For a group of young entrepreneurs ranging in their early 20s to 30s from India, El Salvador, New Zealand, Brazil, and South Africa, Israel had always appeared through the media as a country of conflict and filled with negativity. On August 13-16, they gathered in Israel for the Social Entrepreneur Exchange (SEE) Israel. Organized by students from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as one of the projects of StandWithUs (an organization dedicated to bringing peace in the Middle East through education and highlighting false information), this four-day conference aims to bring Israeli social entrepreneurs together with social entrepreneurs from around the world to learn from each other.
Like other nations, Israel deals with many social challenges and by learning some of their complexities, organizers hope that participants will gain insight on solutions that can be applied universally. SEE is a combination of lectures and workshops that focus on a new topic each day: problem and need definition, social model duplication, social entrepreneurship implementation, and the challenges facing social entrepreneurs as well as the possible solutions.
During their stay, participants had the opportunity to volunteer and interact with locals at a market, who shared stories of their past.
“Being here, I understand Israel and Israelis as people much better. In India, our perception of Israel comes from the media and we always hear about the conflict, especially the flotilla incident. Israel is always presented as an oppressor from this perspective,” said Jithin C. Nedumala, founder of Make a Difference. “I’m amazed by how informal everything is—you don’t feel any hierarchy and people generally let others be. Israelis even refer to the Prime Minister by his nickname—Bibi. In India, society is much more strict and formal.”
Polyana de Oliveira from Brazil was surprised by the nation’s diversity. “There are so many different types of people here from all backgrounds,” she said, adding that she has “a lot of ideas” to bring home from the conference. “I learned so much about social models during the conference and the fact that we all have similar issues and problems– and that there are creative ways to solve them.”
For Rodrigo Aguilar, a university student from El Salvador, this trip was an opportunity to “see how it really is here”. “The coverage that Israel receives in my country is usually negative, so I have always done my own research into the conflict and Israel which was why I wasn’t too surprised by what I’ve experienced culturally throughout the trip.”
“You can see that the early pioneer spirit is still alive in the entrepreneurial outlook among the Israelis we have met. This was a great opportunity for us to meet, share and learn about the value of social innovation against the fascinating cultural landscape of Israel,” said Tatyana Kurbatoff from New Zealand.
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