Start-Up Nation

Tikkun Olam Makers launches Israeli Innovation Challenge to ‘capture’ new technologies created in wake of Oct. 7 attacks

The new Israel-focused contest will run alongside its Global Innovation Challenge; President Gidi Grinstein says it is part of a larger effort to create a 'Jewish development bank'

The massacres of Oct. 7 and ensuing war sparked a rush of innovation to tackle the growing needs of people with new disabilities caused by the attacks and those with existing disabilities who were affected by the fighting. 

In order to “capture” some of those ideas — new products, methods and designs to help people with disabilities — the nonprofit Tikkun Olam Makers launched an Israeli Innovation Challenge this week alongside its fifth annual Global Innovation Challenge.

“The goal of the Israel Innovation Challenge is to capture all of the innovations that were created or [existing] ones that were used since Oct. 7. Because once people start getting back to their lives, it will all be forgotten, and we think there was a massive wave of innovation and we want to catch it,” Tikkun Olam Makers’ founder and president, Gidi Grinstein, told eJewishPhilanthropy during a recent tour of its headquarters in Tel Aviv.

In the “Global Innovation Challenge,” which launched on Sunday and runs through May 19, TOM is offering a $3,000 grand prize in four categories: sports and outdoor; music and arts; humanitarian response; and daily living. There are also $1,000 prizes for the best inclusive design, best accessible design and best documentation. The Israeli version will offer similar prizes.

Thousands of Israelis were wounded in the initial massacres and hundreds more — soldiers and civilians — in the more than four months of fighting since then, many of them with injuries that will take considerable time to heal or never will, including permanent impairments and amputations. More than 200,000 Israelis are estimated to have fled their homes because of the fighting — either due to government evacuation orders or of their own volition — including many people with disabilities, who often left behind their medical equipment.

Ordinarily, TOM, which was founded in 2014 as an offshoot of the Reut Group think tank, serves as a web platform, offering detailed instructions for making products for people with disabilities. This includes things like grips for keys so that people with dexterity issues can use them, a wheelchair made primarily from plywood for small children, a modified crib that allows parents who use wheelchairs to still be able to put their babies to sleep and take them out on their own and a surfboard that can be used by people with limited mobility. 

According to Grinstein, the organization’s products are designed so that anyone with basic skills and a rudimentary workshop can build them. Since the designs are all open-source and available for free online, anyone with an internet connection can access them, modify them and make them.

But after Oct. 7, Tikkun Olam Makers pivoted from developing these designs to producing them as a “full-on factory,” Grinstein said.

For evacuees with disabilities, who are now living in hotels that are not necessarily accessible, the organization has manufactured dozens of specialty toilet seats for both adults and children. The team also devised a simple way to add casters to a cheap Ikea armchair that can be used to quickly move a person with limited mobility into a bomb shelter. In collaboration with the mental health nonprofit Natal, TOM has also begun producing weighted blankets for people experiencing anxiety because of the war at a fraction of the cost of a commercially produced one.

More dramatically — in economic terms at least — TOM has also expanded its offerings of prosthetics, creating a 3D-printed base with specialty attachments that can allow users to prepare and eat meals, play instruments and sports or perform other tasks.  These prosthetics, which are custom-fit to the user, cost less than $140 to produce, compared to the thousands of dollars that it costs to buy a similar prosthetic from a commercial manufacturer, according to TOM.

“It might sound like a stupid or unnecessary dream to cut up a salad, but in my eyes, it’s everything. Suddenly, I become a person who is active and efficient and part of the family unit and not just someone who needs to be helped and fed and taken care of,” Amichai Shindler, who lost an arm and most of his hand in the Oct. 7 attacks, said in a video produced by TOM, tracking his use of one of its new 3D-printed prosthetic limbs.

But for Grinstein, who has worked in government and in the nonprofit sector for decades, Israel needs more than just the technical solutions that his organization is currently offering, but a larger national strategy for the rehabilitation of the victims of the war.

“The last time there was a large wave of wounded [soldiers] was 50 years ago, in 1973. Since that time, there has been more prosperity, so the government threw money at [solving the needs of wounded veterans],” he said. But Israel’s economy is likely to see a downturn, according to many financial analysts, so the country will have to be more considerate and frugal in how it responds, Grinstein said, noting that his Reut Group is working on developing that national strategy now.

Grinstein’s grand hope for TOM is that it will serve as the basis for a “Jewish development bank,” which will rely on technology and “frugal innovation” instead of capital. Traditional development banks use their funds to invest in economic and social projects in developing countries. But Grinstein’s vision is to offer knowledge and information for projects in developing countries — instead of giving people in South America a grant to buy prosthetic limbs, the Jewish development bank would give them the know-how to make their own. Without the need for massive financial resources and for a global physical presence, such a “bank” would also be readily scalable, Grinstein noted.

“Israel can emerge from this crisis as the global leader in frugal innovation and emergency response to the needs of wounded people, and that’s not in 10 years, that’s now — 2024,” Grinstein said.