The innovations of tomorrow are borne of the ideas of today. And to get the idea juices flowing, 70 carefully selected entrepreneurs, academics, and students got away from it all this week — heading out to Caesarea — to discuss what the future will look like, and how they and others will help it get that way.
That ideas were flying at the Israeli Designed International Development conference (more familiarly known as ID2) was evident in the reaction of a special guest at the event — Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and former New Zealand Prime Minister. She visited ID2 on Wednesday, the second day of the three-day event.
Commenting on what she saw and learned by talking with participants, hearing and seeing their ideas, inventions, and convictions, Clark said she was “just blown away” by much of it. “I was really inspired by what the young innovators had to say. There were some brilliant ideas there across technology applications and also ways of getting people properly organized for development solutions. So plenty of ideas there that could be up and running and really benefit a lot of people,” Clark said.
Such is the level of innovation at ID2, the event’s organizers said, that it would prompt someone like Clark — not just head of the UNDP and former New Zealand premier, but also on many pundits’ very short list for the next UN Secretary General (Ban Ki-Moon’ second term ends in 2016) — to use a term like “blown away” to describe what she saw.
That doesn’t surprise Danielle Abraham and Daniel Ben Yehuda, organizers of the event. “When you put together creative people in a three day forum, ‘out of town’ to keep them away from distractions, you are going to get creative ideas,” said Abraham, policy advisor to MASHAV, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Agency for International Development Cooperation. “ID2 helps build a community among creative people, and the results speak for themselves.”
An example of those results, said Ben Yehuda, Deputy Director of the Pears Program on Innovation and International Development at Tel Aviv University, is an organization called Migrant Health, which was hatched at ID2′s first edition in 2013. Migrant Health provides health services to foreign workers — illegal and otherwise — who do not have insurance or the other means to maintain their well-being.
“Migrant Health’s clients have no insurance, no money, and no medical records, but they need help, and this idea was born right here at ID2,” said Ben Yehuda. “The participants last year, as now, did not know each other before the event — they met at the event, and decided to go ahead with this project.” Today Israel, tomorrow the world, is Migrant Health’s motto, Ben Yehuda added. “They are developing their methodology and platform here in Israel and then plan on developing it in other countries. This could be a world-transforming platform, helping to solve a problem that has long plagued the world but that no one has found a way to solve yet.”
ID2 was the idea of Ben Yehuda and Abraham, and is sponsored by the Schusterman Philanthropic Network, a US foundation that supports entrepreneurship and creativity in Jewish communities around the world. Contributing partners include include MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Pears Program on Innovation and International Development at the Hartog School of Government and Policy at Tel Aviv University.
Organized like an academic or religious seminar (a Shabbaton, “but held during the week so people concentrate on the business at hand,” said Ben Yehuda), ID2 features discussions on topics like “using business to change the world,” “international development 101,” and “the practitioner’s perspective on impact investing.” But this not a theoretical conference for egghead types, said Abraham. “We put the issues into context, looking at them from a global perspective, and then work through them via group discussions and identities to hammer out potential solutions.” The idea, she said, is for the participants to take those ideas and run with them in the real world.
To inspire participants, ID2 supplies plenty of impressive figures to lead the way, among them Israeli start-up guru Yossi Vardi; Sasha Fisher, the co-founder and executive director of Spark MicroGrants, which developed the first group-based micro-granting model in the US; Errol Freeman of South Africa, Managing Director of Lulaway, an online job portal linked to a network of job centers in the townships and rural areas of South Africa, to provide greater access to job opportunities for the unemployed in those areas; Vivian Lan, from Mexico, Co-founder and Executive Director of a medical test company that uses a dry blood method to make diagnosis accessible for everyone; and Gal Moore, from England, Head of Business Development at BOP Connect, a social venture that develops human-centric technology solutions for the rural poor in the areas of energy, sanitation, health, education and agriculture.
And Helen Clark, an inspiring figure in her own right. But based on her reactions, she was the one getting inspired. Commenting on some of the things she saw at ID2, Clark said “the idea that you could have plants that glow in the dark and replace the electric light bulb, I thought that was just so, so cutting edge.” In addition, she said, a cancer detection system being developed by participants was another breakthrough technology. “The issue of cervical cancer detection. That is a cancer that is a silent killer of so many women around the world because the services aren’t there to collect the smears and get them processed and get people who do have a precancerous condition dealt with. That was a very, very interesting innovation to me,” she added.
Clark gets it, Abraham and Ben Yehuda said. “Our goal is to transform Israel from the Startup Nation to the Development Startup Nation by encouraging and empowering young international development players and entrepreneurs from around the world to get on board,” they said. “We expect amazing ideas to come out of ID2 and to move the entrepreneurship for development agenda forward into real action.”