Lesson For ‘Start-Up Nation’ In COVID-19 Times

Sometimes we need to see ourselves through others’ eyes. Following my recent speaking tour to South Africa, right before COVID-19 started, here are some thoughts for ‘Start-Up Nation’ Israel, which rose from speaking with like minded inspiring people I met there.

Nicky Verd is an innovation and entrepreneurship thought leader, originally from Cameroon, nowadays in South Africa. She is the author of the book “Disrupt Yourself Or Be Disrupted,” which is about the impact of emerging technologies on employment, the urgency to reinvent yourself, up-skill yourself as well as opportunities in 4IR to create your own employment.

I met Nicky during my recent South Africa speaking tour in March 2020, right before COVID-19 turned the world upside down. This speaking tour, which was organized in partnership with Dan Brotman, was devoted entirely to the topic of “hacking” the new world of work and how the future of work will look, based on the “business unit” approach which I am promoting. Following many conversation I had with Nicky and others in South Africa, we decided to videotape a conversation encompassing many related issues.

Photo: Nicky Verd and Assaf Luxembourg

When Nicky published her book in 2019, many reacted by stating that such a message is for “the West,” not Africa. Comes COVID-19 in 2020, and traditional African companies embrace digital in a matter of weeks. Such is the story in the information revolution, and such is the case with events such as the Corona crisis, which is more a stimulus than a game changer. It advances the inevitable.

What is the lesson for us, here in Israel?

In my opinion, the message from the ‘Start-Up Nation’ brand case-study of Israel is not that other economies should themselves try to become a start-up hub such as Israel. I believe that the real message is that countries, peoples, cities, communities, companies and individuals should find out for themselves what are they all about, and who do they want to be in the world market. And even if I’m already using Israel as a case study, I believe that this lesson applies to us in Israel as well.

Just as I told Nicky that South Africa should not be only about ‘Rainbow Nation’ and “overcoming apartheid”, for the same way that Israel should not be only about the Bible, Jewish history and a happy ending for a 2,000 year-old exile – We also cannot story-tell Israel to the world as ‘Start-Up Nation’ only. This brand of Israel in the last two decades became so strong, so powerful, so effective… And for all the right reasons! Be we cannot rest on our laurels.

For those who know a bit more about the history of this business, let’s remember that the term Acanchi and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came up with after their joint research was ‘Creative Energy’, not ‘Start-Up Nation’. One may claim (OK, I claim) that the global rise of the ‘Start-Up Nation’ brand, which came following the huge success of the book, is in a way one frame of reference for Israel’s creative energy, which is itself a multi-dimensional concept. That is the true cluster of excellence.

I believe we need to constantly ask ourselves “What can we bring to the world, which connects to who we are, and that the world needs right now?” In COVID-19 times, I am not 100% convinced that the answer is more stories about innovation, start-ups and technology. I believe we could and should “bring to the table” other frames of references for “Creative Energy” which are much more relevant to the world today: Adaptation, endurance, optimism (which is not just about positivism), entrepreneurship (but not just in tech), and pro-activeness are some.

In times where people sit a home, isolated from their community, and in many cases watching their careers, jobs, businesses and industries collapse in front of their eyes – I believe they need empathy, motivation, and the encouragement to get up off their knees and “fight.” Especially since I do believe that there are plenty of opportunities out there, especially now! If we can add value to people with our heritage, culture, values, history, and yes – the ‘Start-Up Nation’ story too – we remain relevant. That’s exactly why I started my own journey with Hacking the New World of Work.

So, to use Nicky’s own title – ‘Start-Up Nation’ should also disrupt itself, or be disrupted.

About the Author
Assaf is passionate about promoting business in and with Israel, helping and mentoring entrepreneurs, advising young professionals with career planning and self-fulfillment, and more. Assaf acts as a brand ambassador of Israel as 'Start-Up Nation', speaking to thousands of businessmen, investors, entrepreneurs, young professionals, students and others, both in Israel and around the world. Assaf also works as a business development and marketing consultant to Israeli start-ups and others.
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