World Bank training deal could bring Israeli tech to – Iran?
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World Bank training deal could bring Israeli tech to – Iran?

Cyber-security, water, and agriculture innovation from Israel will be part of the global institution’s program to stem poverty worldwide

File: World Bank headquarters in Washington DC (Photo credit: Courtesy World Bank)
File: World Bank headquarters in Washington DC (Photo credit: Courtesy World Bank)

Israeli technology could end up in many countries the Jewish state doesn’t currently have diplomatic relations with, as the World Bank adopts Israeli expertise in areas like cyber-security and agricultural technology.

Israel over the weekend signed a deal to become part of the World Bank’s “Global Practices” program, which seeks to provide client countries with skills and resources to improve their economies – making it easier for them to address poverty and to pay off their loans.

Under the agreement, which was signed on the Israeli side by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Israel will develop training courses in coordination with World Bank officials and representatives of client countries. The courses, to be developed and taught in Israel over the next two years, will focus on big data applications and cyber-security, agricultural technology, and water management technology. The Economy Ministry will contribute $500,000 in order to organize and run the courses in Israel.

Israel and the World Bank have been working on this deal for several months, ministry officials said. The agreement was hammered out by World Bank representatives and trade officials working at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

“The World Bank is keen to connect global expertise with clients. Israel is a leader in information technologies and their applications to areas like agriculture, irrigation, and cyber security,” said Pierre Guislain, senior director of the World Bank’s Transport and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Global Practice. “We are very happy that Israel has chosen ICT as the topic for its partnership with the Bank.”

Israel itself is a former client of the World Bank, which specializes in loaning money to governments that have trouble raising capital on the open market. The loans are generally guaranteed by a corporate fund that all industrialized countries contribute to (Israel owns 0.32% of the fund’s shares).

Israel’s last outstanding loan to the World Bank was paid off in 1981, and that being the case, said Bennett, Israel was happy to help out countries that still needed World Bank help.

“Today we are proud to join the contributing countries to the Bank and to share our expertise, knowledge and innovation with developing countries,” Bennett said. “This agreement will create a great collaborative platform that will contribute to strengthening our relations with developing countries and will create opportunities for sharing Israeli expertise and technologies.”

The Bank’s “Global Practices” program is a new one, instituted earlier this year to enhance the institution’s reputation, as it is often seen in the developing world as an agent of Western governments that aim to stanch competition, and to provide countries with resources to help lift large segments of their population out of poverty. In a position paper published in April, the Bank wrote that not enough attention has been paid to the needs of the citizenry in many places, with economic progress “undermined by deep-seated inequality of opportunity, manifested in part through high levels of youth unemployment and a pervasive sense of a lack of social justice and voice among the citizenry.”

Many countries, the Bank said – even those rich in resources – “are not managing to generate jobs or to share the wealth adequately, potentially sowing the seeds of social protest in the future.” One aim of the new program is to provide countries with knowledge tools to take better advantage of those resources.

As such, the Israeli technology could end up in some odd places. Currently, most countries in Africa, the Middle East, and many in Asia, are World Bank clients. Iran also has several outstanding loans, all made before 2005, when sanctions were placed on Tehran and new loans were denied. Iran suspended repayment of its loans at the time, but in 2013 decided to renew those repayments.

The Bank did not list which countries would receive assistance in specific areas – but typical of the Bank’s thoughts on assisting client countries is a speech given in 2013 by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, discussing the civil war in Syria, and poverty in the Middle East in general.

“The World Bank Group and the wider global community need to confront the complex institutional and social challenges in these fragile states, because the cost of inaction is high and the reward of well-designed interventions is great.” Among those interventions, said Kim, would be to enable countries to “take advantage of our deep experience to lead cutting-edge global practices on issues such as finance, education, health, infrastructure, energy, and water. We will excel at delivering local solutions by taking our global knowledge and making sure it is available to countries and companies that need it,” he added.

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