Start-Up Nation — land of opportunity for philanthropy

Last week, Rewalk Robotics became the 64th Israeli company listed on NASDAQ. Famous for developing the ReWalk exoskeleton – which enables paraplegics to walk again – the Rewalk Robotics’s team embodies the mix of chutzpah and talent that has earned Israel the reputation as “the Start-Up Nation.”

Tiny Israel – with a population of less than eight million and few natural resources – has more companies listed on NASDAQ than any other country besides the U.S. and China. The same qualities driving investors to the Start-up Nation make Israel a philanthropic land of opportunity as well.

In an era when social entrepreneurs are choosing among a global pool of innovative institutions focused on making the biggest impact, Israel’s reservoir of brainpower, out-of-the-box thinking, and relentless drive to tackle seemingly insurmountable problems is particularly attractive. Whether philanthropists are looking to advance cutting-edge medical research, develop technologies to bring about U.S. energy independence, or help small farmers to move from poverty to prosperity in Africa and Latin America, Israeli organizations are often the best equipped to deliver results.

The American Technion Society, where I serve as Executive Vice President, is a U.S.-based non-profit that has invested more than $2 billion over the past seven decades in the Technion – Israel’s leading university of science and technology. We’ve supported the growth of the Technion as it has produced a quarter of Israel’s 12 Nobel Prizes, the CEOs at the helm of two-thirds of Israeli companies traded on NASDAQ (including Rewalk), and more than 80 percent of the engineers who developed Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

Our investment has not only strengthened and enriched Israel, it has changed the world. On the Technion campus – and across the Jewish state – you find countless examples of life-changing innovation: Nanotechnology that minimizes the negative effects of chemotherapy; desalinization methods that are counteracting drought from Africa to California; the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of quasicrystals, which has forced chemists to reconsider the way that we perceive matter. The list goes on and on.

Undoubtedly, investments in universities in America and elsewhere also produce extraordinary discoveries. Yet, we have found that philanthropic dollars devoted to higher education in Israel seem to stretch further. With lower research costs, a world-class talent pool, and access to the unique Israeli mindset, the Technion prides itself on doing more with less. You find this mindset at play among universities, NGOs, and other change-makers across Israel.

Philanthropists from around the globe have begun to take note. Last year, the Technion announced a $130 million gift – one of its largest ever – from Li Ka-shing, China’s most prominent investor. Determined to bring the Technion’s educational model to China, Mr. Li has supported the development of the Technion-Guangdong Institute of Technology, which will also send Chinese faculty to train at the university’s main campus in Haifa.

Another international collaboration is now underway with Cornell University, where a $133 million gift by Joan and Irwin Jacobs launched the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, as part of Cornell Tech. As they fashioned this project, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Cornell University, and Joan and Irwin Jacobs (the co-founder of Qualcomm) all recognized that an Israeli partner would add unique capabilities to New York City’s cornerstone initiative to jumpstart its high-tech, startup culture.

With trends in philanthropy evolving from charity to social entrepreneurship, Israeli non-profit institutions have an opportunity to capture the world’s imagination in unprecedented ways.

About the Author
Jeffrey Richard is the Executive Vice President of the American Technion Society.
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