It’s no secret that we have a problem in the U.S. tech industry with regards to the low percentage of females in tech positions at our leading tech companies:
It’s also no secret that blacks and hispanics are severely underrepresented in major tech companies too, even relative to their representation of computer science degree graduates:
Solving these seemingly intractable problems is tough. As tech becomes an increasingly important part of the global economy, and thus an increasingly important provider of employment and wealth creation, the U.S. and most other nations around the world need to figure out how to solve for the inclusion problem in tech, or they risk further exacerbating the income inequality that plagues so many countries.
While there are lots of great efforts being made around the globe to address the inclusion problem, I’ve been blown away by the efforts, and accomplishments being made by Kamatech and the Kamatech Accelerator in Israel.
A Quick History Lesson
In 1912, fourteen years after Theodor Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress, the Orthodox opponents of Zionism met to organize their own political movement. This group — today we would call them ultra-Orthodox — established Agudah, an unequivocally anti-Zionist movement. Agudah eventually downplayed its anti-Zionist bent to enter the political life in Israel as the main representative of the Haredi (Ultra-orthodox) population. Today, most Haredi Jews have made their peace with the state of Israel. They represent about 10% of the Israeli population, but are growing at 4X the rate of non-Haredi in Israel, as the number of children per Haredi female is 6.7 (vs. 3 for the average Israeli female). As a result, the share of Haredi among those under the age of 20 is over 17% of the total population under 20.
Upon the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the nation’s population of military aged Haredi males were exempted from the mandatory military service that the rest of the nation’s males fulfill.
While Haredi employment is on the rise, the most recent figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics on employment rates place Haredi women at 69.3% comparable to 71% for the women’s national figure, while just 44.5% of Haredi men are employed, far below the 81.5% national rate for male employment. And even those with jobs, are generally employed in low paying sectors. As a result, poverty rates are around 60% for the Haredi.
One Piece of The Solution
In 2007, the Kemach Foundation was founded to provide educational opportunities, economic development and opportunities for employment for the Haredi. Through philanthropy and government funding the Foundation now enjoys a a $22 million budget it uses to provide individualized career assessment, academic and vocational scholarships and job placement for the Haredi in Israel. The Foundation is managed by the Haredi themselves, as they are most familiar with the community’s needs. Since 2007, more than 20,000 Haredi have received the services of Kemach, and more than 8,000 have received scholarships to fund their academic or vocational studies. Other organizations helping the Haredi on the eudcational front include the JDC, the Lev Academic Center, Yedidut Toronto, and Atidim — Halamish.
Another Piece of The Solution — Kamatech & the Kamatech Accelerator
The dearth of orthodox engineers in the tech industry, and the lack of military connections that tie together so much of Israeli society, has left orthodox graduates of tech schools without the networks that are so helpful in securing employment.
Kamatech was established in 2012 to bridge this gap and help graduates find employment in the tech sector. Kamatech is a coalition of over 40 tech companies (e.g. Google, Microsoft, SAP, SundaySky) who actively recruit Haredi with a BA, BSc or higher degrees (Computer Science, Electrical Engineering etc.). In addition, students in their third year of college or above are helped in securing internships. The goal is simple: to create a “network” of orthodox employees in the tech sector which will lead to an increase in the number of Haredi in the tech industry and build a virtuous circle to the benefit of the Haredi community and all of Israel.
In 2014 KamaTech brought together a group of VC funds, angel investors, and a network of 60 senior tech industry professional in the founding of the KamaTech Accelerator to provide mentoring and other assistance to Haredi entrepreneurs to increase their chances of success. The core of the Accelerator is the adoption of Haredi innovation by prominent successful Israeli tech companies including Wix, Outbrain, LiveU, Taboola, Plarium, SQream and others.
The Accelerator program also includes demo days in Tel Aviv, London and New York, the latter of which I had the pleasure of recently attending.
First, and most importantly, the presenting companies at the demo day in New York were impressive and highlighted the tremendous talent in the Haredi community. You can read all about the companies in this program for the demo day. But what I was most struck by, was how the tech community in Israel came together to address a problem for the industry and the whole of Israeli society. Each company in the accelerator gets to sit inside a bigger tech company for four months, and the CEO of the bigger tech companies along with others provide deep mentoring. It’s an innovative model profoundly helping the start ups
The list of people and companies involved in Kamatech is a who’s who of the Israeli tech scene (you can read about them in the program and on the Kamatech website). I was proud to be sitting there and feeling a part of a community that was doing such a mitzvah, having such a positive impact on Israeli society. Yaron Galai, the CEO of Outbrain, eloquently expressed why Outbrain is supporting Kamatech:
“Kamatech is incredibly important to Israeli society where a huge community is basically left behind, not properly educated for the modern world and thus — left almost completely out of the workforce. I think one of the biggest barriers to fixing this is the un-acceptance of the other. And in Israel that usually goes in both ways — seculars not accepting haredi’s, and haredi’s not accepting seculars as being part of the same society. KamaTech is a wonderful opportunity to start bringing down that barrier. By hosting one of KamaTech’s startups (EnglishOn) at Outbrain, we hope we have helped on both fronts — help 1st-time entrepreneurs in starting their venture, and helped bring down some walls of un-acceptance of the other, and show ourselves and our teams that we have more in common than not.” Yaron Galai, CEO of Outbrain
A Model For The Rest of the World To Follow
When I think of the tech scene in Israel, I will no longer think of it just as Startup Nation, but also as Mitzvah Nation. The tech industry in any country can’t solve all the nation’s problems, but it can come together and start solving its own problems, including the problem of inclusion. And in so doing they will be helping themselves, their country, and the entire world, as the next Facebook, or Google, or Tesla, is as likely to come from those not coming from the traditional paths, but only if they’re given the tools to succeed. Only if they’re given the opportunity to participate and contribute. Only if we help them help us.