In Israel groups of disadvantaged people are using technology to create wealth and level the playing field. A lot of attention in the media focuses on the top 1% of the Israeli success story; those who are living the Startup Nation dream. That subset of venture capitalists, successful entrepreneurs, and residents around the Tel Aviv area. While the success of the Startup Nation over the last twenty + years has helped propel many Israelis’ standard of living to levels comparable to those of Western Europeans, the bulk of wealth (as is the case in tech globally) has not reached those populations most at risk.
Israel, however, has a rich tradition based on the ideas of Tikkun Olam; its citizens (and government) have helped in bringing up those in society who are less fortunate, and the tech community has been on the forefront of working to find solutions to the most pressing challenges. In many cases, it has been the age-old adage of teaching a man (or woman) to fish. In the following articles, we’re going address how technology is positively impacting and influencing communities such as the ultra-Orthodox, Arabs (Israeli and Palestinians) the disabled (and elderly) women and LGBTQ citizens, and what that means for Israel. Most importantly, we’ll address what the key takeaways are and what we can learn from these groups’ to help innovation globally.
The ultra-Orthodox are the fastest growing population in Israel making up around eleven percent of the population with a birth rate more than double the national average. They’re also a demographic which is now wielding a significant amount of political power in Israel’s multi-party coalition political system because of their rising numbers. Despite attempts of the rabbis heading theses communities to hold on to power and insulate the community from outside influences, there have been significant cultural changes in Haredi society because of the proliferation of technology, particularly smartphones.
While many members of the Haredi community use kosher smartphones(namely Internet filters that are designed to keep out objectionable content) there has been a major influx of regular smartphones which have access to the outside world. Imagine someone growing up their entire life with a set of beliefs dictated and enforced by society only to see that there is another world accessed by a small device using Google in their pocket. Nero’s decision to take the red pill in the Matrix comes to mind.
In addition to (and to a degree because of it), Haredi have begun entering the workforce, particularly in the field of tech. If in the past it was shameful for a young student to want to work and support his (or her) family in 2018 Israeli society it is acceptable for a young Haredi to work alongside studying Torah. While there is general enthusiasm for the desire of the Haredi to enter the workforce, years of imposed isolation from the world at large has put many Haredim at a disadvantage in trying to break into the field.
As Moshe Friedman, KamaTech’s CEO, who himself comes from a Haredi family points out “if I want to be a rabbi, I have a lot of friends who can find me a very good job, but if I want to be an engineer in Microsoft or Cisco, I don’t know anybody in those companies.” As the next section will illustrate, social entrepreneurs have emerged from the Haredi community to tackle these challenges:
The organization which is the vanguard in leading the revolution of the Haredi entering the workforce is Kamatech, an accelerator based in Jerusalem which as quoted on their website is “a unique program established to facilitate the successful integration of Haredim into the Israeli high-tech workforce”. Kamatech is an organization which successfully integrates Haredi into the Israeli workforce; specifically the tech sector. It’s funding sources range from the tech giants, Intel, IBM, Google to New York philanthropic organizations such as UJA-Federation. The program’s goal is to accelerate Haredi entrepreneurs startups which will ultimately compete not just on the Israeli market but globally.
One startup in particular which graduated from Kamatech called BrilliaNetor; an artificial intelligence platform which can be applied in cyber defense, cloud computing, and military. This startup was founded by Dr. Meirav Hadad who is an ultra-Orthodox woman with a Ph.D. in computer science. Here we have a case of a startup utilizing the advanced technologies in some of the most technologically forward industries This would not have been possible five or ten years ago.
Kamatech has progressed with the launch of their first venture capital fund called 12 Angels in collaboration with the women led equity crowdfunding site iAngels focusing on education technology, e-commerce, artificial intelligence, cyber-security , nd fintech. Capital naturally flows to great ideas and initiatives, regardless of age, sex, or religion.
The programs and trends covered give us optimism. Just a few years ago it was common for your average ultra-Orthodox to be reluctant to work. That is just not the case today, and the constant stream of both ultra-Orthodox men (and women) into the workforce is helping the Israeli GDP’s growth. Stay tuned as Clearview Partners covers in future articles how Israel’s other minority populations are innovating and helping the Startup Nation’s rapid growth.