Looking back at the year 2020, it feels as if we have all been standing at a watershed, a moment in time of great change. We have spent the year watching the deluge of waters descending upon us, not knowing how the landscape will have shifted and where we will stand once this year has passed. This is certainly true for the developing world. On the one hand, well over 100,000 million additional people have been pushed back into extreme poverty and hunger because of the pandemic, reversing a decade’s worth of development progress. On the other hand, digitization of communications and healthcare due to the pandemic have brought new promise for “building back better”. The telemedicine, distance learning and web-based tools for remote work which have become major features of our lives this year hold great promise for transforming the lives of people living in poverty worldwide by better connecting them to healthcare, education and income and employment opportunities. Now more than ever, technology for development matters.
Here in Israel’s international development community, we have also been facing a watershed of a different sort. For over a year, the government’s inter-ministerial committee on Israeli activity in the field of international development has been developing a national strategy for international development, culminating in the release of an interim report for public comment a few weeks ago. The existence of this inter-ministerial committee, formed by a unanimous cabinet decision in July, 2018, is in and of itself a major achievement. After decades in which the Israeli government showed little interest in fulfilling our moral obligation to contribute to the welfare of people living in extreme poverty, the mere declaration of Israel’s intention to become “a significant player in the field of international development” is important. Behind this declaration has been the tireless activity of champions in the Prime Ministers Office, Ministry of Economy, Innovation Authority, Finance Ministry and Foreign Ministry as well as a wide range of international development NGOs and think-tanks, including the Pears Program, all of whom have worked together to develop a new vision for Israel’s engagement in the developing world. However, in this too, it is too early to say whether the ultimate outcome will be positive or negative. What is very evident in the interim report is that not all government stakeholders are most concerned with impacting the lives and welfare of people in the global South. The inter-ministerial committee’s mandate speaks of making Israel a player in the field of development “while maximizing the economic and diplomatic potential present in developing countries” and these competing motivations are evident throughout the report.
The Pears Program for Global Innovation has, for over the past 12 years, been the leading voice in Israel advocating for harnessing the power of the private and innovation sectors to address international development’s most critical challenges. In doing so, we have often spoken of the win-win value proposition of investing in Israeli “devtech”, and its potential for expanding Israel’s markets and supporting Israel’s standing in the international community while creating development impact. However, we in no way believe that all business is good for development, nor do we think that all efforts to expand Israeli trade with developing countries benefit the development of those countries. To the contrary, for centuries, commercial activities in developing countries have stripped these countries of their natural resources, exploited their populations for cheap labor under substandard conditions, polluted their environments and reinforced corruption. The only way to use the private sector as a force for good in developing countries is with clear intentionality to support development impact and not just trade. And, at this time, when the country’s international development strategy is still being formed, we all have the power to make our voices heard so that our government too prioritizes development impact.
Finally, this year has been a watershed for the Pears Program for Global Innovation. 12 years after I founded the program, I have taken a step back from the active management of the program. Hagit Freud, an amazing, committed professional with years of on-the ground experience promoting Israeli innovation in East Africa, has now taken over as the new Managing Director of our program. I will remain involved in the program that I have put my heart and soul into over so many years, now as Founding Director. While we have been undergoing this transition, the Pears Program has also completed an internal strategic process in which we redefined our vision, mission and values for our next decade of activity. When the program was founded, there were few, if any, champions of development innovation in Israel. For twelve years, the Pears Program has worked steadfastly to build the Israeli ecosystem for Israeli innovation for development. In 2020, it is a source of deep pride to see how many organizations, entrepreneurs and officials in Israel have come to share our vision and have adopted our mission as their own. For this reason, we have embarked upon a new mission of building bridges between the emerging Israeli devtech ecosystem and actors and organizations in the Israeli international development community and in developing countries themselves. In this, we are dedicating ourselves to working with Israeli companies, entrepreneurs and international development and humanitarian actors to help connect them to the networks and expertise that they need in Israel, the developing world, and the global development architecture. By doing so, we hope that we can enhance the professionalism, relevance, ethical standards and impact of Israeli innovation for development so that Israel will truly become “a significant player in international development”, making a positive impact on the lives of people living in poverty throughout the global South.
Wishing everyone a new year of hope, positive change and impact,
Dr. Aliza Inbal
Pears Program for Global Innovation