Interview with Matan Lev-Ari

Matan Lev-Ari’s interview sheds light on the challenges faced by Israel and the Jewish community worldwide. The resilience of the Israeli economy and the unwavering support from democratic nations provide hope for a strong recovery.

Carolina Rodriguez H : What was your childhood like and how did it influence your current professional career?

Matan Lev-Ari: I was born and raised in Israel and learned first-hand the meaning of financial challenges. As a child, the precision metalworking cutting factory my father meticulously planned was forced to shut down due to political disputes between the governments of the United States and Israel on trade interests. Even today I still enjoy the smell of machine oil, which brings me back memories of my dad introducing me to newly hired employees, while exchanging a few words in Hebrew or Arabic or showing me a new machine and enthusiastically explaining how accurately it could cut metal. The American writer, Sherrilyn Kenyon once said that “life isn’t finding shelter in the storm, it’s about learning to dance in the rain”. So instead of being overwhelmed by my family’s despair, I realized that through this crisis I can learn how to grow, what to aim for, and even how to help others. I became passionate about better understanding the relations between the economy, labor, and international relations and how government can make sure that no one is being left behind. Shortly after I finished my mandatory army service as an officer in an elite unit, I decided to study Economic and Political Science, eager to learn about governance and structures that influence our economy. I was drawn to concentrate on competition as a tool to foster growth, and the important role of the government to unlock bottlenecks that can hinder it. As a student, I volunteered as a team leader in an NGO that promotes financial literacy and provides quality financial education and guidance to families that are experiencing severe financial difficulties. After several years of work in a few high-tech companies in Israel, I was offered to join the Ministry of Finance by the Ministry’s Director General to join him as Chief of Staff and assist in implementing Minister Kahlon’s vision, to reduce inequality in Israel and promote competition. Under this capacity, I integrated and brought Ministry’s operations together in some of the most pressing challenges of the Israeli economy, such as the labor market, silver economy, infrastructure and productivity. My greatest and most satisfying achievement was during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. This global crisis was one of the greatest economic challenges Israel has known. I successfully pushed to secure the necessary governmental attention to SMEs that needed life floats in order to survive. In return, those businesses were the main engine behind the unpreceded recovery of the Israeli economy in the post-COVID times.  My childhood experiences made me very passionate about my current position at the Inter-American Development Bank, which brings innovation to create an impact on vulnerable populations and flares a real change in their life. Every day I get exposed to another piece of the tremendous contribution that Israel’s technology can play in developing countries, and to the enormous appreciation of Israel’s innovative approach in many countries in Latin America.

life isn’t finding shelter in the storm, it’s about learning to dance in the rain”

CRH : Tell us more about the Israel Commits to IDB Cybersecurity Initiative in Latin America and the Caribbean.

MLA: The joint Cybersecurity Initiative launched in 2016 by Israel and the Inter-American Development Bank stands as a hallmark of international collaboration, embodying Israel’s extensive experience in cyber technology and the steadfast commitment of the IDB to navigating the challenges of the digital age. This pioneering initiative highlighted the critical importance of cybersecurity in our modern world, particularly as Latin America and the Caribbean embark on a transformative digital journey—a journey vital for growth, especially in the wake of the post-COVID era.

At its core, the Cybersecurity Initiative is paving the way for the secure digitalization of Latin America and the Caribbean. In the face of ever-evolving cyber threats, the partnership between Israel and the IDB offers a unique opportunity. By merging Israeli technological expertise with the extensive regional presence of the IDB, governments across Latin America and the Caribbean can be exposed with cutting-edge tools and knowledge. These resources empower nations to comprehensively assess their cybersecurity needs, enabling the development of tailored, effective policies, capacity-building programs, and protection strategies.

In the nascent stages, skepticism loomed large among countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Convincing nations preoccupied with immediate challenges to prioritize cybersecurity was a daunting task. Many questioned the relevance of digital security, wondering why resources should be allocated to intangible threats when there were pressing physical and economic issues to address. However, this skepticism served as a catalyst for intensified efforts. Through tireless advocacy, educational programs, and illuminating real-world examples of cyber threats disrupting societies, perceptions began to shift. The initiative highlighted that in our increasingly interconnected world, cyber vulnerabilities transcended geographical boundaries, affecting economies, governments, and citizens alike. Slowly but surely, countries recognized that investing in cybersecurity was an investment in their resilience, stability, and sustainable development.

This successful synergy between Israeli technology and the IDB’s regional influence is empowering nations to fortify their digital defenses. More than just protecting critical infrastructure and sensitive information, this collaboration establishes a resilient foundation for sustainable economic growth. By fostering a secure digital environment, this partnership not only shields citizens, businesses, and essential services but also acts as a magnet for investments, nurturing innovation and ensuring the long-term prosperity of the region.

