The bank gave me a great deal of experience regarding assessment of economic projects and an understanding of economic development. But since the bank was a commercial body, I thought that it would be more possible to develop an ideology in addition to business development. Through an organization of Arabs and Jews that believe that through shared economic development, through strengthening and providing support to the Arab sector, it is possible to build a foundation on which Jews and Arabs can live together in the State of Israel. I believed that. Since then I have directed all of my thinking, directed all of my experience and knowledge to achieving this goal: cooperative living by means of shared economic development.
The first thing I initiated when I started working at the Center was research to determine the true needs of the Arab sector, what is the current situation, what is the potential. Taking into account the existing situation and the potential, how can we arrive at a level of economic development and at a level of shared businesses between Arabs and Jews? In this survey, which was conducted by two academics, one Jew and one Arab, we arrived at several conclusions that were very interesting-- the reasons for the absence of economic development in the Arab sector, the potential, how those obstacles could be overcome. Some of these reasons are political; Israeli governments have not invested enough to build infrastructure for the Arab sector, have not provided the budgets to foster economic development in the Arab sector. This requires more advocacy and convincing the governments that it is worthwhile to invest more in the Arab sector because this will help to build the whole Israeli economy. But it is also important for the State of Israel from a political perspective. Once you have a community that feels deprived, that feels alienated, that feels that it does not receive its rights, not only will it not contribute to the society or the economy as a whole, but the situation can also lead to damage. There are more internal reasons for the absence of economic development in the Arab society in Israel. For example, Arab women, because of societal reasons, are not active enough in the economic sphere; heads of the local Arab municipal authorities do not have enough professional tools, do not know enough about how to manage projects, how to create employment resources, or how to foster the professional development of their municipal workers.
We made two meaningful decisions: First, that we would establish a special department in the Center to advance the status of Arab women from the societal and economic standpoint. Since 1995, for nine years now, we have a package especially for young Arab women, which includes a business-training course. We talk about how it is possible to adjust their lives from an economic, societal perspective but also within the household; how to deal with their personal positions in the household, how they can raise children and at the same time manage a business and contribute from an economic perspective to their family, to their society. This should give them a sense of empowerment, that they are contributing, creating. They are not only housewives. They produce something, and can economically contribute to their families. A woman's independence makes her a role model. She can "push" her children to be more independent, and she can contribute to her community as a model or example for young women about how to develop a business. Because of our activities, during the past four years, four hundred new businesses have been opened in the Arab sector, which are owned or managed by women. This is amazing.
Today we have established what we call "businesswomen clubs." In addition to creating businesses, we wanted to create a framework that would allow people to meet to discuss their business, society and how they can contribute not only to their own well-being, but also to their community. We also established clubs for Jewish and Arab women to enable them to learn how to advance joint Jewish-Arab businesses. In the final analysis, we want to help facilitate the development of joint Jewish-Arab businesses. The clubs, which meet once a week, are an amazing tool. These meetings strengthen the women and provide them with the opportunity to learn from one another. We believe this process can contribute a lot to Arab women, and create the infrastructure for joint activities of Arab and Jewish women not only regarding the economic issues but also in the societal and cultural spheres. I very much hope that we will succeed with our current annual project to develop a national union of Arab and Jewish business women, which can become the arm that will fight for the sake of achieving the rights of women and their equality and will make people realize they are not the weak link in society. This is one example.