Israel's vision to become the world's 'development startup nation'

U.N. Development Program Administrator Helen Clark (middle) with Danielle Abraham (left) and Daniel Ben Yehuda (right), co-organizers of the Israeli Designed International Development 2014. Photo by: ID2

It's no great secret that Israel is the source of numerous innovations, cutting-edge solutions and startups that are changing the world. With more high-tech startups and a larger venture capital industry per capita than any other country in the world, Israel's image as the “startup nation” is well known around the world.

Such an achievement, however, is insufficient.

While we live in a world where 1.2 billion people still face extreme poverty, where 19,000 children under the age of five die every day, mainly from preventable causes, we must broaden our focus. We must refocus our efforts, not only on creating the next Waze to help people navigate around traffic, but also to find solutions for some of the world's most pressing development challenges.

As individuals and as a nation, we have a responsibility to ask ourselves constantly: What more can we do to improve the quality of life for billions around the world? How can we further leverage Israel's creative entrepreneurial spirit and startup success for greater impact?

The answer, we believe, can be found in turning Israel into the true source of solutions for the developing world.

Efforts to realize this vision were manifested most recently in a three-day gathering titled, “Israeli Designed International Development 2014” or ID2. Funded by the Schusterman Philanthropic Network Connection Points Program, ID2 brought together 70 young innovators, entrepreneurs and international development professionals from Israel and elsewhere to promote and inspire an in-depth engagement under the theme “Entrepreneurship for Development.”

The conference was attended by a “who’s who” of speakers on everything from how technology can transform a developing country to impact investing. Helen Clark, head of the U.N. Development Program, former New Zealand Prime Minister and frontrunner to become the next U.N. secretary-general, was a special guest and said she was “blown away” by the power of the participants.

Indeed, the real stars were the participants themselves, who are at the forefront of change. Take the CEO of a new impact investment portal that lets individuals partner with high-impact startups working in the developing world by lending them as little as $20, or the CEO of a medical device company seeking to eradicate cervical cancer. Both are based in Israel, and they represent dozens of entrepreneurs working single-mindedly to leverage innovations for development.

On the other side of the spectrum are those in the field working to create changes at a grassroots level. One of the participants, a South African, created an online job portal to address the issue of rampant unemployment in his country’s townships and rural villages. Another, a 25-year-old American living in Rwanda, founded an organization pioneering a new approach to community development under which poor people design, implement and manage their own social impact projects.

That ID2 brought this impressive young generation of global change agents together in Israel is no coincidence. The country has a lot to offer, not only in producing the solutions, but also in providing a hub where people from around the world can connect and learn from Israel's vast experience in innovation and entrepreneurship, and from its technology and know-how.

The fruits born of this initiative are still taking root, but we are confident that the connections and partnerships created during the gathering will leverage greater impact and meaningful change around the world. Indeed, the potential results of ID2 and the new direction for the startup nation in general is nothing less than realizing the potential to impact the lives of millions of people worldwide.

It’s clear that Israel is currently faced with a historic opportunity to create a powerful new narrative for itself in becoming a hub for development startups. And it’s our obligation to ensure that this narrative becomes a reality.

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the authors

  • Daniel Ben Yehuda

    Daniel Ben Yehuda is co-organizer of the Israeli Designed International Development 2014. He is also deputy director of the Pears Program on Innovation and International Development at Tel Aviv University’s Hartog School of Government and Policy.
  • Danielle Abraham

    Danielle Abraham is co-organizer of the Israeli Designed International Development 2014. She is also policy adviser to the head of the Policy Planning and External Relations Division of MASHAV, the Israel Agency for International Cooperation.