv as seen from the DC-3
(photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
 It’s become conventional wisdom that Millennials choose a job not for money, title or prestige, but for purpose. The big question: are they - or their employers - creating a positive impact on the world? In shaping the Forbes Under 30 Summit, the world’s top gathering for young entrepreneurs and game-changers, as culled from our global 30 Under 30 lists, it’s become incumbent on us to create programs that live up to that ideal.
Too many large conferences feel like an invasion, with hordes of convention-goers flattening everything in sight, leaving the host city with not much more than a sizable cleanup effort following its conclusion.
The 2017 Forbes Under 30 Summit EMEA, held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in April, was our most ambitious attempt yet to “plant seeds.” Convening more than 700 of the present and future leaders in every field, from more than 30 countries and all six inhabited continents, in Israel, allowed them to experience “Start-Up Nation” first hand, giving them a reality that differs starkly from what’s portrayed in their local media. The deals and partnerships that were struck will echo for decades, a very positive outcome for our host.
But what if we could do more? What if we turned what other gatherings call “attendees” into participants, with the goal of accelerating initiatives in the region? Fueled by a grant from the Pratt Foundation, and guided by a mission to leave a lasting impact, we decided to funnel our most influential guests into three different sites, with three different missions.
In Jerusalem, we partnered with Jerusalem Venture Partners to turn their campus into a day-long impact hive, taking the best new Israeli technologies and then splitting into six groups to apply those breakthroughs to global problems.
Bolstered by more than 200 participants, the results were remarkable, stretching across numerous tech verticals, including financial technology (where participants came up with an idea for a cloud-based data storage for refugees to help them secure credit), food technology (a product that suggests healthy meals on a fixed budget, and automatically sources the food from local growers) or pretty much any other tech in between.
Some of the innovations were incremental. When a representative from OrCam demonstrated the company’s image-processing technology that helps the visually-impaired, the health team pushed for a “facial lexicon” that will impart the nuances that make communication whole. The founders of several safe-driving apps inspired those focused on mobility to gamify actions behind the wheel, with points and prizes for driving without distraction. Other outcomes were more systemic, from community-based engineering competitions to boost kids’ self-esteem to a platform for cybersecurity collaboration.
To make sure the entire region benefited, we also headed to Rawabi, the Palestinian planned city that aims to put entrepreneurship at its center. In a space underneath the modern 15,000-person amphitheater, 50 participants from the US and Europe heard a half-dozen pitches from Palestinian startups, including Mashvisor, a site that evaluates investment properties based on their Airbnb prospects, and Baskalet, a mobile games studio whose founder presented via Skype from Gaza. The young Western entrepreneurs, in turn, revealed their projects and then Sir Ronald Cohen, whose Portland Trust helped organize the day, and Rawabi’s developer Bashar Masri layered on some high-level mentorship. From there, we let entrepreneurs do what they do best: network, overlooking the burgeoning skyline of this optimistic new city. Finally, to connect with this land and its history, we dispatched another large group to the Hebrew University-led excavation of Khirbet Arai. Archeologist Yossi Garfinkel led the group in a dig that uses modern technology to explore a 3,000-year-old site that holds a key to determining the historical and geographical accuracy of the biblical record.
What will come of all this? It will take years to find out - the technologies and the alliances remain nascent; we were planting seeds, not trees. And this kind of work can never be fully quantified - how do you value an idea that later spurs yet another one five years later or a friendship that eventually becomes a partnership? But the ledger will show that good was advanced, and that our host emerged stronger. That should be the goal of any thoughtful guest.
The author is the editor of
Forbes Magazine and the creator of the Forbes Under 30 franchise.