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On December 7th, 2011, the “Jasmine Association of Businesswomen in Israel”, which promotes Small Businesses Owned by Jewish and Arab Women in Israel as part of the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development’s Women’s Empowerment Unit, hosted in partnership with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung the 14th Annual Businesswomen’s Conference entitled “Excellence in Management of Small Businesses”. The conference, which took place at the Sharon Hotel in Herzliya Pituach, attracted the astounding number of over 300 participants, mainly women who own businesses, as well as representatives of social organizations, government offices, banks and embassies. Some of the participants traveled from far away towns in the north and south of Israel in order to attend the conference. During the one-day conference, both Jewish and Arab speakers discussed issues relating to businesswomen in Israel and their option and ability to excel in managing their own businesses.
The Main Objectives of the Conference Were:
1.To provide Israeli businesswomen who own small and medium sized businesses with unique tools, skills and knowledge to promote and grow their businesses and to excel in their businesses.
2.To conduct professionally facilitated roundtable discussions for small business owners to present the issues, needs and problems related to their businesses and for the representatives of Jasmine to provide them with future solutions/relevant tools to tackle such issues.
3.To provide the women with information about different bodies and entities in Israel set up for assisting women who own small businesses.
4.To advance Jasmine’s activities and the issue of businesswomen’s development nationwide via the press and internationally through distinguished guests from various embassies in Israel.
5.To provide a unique platform for businesswomen to network and develop business and other connections.
The conference was moderated by Ms. Eman Kassem Sliman, a prominent Arabic and Hebrew speaking journalist, who has been moderating the conference for the past few years.
Kiram Baloum, Manager of Jasmine and CJAED’s Women’s Empowerment Unit, opened the conference by saying that this year’s conference is different from the previous conferences in the sense that it will include professionally facilitated roundtable discussions with the businesswomen to give them the opportunity to raise issues, needs and problems related to their businesses. This is the first time this is done in a Jasmine conference. Director of CJAED, Helmi Kittani spoke about how major changes in the business world and in the economy were made by women and that the best place to witness that is at Jasmine’s conference. He stressed that small businesses are the engine for success especially nowadays when the economy is bad. Palina Kedem of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung spoke about the KAS, its history and its aims, especially concerning its projects for empowering of women in Israel.
Ofra Strauss, Chair of Strauss Group and Jasmine’s president, explained how the organization unites Arab and Jewish women and leads to a healthier country. She stressed that Jasmine’s aim is also to unite women from all populations groups within the Arab and Jewish sectors, including Haredi (Jewish-Ultraorthodox). Discrimination against women, she stressed, harms Israel’s economy, especially due to the fact that women in Israel represent 46% of the workforce, and yet earn much less than men. 99% of the businesses in Israel are considered small or medium-sized, and they are critical to Israel’s economy because they have an enormous potential to do well and even provide jobs to others. Thus, the government must seriously consider allocating resources for small businesses. Ms. Strauss stressed that in the U.S.A. there are many more women owners of small businesses. President Obama himself indicated that businesses owned by women are a critical part of the American economy and a huge solution to the recession as well as the many economic problems that countries are facing these days. It is the future of the economy and therefore extremely important to break down the different barriers that women face, including economic, legal and cultural barriers, especially among minority groups. The solutions, Ms. Strauss indicated, are in education, training, and financing and this is the government’s goal for the next few years. Ms. Strauss played a video featuring several Israeli businesswomen who became successful.
Melanne Verveer, United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues gave a a pre-recorded lecture that was screened especially for the event. Ambassador Verveer told the audience about her visit to CJAED’s offices in Herzliya last year and congratulated the Center’s work, in particularly the promotion of an economic cooperation between Jews and Arabs. Ambassador Verveer indicated that women have enormous potential that is often not utilized. Investing in women will advance any country that will do so. Research shows that when women are involved in the economy, the whole country grows, which is relevant worldwide, including in the Middle East. However, there are many barriers that prevent women from growing financially, including lack of contacts and networks, lack of access to technology and especially lack of access to financing. In the United States the issues of women’s involvement in the economy are being promoted, she said, and even her own position is a new one created by President Obama. Ambassador Verveer told the audience about some programs that the U.S. government is promoting to advance women in business.
