Event Reports

Arab and Jewish businesswomen in Israel

The success story continues

On the 19th of February 2013, the 12th annual Jasmine Conference commenced in Ramat Gan attracting over 300 participants. The conference brought together Jewish and Arab small and medium sized business owners to help them gain perspective in the business field. “Jasmine” is a joint project of KAS Israel and the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development. The annual conference offers participants alternating themes, the focus of this year’s conference was on the market power of female-run businesses as suppliers.

The moderator of the conference was well-known newscaster Dana Weiss. Ms. Weiss praised the excellence of the conference preparation and how the on topic and focused discussions brought practical recommendations that the Jewish and Arab entrepreneurs could apply to their businesses.

From the beginning of the conference, the director of Jasmine, Mrs Kiram Baloum, spoke that “Jasmine” most recently became an independently registered organization after functioning for many years under the Center for Jewish-Arab economic development. In his opening remarks at the conference, Michael Mertes, director of KAS Israel praised the valuable partnership KAS has with “Jasmine” and pointed out that it was an objective of KAS Israel to promote the idea of the social market economy. Mr. Mertes emphasized that the backbone of this economic philosophy is the small and medium sized businesses.

The opening lecturer of the conference was Jasmine president and CEO of the Strauss Group, Ms. Ofra Strauss. Ms. Strauss explained that a democratic society like Israel needed small and medium size businesses. Not only as a contribution to diversity, but to contribute to the socio-economic and technological advancement of Israeli society. As head of a corporation, Ms. Strauss shed light upon the importance for large companies to involve themselves more in small and medium sized businesses and to consciously support businesses that are run by women. This is particularly important for the public sector which serves as the largest consumer and employer for the economy.

Given the competition in large corporations between purchasing managers and the administration for innovative solutions and quality projects, corporations should turn to small and medium size businesses for these products. This behaviour should be incorporated into the long term goals of companies. To date, some progress has been seen in that there has been an increase in number of Arab women who founded their own companies in recent years and research of women-run companies reflected that this is not just a phenomenon but a growing trend.

Ms. Elizabeth A. Vazquez from WEConnect International spoke briefly about the integration of women-run businesses into the Israeli economy, saying that we live in an exceptional time of openness and inclusions. Ms. Vazquez praised the progress Israel has made in supporting women led businesses. She highlighted the fact however, that although women make the majority of purchasing decisions within an organization, only 1% of suppliers are directed by a woman. This imbalance is not a conscious decision of purchasing management but it does mean that management must take the initiative to promote women in this field.

Ms. Lilach Asher-Topilsky, the director of Retail-Banking at Bank Hapoalim, gave a presentation for the conference from a perspective of a lender highlighting the theme of the conference. Following her presentation, a panel representing the diverse conference participation discussed specific issues and challenges they are facing. The panellists, Moshe Riany, the sales director of the Strauss group, Julia Zahaer, an Arab entrepreneur in the food industry and Tzvia Dahan, a business consultant, discussed their own experiences and provided advice on topics that supported the theme of the conference.

From the morning and afternoon workshops and discussions, the conference participants received a lot of tools and encouragement to take with them and apply to their businesses. Participants benefited from their encounter with other women entrepreneurs who represented different industries. It was also made clear the importance of corporations taking note of the advantages and enormous potential of working with Jewish and Arab companies in Israel founded by women. Overall, the conference was a convincing campaign for the crucial role of small and medium sized businesses in the economy. Free enterprise and social responsibility are two sides of the same coin.

Elena Müller

Translation: Susi Doring Preston