When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out ’til quarter to three, would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m sixty-four
This week marks the 64th Anniversary of the State of Israel. Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) comes immediately on the heels of Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) whereby we commemorate the lives lost in order to fulfill the mission of Statehood. The reality of so closely tying the good with the bad is thematic in Israeli culture, as in life, where joy and pain are often two sides of the same coin. Therefore, it’s particularly appropriate on this Yom Ha’atzmaut that I share my reflections with you on the State of Israel at 64 and my recommendations (if I may so bold) for taking Israel into the next phase of life.
In order to understand where we are headed, we must first look to where we have been. As with any new enterprise; a newborn baby, a newborn state, or a newborn company, the first years are critical in setting both the tone and the foundation for future health and prosperity. “Raising” Israel has been no exception. The State has literally been transformed since its inception in 1948 from a Middle Eastern dustbin into a modern day Metropolis that in 2010, was ranked 17th among of the world’s most economically developed nations and ranked first as the world’s most durable economy in the face of crises. (IMD’s World Competitiveness Yearbook.)
As one might imagine, the climate in Israel has also been transformed along with the country’s physicality. Israel is no longer at the precipice of modernization. In fact, we now find ourselves fully immersed (and in many cases leading) in all facets of 21st century life and wide open to scrutiny on the world stage (something we have never lacked) as well as intense scrutiny from within. The divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” (in the US, it’s between the 99% and the 1%) has gotten even wider with a return to the “tent city” protests that began in July 2011, threatening to make a comeback. (NOTE: beginning in July 2011 hundreds of thousands of protesters from a variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds openly pitched tents along Rothschild Boulevard to demonstrate against the continuing rise in the cost of living – particularly housing – sparking copycat protests throughout Israel and beyond, as well as mass rallying.)
In many ways, the dangers we face now are even more dire than before because after so many years of surviving hostile neighbors, the tendency to settle in to an illusion of comfortability on that front is enticing. After all, no one wants to live in a perpetual state of readiness for war. (Of course, somewhere in back of our collective minds we are always cognizant of the fact that our borders include Lebanon in the North, Syria in the Northeast, Jordan and the West Bank in the East, and Egypt and the Gaza Strip on the Southwest 🙂
And while I don’t pretend to be an expert in all facets of economic, social and political life, I do know something about life in general. More specifically, about ensuring that one reaps the best possible rewards from what one has sown (loyal readers will remember that I have 5 children of my own and at least as many companies…also my “children,” in a very real way.)
So, how should we proceed? I propose that the time come has come for us to view the State of Israel as we would any personal business endeavor. To begin with, we need to take a step back and dispassionately identify our successes and failures and own them. We need to understand what we are good at and where we are lacking. And we need to do this with an eye toward the future and an idea of where we want to be twenty, thirty, and even fifty years from now.
Our politicians need to view themselves as CEOs and begin assessing market opportunities for growth in conjunction with our resources. Then we need to create a national agenda based on our findings and chart an appropriate course for moving forward.
How to Succeed in Business 101.
For instance, despite limited natural resources, intensive development of the agricultural technologies and industrial sectors over the past decades has made Israel largely self-sufficient in food production. We have also become leading exporters of electronics, software, computerized systems, communications technology, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and military technology. In 2010 it was estimated that our export revenue was $80.5 billion for the year and largely based on our prowess for technology.
Each one of these technologies represents a huge opportunity to answer real needs that the world will be facing in the next 50 years. A smart CEO both sees and seizes these opportunities to his company’s benefit. However, a smart CEO also recognizes that a country roughly the size of New Jersey cannot possibly be all things to all people.
Therefore, we need to take a laser-focused rifle-shot approach (spoken like a former Israeli soldier) and pinpoint those exportable technologies that will best yield “profit” with an eye toward reinvesting in our own future in areas that include education and social programs. I believe that the best way to bridge the chasm between those of us who have and those of us who are lacking, is to create a climate of opportunity with incentives, grants, entrepreneurial rewards and investment vehicles that will help kick start growth for the underserved.
And what technologies would I export? 1) Technologies to help in the fight against world hunger; 2) Technologies related to Energy Savings; and 3) Cyber Security technologies.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, twenty-nine countries currently have levels of hunger that are either “extremely alarming” or “alarming” and many more are barely above that level. Most of those countries are located in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. That makes them our neighbors. And it further compels us to bring the world’s attention to their plight. By bringing agricultural technology to this part of the World we can make a real difference in both their countries and our own.
The same is true for sustainable energy. Just today Bloomberg News reported that five trillion dollars of investment is needed worldwide by 2020 in renewable power, energy efficiency and cleaner transportation to contain rising global temperatures (according to a study by the International Energy Agency.) As the only Middle Eastern country not situated on a natural oil reserve, Israel has had no choice but to become a world leader in alternative energy, with the government throwing massive support behind cutting-edge technologies. As a result, the number of private entrepreneurs entering the “clean-tech” sector has continued to rise steadily and successfully.
Then, of course, there is the issue of security. Who knows better than we about the need for security and the ways to ensure it? In fact, isn’t that what both Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut are all about.