While the region hasn’t quite yet lived up to President Shimon Peres’ vision of “The New Middle East” (as outlined in his book of the same name), Peres has been working on a number of different levels to bring that vision to life. One of his less publicized but more successful ventures combines Peres’ blueprint for Israel as a technology leader, bringing a better life to its neighbors, and his plan for integrating Israeli Arabs in the country’s high-tech sector. The result is Peres’ Maantech project, which works with nearly two dozen multinationals to provide training – and jobs – for high-tech workers in the Arab sector.
Along with Peres, one of the driving forces behind Maantech was John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, and on Tuesday, in a special announcement at the Presidential Conference, the two announced a significant expansion of the project. Currently, Maantech is a small program, with only a few hundred candidates in its database of potential high-tech employees, but the plan is to greatly increase funding and corporate commitment for Maantech, to the point where over 10,000 people will be placed in jobs within a few years.
In an inspiring presentation, Peres praised Chambers and the other corporate sponsors of Maantech, telling them that they were part of history’s first “bloodless revolution.” The high-tech revolution, he said, “is greater than the French or Russian revolution.” Such revolutions, social and political are often “very bloody, but are failures.”
The high-tech revolution, meanwhile, was using science to liberate people to be themselves, to do what they really wanted in life. “It is a second industrial revolution, putting an end to the age of mass production started by Henry Ford.” That revolution, he said, focused on forcing people to conform, to give up their hopes and dreams — while the high-tech revolution “is one of personal production,” allowing anyone to do almost anything with their lives. “Did any of you high-tech folk kill anyone or try to take away the liberty of anyone else? Technology is the means. The goal is the enhancement of human beings,” Peres added.
Maantech (“Maan” means “together” in Arabic) was established in 2011, after Peres and Chambers met at the World Economic Forum Meeting in Davos, after the two discussed what Peres truly sees as an effort that could help bridge the gap between Israel and its Arab neighbors, as well as with its own Arab population. Arab workers in Israeli high-tech are underrepresented – less than half a percent in the industry, even though they are 20% of Israel’s population.
Peres does not attribute this to racism, but to the fact that Arabs in Israel may not have had the same educational opportunities as Jews. “What discriminates against them is the economic gaps and we must correct this discrimination,” Peres said at Maantech’s inauguration in 2011. “It will only be corrected when there will be islands of high-tech in the Arab sector and Israeli Arab workers in the Israeli high-tech industry. The inclusion of Israeli Arabs into the Israeli high-tech sector will be a social blessing and a blessing for the Israeli economy.”
Maantech is sort of a “high-tech finishing school” for candidates who have gone through tech courses and are looking for a job. Candidates upload their resumes, which are evaluated by experts, and go through a series of interviews. They then go through various seminars and labs, such as how to be prepared for a job interview, simulations, group dynamics, a review of the high tech industry, and more, all designed to help them “talk the talk.” Candidates can get special coaching help, English language classes, or referrals to courses where they can pick up a specific skill.
The candidates are then sent on interviews with Maantech corporate partners, who, as sponsors, commit to hiring a specific number of candidates. In 2011, the first year of the program, more than 125 candidates were hired, but Chambers said that the goal should be thousands, not hundreds. Chambers, Peres said in his remarks, “is not just a tech person, but a philosopher,” and the Cisco CEO lived up to that description as he laid out his own vision for the New Middle East. “With just a little help from high-tech companies, the Palestinian Authority was able to boost its gross domestic product significantly,” Chambers said, referring to investments by Cisco and others in programming and data centers in Ramallah in recent years.
“Imagine how we could help the GDP of Israel, and Israeli Arabs, if we could get 12,000 people hired” with Maantech. The organization is important not just for what it does for Israeli Arabs, Chambers said, adding that working with Maantech “gives us high-tech companies the opportunity to show the world what we can do together, with a government and people that get it.”