The Israel Commits to IDB Cybersecurity Initiative is a prime example of collaborative learning. While Israel and the IDB are enhancing the digital security of Latin American and Caribbean countries, Israel is also gaining valuable insights from the region itself. By understanding the unique cyber challenges faced by these nations, Israel is enriching its own cybersecurity strategies. It’s a mutual exchange where both sides learn and grow, marking a significant step toward a safer digital world for everyone involved.

Absolutely! In our interconnected world, cyber vulnerabilities don’t recognize borders. They impact economies, governments, and citizens worldwide. Recognizing this, countries are investing in cybersecurity to enhance their resilience, stability, and sustainable development. It’s a crucial step towards a safer digital future!

CRH: You think the Digital transformation can be the bedrock for historic development opportunities across Latin America and the Caribbean?

MLA: Absolutely. Digital transformation will be the game-changer for Latin America and the Caribbean, opening doors to significant development opportunities. Embracing digital technologies can revolutionize various sectors, including education, healthcare, agriculture, finance, and government services. By leveraging digital solutions, these regions can enhance efficiency, accessibility, and inclusivity. It can bridge gaps in education by providing online learning platforms, particularly in remote areas. In healthcare, telemedicine and digital health records can improve access to medical services and enhance overall healthcare outcomes. In agriculture, precision farming techniques powered by data analytics can optimize crop yields and sustainable practices. Moreover, digital transformation facilitates financial inclusion, enabling more people to access banking services, loans, and investments. E-governance initiatives streamline government services, reducing bureaucracy and corruption. Embracing digital transformation not only addresses immediate challenges but also paves the way for a more prosperous and connected future for the entire region.

COVID-19 made it clear how going digital is crucial. It served as a catalyst for policy makers, highlighting the essential role digital technologies play in our everyday lives and in the functioning of economies. This crisis taught us that digitalization is not just a choice; it’s a necessity for resilience and adaptability, particularly in times of unforeseen challenges. Global changes present Latin America and the Caribbean with an unprecedented opportunity to attract businesses and foster economic growth. The region’s potential lies not only in its abundant natural resources but also in its skilled human capital. Latin America possesses a wealth of talent, creativity, and ingenuity that will be transformed into an attractive productivity. In the context of the digital revolution, Latin America stands out among developing regions. The data revolution, powered by advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence offers a unique chance for Latin America to leapfrog into a new era of development.

CRH: Youth need opportunities, tell us how to get internships for young Israelis at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Inter-American Development Bank. What should we do to get started?

MLA: The collaboration between Israel and the IDB holds immense potential. Israel’s expertise in addressing challenges mirrors those faced in Latin America, allowing us to provide cutting-edge solutions to shared issues.

With a cheerful outlook, I envisioned having at least one Israeli expert on each floor of the IDB’s 12-story building, and remarkably, we’re getting close! We’ve assembled an exceptional team of Israeli professionals specializing in Cybersecurity, Water Management, Renewable Energy, Smart Agriculture, Digital Health, and Climate Change. Their expertise not only contributes personally but also enriches the bank’s operations significantly.

Yet, a hurdle we encounter is the lack of awareness. Few Israelis are acquainted with the IDB, and an amusing coincidence with another bank’s initials in Israel, one of the top 5 banks in the country, only compounds the confusion. To address this issue, we’re arranging for a delegation of high-level representatives from the Bank to engage with young talents in Israel keen on pursuing a career in development.

What’s exciting is the profound cultural resonance between Israel and Latin America. The shared values and vibrant cultural similarities between our societies create a unique opportunity for Israelis to engage with the IDB. This experience transcends merely a work opportunity; it becomes a rich, culturally immersive experience.

Moreover, considering the incredible technological innovations in Israel, it seems like a no-brainer to open an office here, especially given the World Bank’s contemplation of establishing an innovation office. Establishing a local presence for the IDB, akin to this initiative, appears not just logical but imperative. It’s not merely about work; it’s about fostering innovation and collaboration with the region that has the most potential to develop an innovative ecosystem among developing countries, enhancing our collective impact, and maximizing the opportunities that Israel’s vibrant tech ecosystem offers.
The IDB regularly posts a wide array of job opportunities, including positions tailored for young talents. I firmly believe that Israelis stand a real chance at securing these roles—all they need to do is apply and win a lifetime opportunity.

CRH :- CyberTech dominates Israel’s accounting, this is exciting, tell us more about it, is it an exciting topic?

MLA: Cybersecurity in Israel represents not just a technological journey but a strategic evolution. The genesis of our advancements was born out of necessity – the need to protect our critical infrastructure from relentless cyber-attacks. In the face of this challenge, Israel’s ingenuity came to the forefront. Our approach was not just about developing tools; it was about fostering a holistic cybersecurity ecosystem. The realization dawned that safeguarding our nation’s vital assets required a comprehensive policy framework.

This paradigm shift led to the formulation of robust government policies and standards that are rigorously adhered to across sectors. The cooperation with international partners added a layer of complexity, as it exposed us to diverse threat landscapes, forcing us to continuously innovate and adapt. This dynamic environment, while challenging, also served as a catalyst for growth.

