May 22nd marked a milestone event in Israel’s relations with Asia: The first Israel-Asia Summit, an initiative of the Israel-Asia Center which conducted its proceedings for three days, closed after a full day of discussions and networking on the background of a gorgeous sunset on the beach of Jaffa, in the Peres Center. The conference set the tone for something that should by now almost be obvious to local businessmen and politicians alike – the economic future of Israel, to a considerable extent, lies in Asia and not anymore in Europe or the US.
After spending the first day in Jerusalem with the Foreign Ministry and sightseeing, the second day exposed dozens of delegates from Asia to a fast paced review of several promising Israeli start-ups at Google’s “Campus” in Tel-Aviv, a well equipped facility provided by the internet giant to technological and social entrepeneurs free of charge.
On the third and last day of the event, several hundred delegates, almost one hundred from several Asian countries joined Israeli businessmen, lawyers and academics in three main panel discussions dealing with the views of Asia’s next generation, the ecological challenges of Asia’s mega-cities and the economic impact and technical opportunities of an aging Asian population. The moderators did an excellent job in bringing out the positions of the members of their respective panels, be it harsh and pervasive criticism of rigid Asian education systems by young graduates, the highlighting of innovative and cost-effective public transportation and new sustainable technologies for eco-cities, or the impact of aging and associated technological challenges and opportunities.
In side meetings Tel-Aviv’s municipality led a discussion on how to support and energize start-up companies in an urban environment, a strong Vietnamese delegation joined Saul Singer in launching the Vietnamese language edition of his and Dan Senor’s book “Start-up Nation” in real time, on the net and SIT, a local company conducted an Innovation Workshop for attendees.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Arvind Gupta from India had earlier made a pervasive case for cooperation and coinvention and the benefits of pooling innovative resources which set the tone for the non-competitive nature of the conference. Corporate social responsibility, bi- and multinational cooperation and social entrepeneurship seemed to be much more on people’s minds than the bottom line. The event, conceptualized and organized by Rebecca Zeffert, founder of the Israel-Asia Center and a young social entrepeneur herself, gave an extraordinary amount of exposure to young people, many of them graduates of the Israel-Asia Leaders Fellowship program. The overall impression was inspirational and truly refreshing.
As Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, and active member of the business community working with Asia I have been to quite a number of conferences and networking events – the Israel-Asia Summit set a standard for gatherings for entrepeneurs from Asia and Israel in the future: The innovative selection of topics, the fast paced panel discussions, the low average age of panel members and attendees, the active involvement of the start-up community and culture in Israel, the dynamic networking and the beautiful setting at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa made one thing certain: This will be a yearly event for the Israel-Asia community. A systematic follow up is in the works and will help ensure that future events will be even more successful than this one was.