UN touts Israel′s IT start-up success | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 06.03.2014
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Middle East

UN touts Israel's IT start-up success

As the world grapples with a chronic shortage of jobs, the United Nations has turned its attention to Israel’s so-called innovation nation as a model to promote economic growth and job creation.

The world, according to the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Helen Clark, needs at least another 600 million jobs "just to stand still with current employment rates."

Clark, who was the prime minister of New Zealand between late 1999 and 2008, visited Israel/Palestine recently on her very first trip to the area. During her time there, she spoke to 70 young entrepreneurs from around the world at a three-day workshop in Caesarea.

She said job creation around the world is a focus for the UNDP at the moment.

"Current unemployment rates are a horror story in all countries - developed countries and developing countries so the world is very, very short of jobs."

And she said government help and community support is a crucial element to job creation. Often that might involve mentoring, and in other cases it might mean funding.

"Again ICT (Information and Communications Technology - the ed.) is a good example of why support is crucial because your market is never really the little domestic market of New Zealand or Israel - your market is the world."

ICT solution

Alex Ntale was one of the entrepreneurs attending the work shop. He's the president of Rwanda's Young ICT Entrepreneurs' Association, the iHills. He's also involved with the country's innovation hub, kLab, helping entrepreneurs to foster their ideas.

He says ICT is not only filling jobs, but it's changing the way people look for jobs too.

"Previously people went to school, they graduated from school and they went looking for government jobs. Now those same young people are getting out of school, getting out of universities and deciding to do their own thing, start their own project and start their own company innovating….using their knowledge."

Helen Clark UNDP Copyright: Foto: Helle Jeppesen

Helen Clark

At the helm of the UNDP, Clark focuses much of her time on fostering the development of mainly third world countries and said she's long held an interest in lifting individual economies.

Clark said one thing she launched in her first term as prime minister was a "growth through innovation framework," and she identified ICT as one of the leaders of the pack.

"It not only has real growth potential in its own right - but it's an enabler among other sectors of the economy. ICT is really going fast - it's going to be able to lift what you can do with education; it's got applications for the health sector; business sector and productivity."

While the world may be severely short of jobs, Clark doesn't profess to know the answer, but believes part of the solution may lie in Israel's much-talked about ‘innovation nation.'

"Now the 64 million dollar question is will those jobs come through the conventional way of people employing other people to do things or are these jobs and livelihoods going to have to come from entrepreneurship. I think it's going to need a lot more entrepreneurship, micro-business, start-ups, SMEs and so on. Israel is positioning itself as a start-up nation with a lot of start-up businesses and those of you who are Israeli citizens are really part of the future for the economy."

Start-up success

One man who would agree is Saul Singer, a journalist-turned-author of "Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle."

Singer said many countries are now following Israel's lead, with start-up foundations in every continent.

Israel contributes 5 percent of its annual $280 billion-plus GDP to research and development. Singer isn't worried the country which arguably began the start-up trend could be left behind.

man in front of computer screen Copyright: DW/E. Rubin

Israel's start-up success in IT has provided a major boost for jobs and the economy

"It should not be cause for concern - but should be seen as an opportunity. It would be a concern if Israel did not take advantage of the opportunity. This is a great opportunity for Israel because it allows us to tap into new markets. The people in these countries are always going to have a better idea of what the real problems in these countries are, what the real opportunities are. It's not Israel innovating for Asia or Africa, or the US or Europe - but Israel innovating with these countries, with these areas," Singer told DW.

He believes the start-up industry is the only way to keep a country alive, because it's so closely linked to creating jobs. He said research shows small business, rather than more established big business, has been identified in many parts of the world as the biggest employers of new jobs.

Singer says the high-tech industry is essential to Israel's start-up, but he thinks eventually, there won't be any differentiation between the two sectors.

"In the future, everything is going to be part of this sector, because technology is permeating every sector, from agriculture to industry, to education to everything."

Both Singer and the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute agree that support for these start-ups isn't just about financial hand-outs from the government.

The institute champions thousands of Israeli exporters and companies, providing support through international partnerships and building trade relations.

The director of its high-tech department, Miky Admon, told DW that the government's expenditure on R&D provides a major contribution to the success of the industry. He also credits organizations such as his for working on partnerships between the business and private sectors.

Although Alex Ntale doesn't have a silver bullet to creating jobs, he says the mix is crucial.

"What I do know is the solutions are inextricably linked to the high-tech sector and ICT. The solutions don't lie with politicians alone. It's also crucial to provide young innovators with facilities such as innovation and incubation hubs."

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