But having said that, the pace of technological development in cybersecurity might be plateauing. Nir Zuk, the visionary founder of Palo Alto Networks, recently pointed out that the cybersecurity industry might be approaching saturation and developers in Israel should pay more attention to the needs in the fintech and AI sectors. The global banking industry in large relies on 40-50 years old infrastructure and waiting to make its frog leap after so many years of waiting on the fence. AI is something that bigger countries such as the US already gain a lot of experience, but maybe Israeli innovation can suggest new uses of this technology.

Regardless to the pace of innovation in Cybersecurity, Latin America has a lot to go. Cultivating a culture of cybersecurity awareness from policy makers to CEO and regular people. Establishing a national cyber policy isn’t just a governmental task; it’s a societal endeavor. It’s about empowering businesses, educating individuals, and fostering a collective resilience against cyber threats.

CRH: What is the effect of the war on Israel’s economy

MLA: This is a very hard time for us as Israelis, but also for Jews all over the world. Our heart is broken from the horrifying action of Hamas who sent people to brutally kidnap, rape and kill innocent children, women, and men. Israel is now focusing on restoring stability and making sure that we will never witness these events ever again. The Israeli people are now busy with supporting these efforts. Many were called to the army and left behind their work and families. Others are volunteering to help victims’ families, people who had to flee their homes and the soldiers. Israel’s economy is strong and has enough reserves for many days of struggle. Of course, it will have costs, the IDF is an advanced army but operating it is not cheap. But the alternative is far worst, without a decisive response to this pure evil, we will not be able to safely live here. I also believe that this is the interest of the civilized world, and we are witnessing unprecedent support from the United States and many democratic countries. The White House; the European Commission HQ; the Eiffel Tower; Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate; the British Parliament, the Austrian Parliament and Puerta del sol in Madrid, all illuminated in blue and white, standing as symbols of solidarity. Many countries in the region have also offered their support and rallies were held to support Israel in Brazil and Argentina.

When looking back, we can see that the Israeli economy has learned how to be resilient in times of war and swiftly rebound once the fighting ceases. In some cases, even during the fights the local stock exchange switches to green. Growth is usually picks up when the dust settles, compensating the loss of growth when the economy was put on hold. For example, after operation Defensive Shield in 2002, Israel growth climbed in 2003 and in 2004 it was already beyond 5%. Israel’s ability to adapt, coupled with unwavering international support, provides hope for a strong recovery once stability is restored.

CRH: Finally, what is next in the life of Matan, how would you like to be remembered? What is your message to the world?

MLA : In contemplating the future, I find myself at a juncture where my experiences at the IDB have profoundly shaped my perspective. While I might not be ancient enough to dwell on how I’ll be remembered, my focus remains firmly fixed on what lies ahead. The vibrancy and immense potential I’ve witnessed in Latin America have transformed the region into what I now call home. It’s here that I see a wealth of untapped opportunities waiting to be harnessed, and it’s my fervent belief that Israel should play a more active role in this transformative landscape.

My tenure at the Bank has been enlightening, revealing the vast potential inherent in Latin America and the Caribbean. The openness of the region to absorb cutting-edge technology from Israel is evident and it felt that there is always an open door to offer something from Israel. I recently had the pleasure of hosting a delegation comprising high-level officials and CEOs who came to learn about water technology, including a distinguished minister from Colombia (I had to tell her that in Israel Ministers tend to be a bit too attached to their entourages to embark on such dedicated study missions). This event, among many others, underscores the receptive environment LAC provides for Israeli expertise.

Yet, looking beyond the immediate gains, my confidence in enhancing Israel’s presence in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is firmly rooted in strategic foresight. This region stands as the backyard of our greatest ally, the United States, which is currently busy with rediscovering its interests and actively promoting commercial cooperation there. Moreover, the political landscape in the US is undergoing a significant transformation, with substantial influence from immigrants originating in the LAC region, who, much like American Jews, maintain strong ties to their roots. In the long term, positive Israeli engagement in LAC is poised to reverberate in the halls of the US Congress. As we strengthen our ties with Latin America, we not only align with our strategic objectives but also pave the way for expansive international collaborations. This proactive approach not only enriches our nation but also positions Israel as a key player in fostering global partnerships. The enduring connections we forge will serve as the bedrock for a future marked by mutual understanding, shared prosperity, and robust diplomatic relationships.

Looking ahead, I am channeling my efforts into the private sector to further bridge the gap between Israel and the region. I am actively involved in establishing a venture capital fund tailored to this purpose. Through this initiative, I aim to foster partnerships, innovation, and economic growth that will benefit both Israel and Latin America. It’s a future I am ardently working towards, where collaboration and mutual understanding between our nations flourish, leaving a lasting legacy of cooperation and progress.

About the Author
Driving positive environmental and social impact through my clients’ interviews, in alignment with their mission, has been at the core of my philosophy since inception.
Related Topics
Related Posts