Over the years, Israel has become one of the world’s leading technology centers. Sometimes called the Silicon Valley of the Middle East, Israel has enjoyed great economic growth in part because of the entrepreneurial spirit of its citizens. As a result of this continued growth and development, a new community of prosperous Israeli citizens has emerged, and with that, a new culture of Israeli-sponsored philanthropy.
Israel enjoyed its first high-tech boom in the late ’90s and later suffered from the high-tech bubble-bust in 2000. Today, with a more mature business culture, Israel’s business sector is stronger than ever, innovating and creating products for international markets. Some of Israel’s leading companies built from the ground up include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (reported net sales in 2009 reached 13.9 billion) and ICQ (recently acquired for $187.5 Million by DST). Also, it is not uncommon for successful Israeli start-up companies that show promising market potential to be acquired by stronger market players from the United States and Europe. Israeli companies such as Attenti (recently acquired by 3M for $230 Million) and LabPixies (acquired by Google for $25 Million in 2010) are examples of a common growth cycle of many Israeli companies.
From its humble founding in 1948, Israel has been transformed from a country of refugees to a developed country with a stable economic and social system. A considerable factor contributing to this transformation has been the generous philanthropic support from American and European private and public sectors. However, in the past years a new breed of philanthropists has emerged from within Israel – successful entrepreneurs, business men and woman who have enjoyed great financial success – who are giving back to their homeland through social initiatives, diplomatic activities and donations.
One such Israeli businessman who made his fortune in high-tech and today actively supports philanthropic activities is Avi Naor, previously CEO of Amdocs. Appointed CEO in 1995, Naor led the company’s public offering to the NYSE in 1998. With his success, he also founded “Or Yarok”, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving road safety. The organization was founded after the tragic death of Naor’s son and funds research initiatives, publishes reports and lobbies for improving Israel’s road safety. Along with his wife, Avi Naor later founded the “Oran Foundation”, an organization aimed at helping at-risk youth.
Named by Forbes magazine as the richest woman in the Middle East, Shari Arison is one of Israel’s most wealthy citizens who also actively donate to a number of philanthropic initiatives. Shari Arison was born in the United States and grew up partly in the U.S. and partly in Israel; she inherited two family owned businesses which today are estimated to be worth $3.4 billion. Arison is the chairman of The Ted Arison Family Foundation which is involved in both monetary donations and sponsored non-profit organizations that give back to the community. The Ted Arison Family Foundation was founded by Shari Arison’s father in 1981 and today is currently managed by Shari Arison. “Ruach Tova” and “Essence of Life” are two programs sponsored by the foundation that promote social transformation through personal growth. Arison says, “In order to achieve world peace, every one of us has to attain peace within himself and with his surroundings.”
Ronny Douek, another successful Israel businessman and philanthropist made his money in the shipping business. He also owns Israel’s largest vineyards, Arava Vineyards Ltd. With his experience and skill-set, Douek began devoting his time and resources to creating several organizations dedicated to helping new immigrants acclimate to their new surroundings in Israel. Philanthropic organizations founded by Douek include “Ach-Shav” and “Zionism 2000”. Douek’s philanthropy is mostly centered on the social needs of Israel’s weaker communities in need. His philanthropic work has also included government-sponsored activities including his appointment to be the Chairman of Israel’s National Anti-Drug Authority, directly reporting to the Prime Minister.
Many Israeli philanthropists contribute their time, money and managerial expertise to help improve the quality of life for Israel’s citizens. Often times, their philanthropic activities converge into diplomacy. Arie Genger, an Israeli-American businessman reached financial success in the United States through his work at the Rapid-American Corporation. Following his successful business accomplishments in the United States, Genger wanted to give back to his home-country and moved back to Israel to work in the Israeli government. During this time, he was appointed to economic and defense related positions, and became the personal advisor to Ariel Sharon who was Israel’s Defense Minister at the time. Later, when Sharon was Prime Minister Genger was appointed to be his Emissary to the White House. As Emissary, Genger was entrusted with sensitive information on behalf of Israel’s security. In addition to his government work, Genger also founded the First American Israeli Technology Fund (FAIT), which pioneered the method of raising investment funds to develop Israel’s economic potential. The main motivation for creating FAIT was to encourage philanthropy through investing in Israeli businesses.
For Leon Recanati, philanthropy is a family tradition, starting with his grandfather who arrived to Israel with a family fortune. “For me, giving is a part of the structure of my being and family tradition” says Leon Recanati, businessman and philanthropist. The Recanati family has been involved in philanthropic activities from sponsoring the funding of school departments (business schools in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), to museums and medical facilities. Recanati says, “I derive great satisfaction from the fact that I am able to help a man who is in a difficult situation. It moves me deeply.”
With a population of 7.5 million, Israel is a small country with a diverse population. For years, Israel has been receiving generous donations from successful people who live outside of its borders. However, in recent years the number of donations has grown with the addition of prosperous Israelis looking to contribute in their own way. There are many successful Israeli citizens living both in Israel and abroad who have contributed large donations to philanthropic activities in Israel. These citizens come from a diverse background and each has dedicated themselves to a wide spectrum of social causes. The one unifying factor across this entire diverse group is the willingness and dedication to give back and make Israel a better place.