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Innovation and Democracy

Our hearts fill with pride when guests from other countries who come on official visits to Israel – presidents, governors and ministers – declare that they have come to see for themselves the wonder that has developed over a very short period of time compared to the history of other developed countries.

Among the various visitors, executives who come to examine cooperative opportunities in the field of technology stand out. In Israel, they look for solutions that could give them an edge in the global market. This “hunt” is encouraged by the government, which provides various tools in support of these endeavors. We often hear about companies that achieved success abroad or were sold to international companies. Today, many people around the world perceive Israel as a gold mine for technology and innovation, for which one must compete.

We must take a moment to consider the origins of this phenomenon. The high level of creativity and the ability to execute ideas are attributable to the social atmosphere we live in, which includes freedom of speech, openness to new ideas and criticism, citizen involvement in social and political processes and more. Such an environment generates the conditions that enable, encourage, and nurture creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. We must preserve and cultivate these features of our society.

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Throughout the first thirty years of its existence, the country mainly addressed existential concerns: development, agriculture, and security, including the establishment of an advanced defense industry. The growth of high-technology industries based on innovation began in the late seventies. The founders of this industry recognized the potential in human capital, both in answering civilian needs and in benefiting from export markets. The government proved itself once more by instituting supportive measures in collaboration with the private sector, which ultimately generated a rapid growth in the high-tech industry. Additional progress occurred in the 90’s upon the arrival of valuable human capital from the former Soviet Union.

Further progress in the enrichment of human capital in the high-tech sector can be seen by examining Arab inclusion. According to data from the Ministry of Economy and Industry, Arab integration has steadily improved during the last two decades, from only 1.3% of the hi-tech sector workforce in 2005 to 4.4% in 2019. This is good progress, but the unexploited potential is still very significant. The spirit of laws and the citizens’ perceptions of them are critical for the continued improvement in the inclusion of all sectors of the population as the most significant driver of the Israeli economy.

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Without the freedom and tolerance exhibited in Israel – foundations of the democratic state in which we live – this would not have happened. Though there are still social inequalities and discriminations, to this day Israel has, in general, preserved and cultivated its democratic regime, which is also reflected in international evaluations and rankings, and in the way other nations perceive us.

This is the most important component of the “Israeli secret”, because it strongly affects the human capital. Of course, we must add other components, such as education, environment, economics, and international political climate.

We should review the list of countries with the highest level of innovation and realize that countries with governments that are less democratic fall far behind. We do not want to be there. In order for Israel to continue flourishing, we must safeguard the principles of freedom, tolerance and democracy.

About the Author
Dr. Eitan Yudilevich completed his doctoral studies in computers and systems engineering in the field of medical imaging in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He earned his Master's Degree in mathematics at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and his Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in electrical engineering at Haifa's Technion. Dr. Yudilevich assumed the Executive Director position at the BIRD Foundation on January 1, 2006.
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