Israel’s Little-Known Investment in the Rest of the World

The author with female leaders from Bethanchok; photo credit: Billy Mutai.

By Deryn Pressman-Mashin

Down a very long and slightly treacherous dirt road, through some small villages and towns southeast of Kathmandu, around the corner from a miniscule open-air cafe, and up a rocky footpath you will find the town of Bethanchok in Nepal. Settled in the hills with a view of the Himalayas, Bethanchok is not a place many typically leave, or even visit. But one thing about this place is unique: Israel’s investment in the people of this small town.

With a group of 14 young Jewish professionals from the Boston area, I traveled to Nepal as part of Project Inspire. Created by Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Associate Vice President of Israel and Global Jewish Citizenship, Aviva Klompas, Project Inspire offers young adults from the Greater Boston area the opportunity to witness Israel’s global innovation and grassroots impact up close.

On the project’s first-ever trip to Nepal earlier this year, the group met with Ambassador Benny Omer and Deputy Ambassador Tal Schwartzman at the Embassy of Israel to Nepal to learn about MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, which is housed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. MASHAV, founded in 1958, is responsible for the design, coordination and implementation of the State of Israel’s worldwide development and cooperation programs in developing countries.

Israel and Nepal established diplomatic relations in 1960, just 12 years after the founding of the State of Israel. During our trip, we learned about the investments that the Israeli government and Israeli NGOs are making the country.

We met with Sanjeeb Pandey, Acting Country Director of IsraAID, an Israeli-based humanitarian aid agency that responds to emergency crises and engages in international development around the world. We also learned about their offshoot initiative, HoneyAID, which is teaching women to generate income from beehives. Our group also spent time with Tevel B’Tzedek, an Israeli NGO that promotes sustainable development in developing countries through the formation of thematic-based groups and community mobilization. We met with their Country Director, Bishnu Chapagain, a Nepali graduate of Ben Gurion University, and visited their project sites in the small town of Bethanchok.

Among many, many other speakers, we sat down with Chadra Yogal, a Nepali graduate of Hebrew University and public health manager at Dhulikhel Hospital in Kathmandu, a hospital that has been collaborating with Israel since 2009.

Of all the sites we saw, I was most struck by my visit to the Shanti Shikshya Mandir School, a government school led by Principal Gautam Sudam. Approaching its 70th year, the school educates children from ages 3 to 16 and is a recipient of a lunch program through the Israeli embassy. Serving the poorest of the poor, a simple donation of rice and lentils for every student lunch has increased the number of students who attend from 60 to 310 students. The principal tells me they are expecting at least 100 more next year. As the Director of Community Engagement at Epstein Hillel School north of Boston, a school that prides itself on its connections to Israel, I was captivated by this simple partnership; that a free lunch could be the difference between sending a child to school, allowing them to complete high school, or pulling them out to work for the family. It really puts our daily discussions about the future of Jewish Day Schools into perspective.

Twenty five percent of Nepalis live below the poverty line and the unemployment rate hovers just below 50%. That’s why Israel’s investment are focused on people.

MASHAV invests in human capacity building, sharing relevant expertise accumulated from Israel’s own development experience to empower governments, communities and individuals to improve their own lives. Israel is partnering with dozens of developing countries from Guatemala, to Kenya, to India, to Moldova.

As found on their website “Israel invests 4.5% of its GDP in research and development which is the highest ratio of any country in the world. The strong emphasis on research and development has been one of the key factors in Israel’s development success, especially as it has been applied in the agricultural sector, but also in medicine and health and in hi-tech. The outputs of such research and development, particularly in the field of agriculture and food security, can be applied most aptly to developing countries which face similar climatic and geographic conditions.”

The western world focuses heavily on Israel, but hardly anyone is talking about the money Israel’s invests in global capacity building. As both an American and Israeli citizen who is deeply engaged in the world and driven by my Jewish values, I am acutely aware of my enormous responsibility as a Global Jewish Citizen. What more can I be doing to repair the world? How can I care for a stranger I may not have even met? What is my responsibility to others?

I may not have the answers, but MASHAV seems to have some of them. All of the organizations we met with are looking for visitors, volunteers, partners, and investors, so check them out, and maybe, just maybe, you might be able to help to change the world too.

Deryn Pressman-Mashin is the Director of Community Engagement at the Arthur J. Epstein Hillel School north of Boston and holds and MBA/MA from the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University.