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An Innovative New Zionism For The StartUp Nation

Today, the Zionism of the past isn’t enough. Israel needs a new, modern take on Zionism that is just as innovative and new as the beating heart of its thriving startup ecosystem.
Illustrative photo of an Israeli crowd. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an Israeli crowd. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

I saw the most amazing technology yesterday. I can’t tell you about it now, but you’ll read about in a couple of months when the agency I work for helps share this amazing technology with the world. See, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with some of Israel’s most amazing tech companies and startups and to help them tell their stories. Fortunately for me, being the geek that I am, this isn’t an uncommon experience.

As I’m sure most of you are well aware, Israel has become well known as the Startup Nation. As told in the 2009 book of the same name, Israel’s tech sector has been a marvel of innovation and entrepreneurship. This has become one of Israel’s greatest success stories. So for a geek like me, it’s a real kick to spend my days at work playing with new tech.

But of course, Israel’s success as a startup ecosystem and hub for innovation depends on the strength of the country as a whole. Israel, with all of its virtues and flaws, is the result of people choosing to embark on the adventure of building a Jewish country. For me, as an Oleh, that story has special significance. I also chose to build a life here, so I appreciate the pioneering spirit of Israel’s founders. Now, I’m not comparing myself to the people who built this country, but I appreciate the spirit and sense of purpose of the early Zionists.

Obviously, this isn’t 1897 and I’m not writing this from a balcony in Basel. Israel is a modern country with modern challenges. Today, the Zionism of the past isn’t enough. Israel needs a new, modern take on Zionism that is just as innovative and new as the beating heart of its thriving startup ecosystem.

That’s why I was really excited to discover an organization called OR Movement — a non-profit group committed to helping develop two key regions in the country. OR Movement is focused on helping communities in the Negev and Galilee grow and thrive. These areas, outside of the bustling center of the country, hold massive potential for development and haven’t yet reaped the full benefits that have come with Israel’s tech development.

Photo Courtesy OR Movement

OR Movement helps bring new life and new residents to the communities in these areas and even helps build whole new towns. In the time the organization has been operating, it has already helped bring 32,000 people into communities in the Negev and Galilee. And that’s just the number of residents the organization has worked with directly. The indirect number is probably higher since each new resident helps support others and spurs further job growth.

OR Movement works with the Israeli government to target specific communities and locations for support. It then helps provide support to bring new residents, and also helps to spur the creation of the necessary jobs needed for residents to create new lives in these communities.

One way it does this is through a course at the IDC in Herzliya. It encourages business students to explore new ways for businesses to expand to the Negev and Galilee. Ultimately, OR Movement works with select students and businesses to open offices in the target regions.

Another key innovation in the Zionism that OR Movement supports is the way it is targeted and directed at strategically important regions of the country as well as populations that need help. Beyond that, the organization is tapping into a critical modern concept – sustainability.

“For the first time, we are now able to plan for Israel’s future in a sustainable and scalable way,” said Co-Founder and CEO, Roni Flamer. “Israel is estimated to have a population of 16 million by 2048 (Israel’s 100th birthday). In order to grow in a sustainable manner, our goal is to have 40% of the population living in the Negev and Galilee by then.”

It’s really heartwarming to see the commitment and passion that people bring to a project like OR Movement. It reminds me of the reasons I moved to Israel in the first place. There is a palpable energy and spirit here that is difficult to ignore. It drives people to build, to create, and to help advance their community and the country as a whole. This spirit is what makes Israel and Israelis so innovative. Now, organizations like OR Movement are channeling that spirit to help the country grow even more.

About the Author
Jonah Balfour is an avid fan of technology, Apple, and Israel. He has worked with some of the hottest Israeli startups and is an evangelist for the Israeli tech industry as a whole.
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