Social Entrepreneurship in the Galilee

By Alisa Wills, on Masa Israel's SEE Galilee program
 
Before having ever stepped foot in Israel, I signed up for a long-term program without a second thought. I wish I could say I knew about the culture, had family and friends here, and new what I was getting myself into. But the truth is, I didn’t know or have any of these: just an overwhelming feeling that since it was Israel, everything would be alright.
 
I can’t say exactly what I expected, because my knowledge of the country was so limited. I definitely thought we would be going to a remote area and helping an impoverished population, which I think also speaks to my lack of understanding of the country. For SEE Galilee, I had a vision for what I wanted my experience in Israel to be and I saw the program as providing what was essential for me to make that happen, not vice versa. I came into this wanting to get my hands dirty, wanting to get to know the Israeli’s around me and to learn from them. I came with initial focus on microfinance and made it my first priority to learn about the area. I read hundreds of pages of economic and demographic analysis about the Galil and met with as many people as I could. I felt I had no right to come as an outsider and think ‘hello, I’m here to help you’ without even understanding who the ‘you’ was and what would be ‘helpful’ to the area.
 
Within the first few weeks, it became clear that my initial idea was not suited for the population of the Galil. I wasn’t disheartened, as this led me to Laura, a key mentor who has been instrumental in my experience in the Galil. She founded and runs her own international marketing and consulting firm and I started to work with her on these projects. This taught me more about the ventures in the north and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. There are a lot of talented, both technically and entrepreneurially, individuals in the Galil, although the network and support system for them is lacking. One of Laura’s projects is to open the communication in the entrepreneurial community here and create more resources, even including an incubator or accelerator. I truly believe in this mission and identify with this community. Living in Gainesville, Florida, a small college town in the South East of the United States, I often felt on the periphery of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial world. I worked for Grooveshark, a successful music startup, while living in Gainesville and I saw how much of a difference one or two key startups can be in kickstarting the community. They grappled with whether to move out west or to stay in Gainesville, lay down roots and develop the entrepreneurial infrastructure in the area. Just a few years later, the growth in the number of ventures and the strength community is undeniable, it just takes one company or one entrepreneur to be that catalyst.
 
I knew right away I wanted to be a part of this initiative in the Galil in a meaningful way. I have experience running a program from the states called 3 Day Startup, whose key mission is to kick-start new companies and build entrepreneurial capabilities in communities. They achieve this by bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to “learn by doing” through building an idea from conception to presentation in just 72 hours. Holding this program in the Galil will help to put it on the map and bring to the forefront the entrepreneurial conversation that is going on in the background.
 
My overall mission of wanting to have an impact on the community and wanting it to impact me has not changed. But, the method I thought I would achieve this through has changed entirely, and I couldn’t me more thrilled. It addresses the needs of the community and allows me to be not just learning but also adding value.
 
I have met some great partners in Israel throughout this process and I am not ready to leave. I chose to come here and leave my career and home in the US because I was looking for something more fulfilling, both professionally and spiritually. I feel I have found what I am looking for and am excited to see where this takes me.
 
 

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