How many “programs” has the government announced over the years to bring disadvantaged groups — ultra-Orthodox, residents of peripheral areas, Arabs, Bedouins — into the workforce? We’ve lost count, but the answer is “a lot.” Yet Bedouin score far worse than almost every specific ethnic or religious group in Israel; employment rates for Bedouin (60% of Bedouin men are in the workforce, compared to 76% of all Arabs and 83% of Jews); matriculation rates (22%, vs 38% for all Arabs and 53% for Jews); and high school dropout rates (29%, vs. 13% for all Arabs and 5% for all Israelis) — all show that Bedouin are at a strong disadvantage.
Does that mean the programs being provided are not valid or usable by the Bedouin population? Not at all; but I believe that the magic of effectiveness, at least in this case, lies not in the availability of services — but in how they are distributed and used.
This is why we created Siraj — as a way to better use the available resources, and develop new ones. Siraj — meaning “a source of light” in Arabic — strives to be a source of inspiration for every young person, adolescent, and child in the Bedouin society. Our vision is to achieve full and equal participation of Bedouin society in Israel’s hi-tech sector, the engine of growth in the country’s economy. This participation will foster economic prosperity, partnership, and increased equality between the Bedouin community and general Israeli society.
That’s why WeWork decided to award us a Creator Award. WeWork actually knows us quite well; the space and infrastructure that WeWork provides us at its Beersheba location is critically important for Siraj, as it enables us to build a company that meets global standards, despite our small start-up size.
The Creator Award funding has allowed us to create and grow a high-tech network in the Bedouin community. This network now includes college and university graduates, as well as community leaders and decision makers, teachers, academics, and Bedouin professionals from other industries. It has also enabled us to spread the word about Siraj to investors, the media, and the Israeli tech community in general.
What kind of projects are we now able to sponsor thanks to the funding we received from Creator Awards? One example is a series of meetups at our office space at WeWork Beersheba. We’ve had two so far; one, an introduction to the world of Industrial Internet of Things (IiOT) — our area of expertise, and at the second, we heard about the founding of Waze from Fej Shmuelevitz, one of its founders. And after we received the Creator Award from WeWork, we were Awarded a “Startup Companies, Minorities Track ” research and development grant from the Israel Innovation Authority in April 2018. This grant will allow us to leverage the experience gained in our first year in order to develop our own intellectual property.
At Siraj, though, we’re not just interested in history; for the teen students who attended, and especially the girls, the meeting was an opportunity to learn how to launch and grow an incredible company. I have no doubt that it was a career-defining moment for those students, who had likely never considered a career in tech beforehand. The most important opportunity that the Creator Awards have provided us is the ability to reach out to the community, encouraging the idea that tech is a feasible career path for young Bedouins in particular. Through Siraj, they have a role model — a place where they can see their future selves. The meetups, our work in IiOT, our networking – all of it will come together to help encourage more Bedoiun youth to stay in school and study the subjects that will help them build the next Waze.
RSVP for WeWork’s Creator Jerusalem event on June 20: https://we.co/jerusalem-creator
Othman Alshekh is an accountant and lawyer. He completed his internship in Goldfarb Zeligman’s Capital Markets Department and worked on Procter & Gamble’s finance team. He earned a BA in Law and Accounting from Tel Aviv University and a LLM in Law with specialization in Commercial Law from Tel Aviv University.
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