Israel’s high-tech ambassadors take to the road

Israeli start-ups can help out the country’s image, even as they make connections at international trade shows, says the Tsav 8 group

For Israel, international trade shows aren’t only about making contacts and doing business. They’re also a great opportunity to present the “real Israel” to a large, influential, and well-connected audience — presenting an alternative narrative to the war-torn and terror-laden one about Israel that most people are exposed to.

One of the best places to spread that alternative Israel narrative is at one of the most important international tech trade shows, the Mobile World Congress (MWC), which takes place in Barcelona. And a group called Tsav 8 has, for the past five years, taken upon itself the task of preparing the nearly 2,000 Israelis who will be attending to answer the hard questions about Israel — and to spread the word about how the Start-Up Nation has changed the lives of hundreds of millions for the better.

The term “Tsav 8” is borrowed from the IDF, where it is used for an emergency call-up of troops. In the same way, say Tsav 8 — the group’s English name is Israel Branding Advocates Forum –founders Rami Kalish and Yael Shany, Israel’s “high-tech army” can present another side of Israel, emphasizing the country’s start-up and innovation culture to people around the world, showing off Israel’s contributions in technology, environmental solutions, health care, and other areas. “We aim to provide a platform of a relevant, efficient, balanced toolkit addressing business, branding communication and diplomacy challenges,” the group says in its charter, “based on mutual values of our hi-tech culture — innovation, openness, entrepreneurship, and togetherness.”

The group operates all year long as an advocate for the Israeli telecom business, but gears up for full action in advance of Mobile World Congress (MWC), the premier trade show for the mobile business, which takes place each year in mid- or late February. Last week, the group held a seminar for top executives in the mobile industry who will be presenting their technologies at MWC, with speakers from some of Israel’s largest tech companies, as well as from the country’s diplomatic corps, discussing how to present Israel’s story in a positive manner.

Doing so is a matter of presentation – there’s plenty of content, said Danny Gillerman, former Israeli ambassador to the UN. “Israelis can hold their heads high” at MWC and similar international events, he told several hundred people at the Tsav 8 meeting, held at Google Israel’s Tel Aviv tech lab. “You represent a country that contributes a great deal to the world in the areas of high-tech, medicine, culture, and the arts — much more than many other countries.” Where traditional diplomacy falls short, said Gillerman, high-tech diplomacy can succeed. “You are Israel’s best ambassadors, thanks to your great contributions that are building the future.”

Among the tips Gillerman had for the tech “diplomats”: Learn how to listen, show your interlocutors that you understand and acknowledge their point of view; don’t avoid political discussions, don’t run away from them; and don’t be afraid to admit that Israel has made mistakes. “Every country does, nothing will happen if you admit that Israel makes mistakes.” One of the best strategies: “Invite the people you connect with to Israel. There is no substitute for seeing things first-hand.”

Foreign diplomats who spoke at the event included the ambassadors to Israel from the US (Dan Shapiro), Brazil (Maria Elisa Berenguer), and Spain (Fernando Carderera Soler). Shapiro, currently in the U.S., spoke via video hookup, saying that the idea of Tsav 8 was a very valid one. “There is an enormous opportunity for Israeli technology to improve lives in many parts of Asia and Africa.” By hooking up with U.S. multinationals that have a presence in many far-flung places, said Shapiro, Israeli start-ups could reach markets that they otherwise would not have been able to reach.

Many of the Israeli companies presenting at MWC are start-ups, whose experience in international business dealings is somewhat limited — and Tsav 8 aims to help them, as much as it aims to help Israel. To that end, a stellar line-up of some of Israel’s top high-tech leaders spoke at the event as well. Among the tech industry speakers were Meir Brand, Managing Director of Google Israel; Dov Moran of M-Systems and more recently Comigo; Yossi Matias, director of Google r&d in Israel; Gil Sharon, CEO of Pelephone; and Mooly Eden, Senior VP Intel Worldwide and President, Intel Israel.

Each speaker had ideas and thoughts about how companies could present and sell themselves, often emphasizing the obvious –honesty and straightforwardness with clients and partners will get you much farther than the opposite, partnering with local companies in foreign markets will get you more sales and opportunities, and don’t denigrate competing countries. One tip from Intel’s Mooly Eden that fits right in with the gregarious Israeli personality: “Take advantage of your natural friendliness,” Eden told listeners. “It’s a character trait that gives Israelis a big advantage over the competition.”

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