The first panel dealt with the issue: “What Organizations Support Women Who Own Small Businesses and What Roles Do They Play?” The panel was moderated by Yael Winner, Editor of Leisure Sections in “Calcalist” newspaper, who indicated that there are many reasons for the establishment of small businesses by women. The panel included key people who work with the women from the moment they have the business idea and until they execute it. Vered Swid, Director of the Prime Minister’s Office Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women in Israel indicated that the government sees the advancement of women in business as a national goal. She indicated that one Million NIS allocated by the government will be used shortly to establish a center that will promote women leaders from the Arab sector, with the aim of turning such groups of women also into networking groups. Ran Kiviti of the Israel Small and Mediums Enterprises Authority in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor indicated that there is a difficulty to receive data about small businesses. The Ministry conducted a large research on the issue of credit and came to the conclusion that there is a real problem for small business owners since the banks often require guarantees that the women cannot provide. The Ministry provides unique programs and assistance to businesswomen from the Jewish and Arab sectors, including personalized business consultation, which helps promote such businesses. Hagit Rubinstein, Manager of Micro-Businesses Area at the Koret Foundation said that there are two funds that provide women with financing: one provides loans of up to 30,000 NIS (with Bank Hapoalim, the fund provides the bank guarantees needed) and the other provides loans of up to 20,000 NIS (it began operating 5 years ago in the Negev). In the past few years the funds provided 4,000 loans, 70% of them to Arab women. Viki Levi, Manager of the Central Zone at Bank Hapoalim said that the contribution of small businesses to the economy in Israel is rising and that the bank is working with the Koret Foundation as mentioned above. Members of the audience then asked the panel members a few questions and a lively discussion followed.In additional to this information, 15 organizations that assist women in business also presented their activities at a nearby room.
Cybil Goldfeiner, Founder and CEO of ‘Comme Il Faut’, provided the audience with a personal testimony about her own business success. “Comme Il Faut” is a Fashion business with a unique agenda: “’Comme Il Faut’ was founded by women, for women. We believe in women, that is the essence of our credo. Since the company's foundation we have been committed to encouraging and promoting women in Israeli society”. Ms. Goldfeiner told the audience how she began her business at the age of 30 after she had been fired. She established a small business with a friend – they sewed clothes. At first they took a loan to buy a sewing machine and worked at home. From there they moved into a studio and then opened one shop, and then two. The way they did this, said Cybil Goldfeiner was in a “feminine way”– slowly and carefully, unlike “regular” start-up companies. 25 years later, ‘Comme Il Faut’ employs 150 workers. Ms. Goldfeiner gave the women many practical business tips, including for instance, that a small business must distinguish itself from other competing small businesses by becoming unique with added value.
Another panel of extraordinary businesswomen was held on the issue of Excellence in Life – Stories of Excellence by Women in Business Management - in which each woman told the audience her own personal story and road to success, which greatly inspired everyone listening. This panel included Vida Mashur of Alsanara newspaper, Yulia Gal Founder of Yulia Gal Spa Express and Maya Efrati Founder and CEO of Elya Recycling Ltd.
The second part of the conference was dedicated to a practical activity: professionally facilitated discussions were held at 15 different tables in order to identify the needs of women who own small businesses. Each table included a trained facilitator who discussed and mapped together with the participants their specific needs and concerns. The goal was first to create a clear and efficient picture about the main concerns, issues and needs of women who own small businesses in order then to set up a detailed multi-year plan reflecting solutions and programs which address such problems/issues. Many women reported that they also used this discussion to network and form business connections with other women at their tables.
For professional and systematic results the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development and KAS hosted the expert company SIT (Systematic Inventive Thinking), which conducts special researches on companies in the business sector. From the facilitators the experts received papers containing the results of the table discussions and prepared a detailed report that summarized and graded the most essential issues.
At this stage, it seems that the main needs of businesswomen in Israel are:
1.Promoting their business via a Portal using more intensive PR
2.Financing and Credit
Based on that report, Jasmine will prepare its multi-year plan which will accompany the businesswomen in their daily life.
The Main Results of the Conference:
To date, the organizers have received very positive feedback on the Conference by those who had attended, during the event itself and several days thereafter.
1.Practical Business Knowledge and Skills: According to the feedback given to Jasmine by participating businesswomen, the vast majority of the women reported that the conference had contributed greatly to their knowledge and provided them with valuable new skills, techniques and information about how to excel in their businesses. The vast majority of the women indicated that the knowledge they had acquired during the conference was practical knowledge that would enable them to actually use it in their every-day business life.
2.A Unique Networking Platform: The conference was an excellent unique platform for businesswomen to network and form business as well as other relationships. The unique aspect was that Arab and Jewish women were able to meet and network, an opportunity they wouldn’t have encountered elsewhere.
3.Personally Facilitated Roundtables: Many women reported that the professionally facilitated roundtables contributed greatly on several levels: not only did they get the chance to network and form business connections with other women at the tables, for many of them this was the first time they had a “stage” to talk about their actual needs and business concerns. Many said they were hopeful that Jasmine would indeed assist them with overcoming the problems they had indicated.
4.Valuable Information about the Entities That Can Help Businesswomen Grow and Excel in Business: In addition to all the valuable tips and information the businesswomen received during the conference, the main goal aimed at providing businesswomen with special information and build up contacts with different bodies such the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, Banks, Funds and more.
5.Many New Applications to Join Jasmine following the Conference: 70 businesswomen who attended the conference and were not Jasmine members up to that point have expressed the will to join Jasmine and participate in its activities. 7 organizations expressed the will to cooperate with Jasmine.
6.The Participation of the Press Raised the Issue of Businesswomen on the National Level: A large number of press representatives at the conference, from the Radio, TV and newspapers, both in Hebrew and Arabic, helped raise more awareness to the issue of businesswomen in Israel and to the advancement of small and medium sized businesses.