Social lender to provide interest-free credit to war-damaged businesses and families

Ogen creates emergency economic relief fund to provide loans to small businesses and individuals in financial stress during the ongoing Hamas war

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Israelis inspect damaged cars after they were hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, southern Israel, October 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Israelis inspect damaged cars after they were hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, southern Israel, October 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

As Israeli businesses grapple with disruptions in their operations and many families experience economic distress during the ongoing war with the Hamas terror group — and the government squabbles over an emergency aid package — a group that provides credit to small businesses and organizations is hoping to step in and offer some financial oxygen.

Ogen, a nonprofit organization that provides affordable credit and financial guidance to marginalized segments of society, has established an emergency economic relief fund to offer interest-free loans to individuals, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses facing financial hardships due to the onslaught by the Hamas on October 7, the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.

Hamas terrorists murdered some 1,400 people during their rampage through southern Israel, the vast majority of them civilians slaughtered in their homes and at an outdoor music festival.

The almost three weeks since the murderous assault has seen businesses’ opeations affected. An estimated 15% to 20% of tech sector workers have been mobilized as reservists, while many employees are dealing with war trauma and the stress of mourning the loss of friends and loved ones.

Many companies as well as individuals are likely to incur a substantial loss of income and revenues, while for smaller businesses, which account for over 45% of the country’s workforce, immediate financial aid and the provision of credit lifelines could be critical for survival.

The emergency fund has already secured $10 million in a week and has set itself a goal of raising $35 million within the next month. The funds are raised from donations and impact investors — individuals and foundations, including UJA NY, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Robert and Trudy Gottesman.

A building in Tel Aviv damaged by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

“Our mission is to offer swift and tailored support to those affected by the ongoing crisis and economic challenges, particularly as we observe a sluggish response from the government,” said Ogen CEO Sagi Balasha.

This fund seeks to offer a credit lifeline to 30,000 people impacted by the war through the provision of 1,000 loans to individuals and families, 300 loans to small businesses, and 133 loans to nonprofit organizations.

“To maximize our impact, we aim to leverage the funds we raise by actively engaging institutional investors,” Balasha added. “Through a combination of philanthropic contributions and strategic financial instruments, we harness the power of blending philanthropic money with commercial capital, allowing us to raise credit lines, provide impact loans, and issue securitized bonds – meaning we can expand our reach and provide vital assistance where it’s needed most.”

Formerly known as the Israel Free Loan Association (IFLA), Ogen was founded by Prof. Eliezer Jaffe, an immigrant from the United States. He set up the organization in the early 1990s when Israel took in many immigrants, mainly from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, and it quickly became a resource to provide funds for low-income people.

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