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Creating New Opportunities in the Desert

June 25, 2015
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
212-879-9305 x222
The Negev’s First Class of Social Business Entrepreneurs
       By: Megan E. Turner


The Lauder Employment Center in Be'er Sheva.

Under a beautiful desert sky last week, people gathered for an evening of celebrating innovation and success in Be'er Sheva as HaMeitz presented its first class of social business entrepreneurs to the greater public. 

The Lauder Employment Center, conceived of by international businessman, philanthropist, and chairman of Jewish National Fund, Ronald S. Lauder, served as the backdrop for the bustle of people exchanging ideas for the future. The clinking of glasses and bustling, cheery atmosphere marked a successful debut for HaMeitz, a social enterprise and small business accelerator and the first program of PresenTense in Israel’s south. 

The building itself reflects Be’er Sheva’s character through a beautiful blend of tradition and modernity, with the original architecture acting as a throwback to Turkish times for the building's modern and forward-thinking tenants, including Tor Hamidbar, one of the partners of HaMeitz's stellar entrepreneur program.

The passion of these entrepreneurs is instantly evident. HaMeitz's Program Coordinator, Maor Elkayam’s first words were: "It's so nice to meet you – do you have any ideas for future projects?"

The introduction of the 2015 Entrepreneur Class began with remarks from Be'er Sheva's deputy mayor, Tal Elal: "Be'er Sheva is the city of opportunity," he repeated, emphasizing the mindset that the capital of the Negev has when thinking about the future of this burgeoning desert metropolis. "The Negev is the future of Israel," Elal added, invoking the famous sentiments of Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion.  

Knesset Member of the Labor party, Erel Margalit, built upon the theme of development in the Negev by pointing out that both eBay and PayPal will be opening their development centers in Be’er Sheva. “The time has come for a different way of thinking,” he said, continuing on about the importance of shifting emphasis from developing the center of the country to developing the country’s next hi-tech and development center in Be’er Sheva.

Next up were the pitches of the entrepreneurs themselves. Each individual or team invested time into summarizing their socially-aimed products and services into a pitch of no longer than 20 seconds, and the impact was resounding. An infectious sense of pride rippled through the crowd at the  amazing ideas, ideas aimed at the Negev, staying in the Negev, and enhancing the Negev.

The highlight of the evening came from being able to speak with the entrepreneurs one-on-one, hearing the passion and the drive for their work in their own words. One such project was Desert Language, an arts studio that teaches and encourages youth creative artistic techniques using natural materials from the surrounding desert. 

The teenagers then take these skills and teach various after-school programs all over the region to disadvantaged children. Not only does this project give back to the community, it teaches invaluable work and job-related skills to teenagers and youth that will remain with them as they grow and mature.

Another project, called Revealed – Learning to Swim in Hura, focuses on teaching Bedouin children and youth how to swim. In their pitch, entrepreneurs Yael and Arik starkly pointed out that “20% of deaths from drowning in Israel are from the Bedouin sector,” and that, through their professional knowledge and their business model, they plan on building a public swimming pool in Hura, a small yet flourishing Bedouin community of about 15,000 people, and teaching swimming lessons to the city’s youth.

One project that stood out for its simplicity was the Israeli Institute for Cognitive Accessibility. “How do you explain to someone who can’t tell time that they should wait 10 minutes in a protected space after a rocket siren?” Ornit Avidan-Zeev asked in her pitch. “Try telling them to wait the length of four songs, instead.” This enterprise aims to make materials that are easy to understand for those with cognitive disabilities through the use of simple language, organization, and pictures. The Institute’s motto is ’Slow and Simple is Also Accessibility.’

This class of entrepreneurs only more strongly emphasized the pace at which growth and development are racing forward in the Negev. These projects significantly illuminate the migration of power, energy, and ideas towards Israel’s South. Welcome to the Negev – Israel’s next great frontier.   

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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.

JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.

For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit


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