Israel – A Global Miracle of Sustainable Development

Ambassador Gil Haskel

Former Head of MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation

Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, scientific research and technological development were key factors in transforming the largely underdeveloped country into a modern, thriving state. New and innovative technologies in agriculture, industry, and healthcare surged to meet the challenges of a growing population with scarce natural resources at its disposal.

Less than 10 years after the establishment of the State, then Foreign Minister Golda Meir visited Africa where she was confronted with the development challenges which the young African nations faced in their struggle for independence. Guided by the Jewish value of social responsibility, Golda Meir believed that Israel was morally obligated to play a significant role in Africa’s struggle to overcome these severe challenges. This moral imperative served in part to ultimately shape Israel’s foreign policy and approach to international development. Equipped with the knowledge and skills acquired through its own ongoing development process, Israel was positioned to provide these emerging independent countries with relevant solutions.

The rationale behind this undertaking is poignantly encapsulated in the words of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, who once stated that, “The principles of mutual assistance and equality should…constitute the basis for international relations between peoples… [and] must be based on the solidarity of all human beings, derived from fraternity and mutual assistance in every sphere of life.”

Golda Meir and David Ben Gurion’s commitment to international cooperation led to the establishment of MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, in late 1957. What began as a small, specialized division within Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs later became a full-fledged development cooperation agency with the aim of sharing with the rest of the developing world the know-how and technologies which provided the basis for Israel’s own rapid development. 

As a manifestation of both the State of Israel’s political will and foreign policy, MASHAV is responsible for the policy, design, coordination, and implementation of the country’s official development programming and cooperation. MASHAV’s mission is to lead Israel’s efforts in empowering the developing world by sharing tools to overcome development challenges and elicit sustainable transformation within their own societies.

In accordance with “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (SDGs), Israel has committed itself to fulfilling its responsibility to humanity by continuing to contribute to the fight against poverty and global efforts to create a more inclusive, equal, prosperous and sustainable planet. In 2015, the State of Israel joined the international community in drafting and adopting this robust and ambitious 15-year action plan comprised of 17 new development goals and 169 targets to eradicate poverty and attain sustainable development.  While this new agenda builds upon the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it also expands the scope of the issues laid out in the MDGs and seeks to accomplish what they did not achieve. Beyond priorities such as poverty eradication, food security, gender equality and education, the SDGs also underscore the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development and recognize their indivisibility and interdependence for the realization of sustainable development.

Since its establishment, MASHAV has promoted the centrality of human resource enrichment and institutional capacity building in the development process, placing the human dimension at the center of its development activity; viewing it as an end in itself, rather than as means to an end.  According to this approach, development transcends the attainment of economic security and growth, and is rather defined by an individual’s capability and freedom to choose and achieve the life they reason to value. Through its focus on investing in human capital and institutional capacity building, MASHAV works with local stakeholders and communities to unleash local human potential and ingenuity to develop innovative solutions to their own development challenges. This in turn strengthens the dynamic of community ownership and produces agents of change within a society. Placing the individual at the center creates resilient communities that are less dependent on external sources. A community which is composed of empowered members is more sustainable than one that receives periodical financial support.

MASHAV’s development programing is comprised of technical assistance, capacity building, and the sharing of relevant knowledge to empower governments, civil society and individuals with the tools to overcome poverty and transform their communities. Based on a demand-driven approach to its activities, it works in active consultation with local partners and in accordance with the needs and demands of partner countries. MASHAV conducts its professional training and capacity building activities both in Israel and abroad while providing expert dispatches, technology transfers, and consultancy services to partner countries.

Since its establishment, approximately 280,000 professionals from over 130 developing countries have been trained in various fields in Israel and abroad, while numerous projects have been implemented in partner countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific. MASHAV directs its development efforts towards countries and regions where, together with local communities and in line with national development priorities, it can achieve maximum impact.

MASHAV promotes and engages in development cooperation on a bilateral, trilateral and multilateral level to more effectively enhance development policy and strengthen global alliances, and it also recognizes the importance of engaging in multi-stakeholder partnerships with civil society and the private sector. Mobilizing Israeli civil society and the private sector to invest in development activities can help generate greater resources and innovative solutions to development challenges. Moreover, for MASHAV, development cooperation also serves as a catalyst to forge bonds of peaceful collaboration between Israel and its neighbors. The agency therefore implements regional cooperation programs with neighboring countries throughout the Middle East. 

MASHAV maintains that cooperation leverages the comparative advantages and expertise of each party involved and creates synergies between their complementary strengths, delivering greater results and impact on the ground.  MASHAV’s focus is in the fields which Israel has a comparative advantage and valuable expertise accumulated during its own development experience.

MASHAV concentrates its activities in the following sectors:

Food Security and Agriculture

MASHAV’s activities in the agricultural sector are based on Israel’s own rural development experience under semi-arid/arid conditions and the technologies and innovative solutions which emerged during its process of transformation. It provides capacity building, training, technical support and consultation in the areas of dry-land agriculture, irrigation and water management, agricultural R&D, fruit/vegetable production, animal husbandry, aquaculture, combating desertification and adaptation to climate change among other related fields. MASHAV’s development activities in this field are often accompanied by the establishment of agricultural demonstration plots, irrigation systems, and agricultural centers of excellence.

Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment

Women’s empowerment and gender mainstreaming is a critical and integral component of MASHAV’s development policy and program design. In its current work towards achieving gender equality, it focuses its efforts on strengthening entrepreneurial skills and innovation through capacity building of female small-business owners in various sectors. Moreover, emphasis is placed on equipping women with tools to tackle gender-based violence and discrimination and to successfully engage in political processes and public life.

Education

MASHAV’s programming focuses on providing professional training and capacity building to senior personnel of formal and informal educational systems and government officials in related fields. MASHAV embraces a holistic and integrative approach to education-related issues based on the belief that education should be flexible and adapt itself to the individual student. It provides training and consultancies in a variety of subjects, ranging from early childhood education to adult education, special education and programs for at-risk youth as well as topics such as innovation and entrepreneurship for the educational system, ICT in education, capacity building for educators and school staff through civic awareness based on democratic principles, amongst others.

Community Development

MASHAV focuses on building and strengthening communities and civil society through strategically providing leadership training and support for women to increase participation in political and public life. Moreover, it offers training for effective community and rural development, collaborative action, networking and the establishment of cooperatives to further enhance economic growth, while bolstering the programming and impact of local NGOs among other activities.

Medicine and Public Health

MASHAV engages in activities particularly in the fields of emergency medicine and trauma care, public health services, neonatal and maternal healthcare and improving the delivery of medical services in rural regions. Programs in these fields include assisting in the process of health system reforms being implemented on administrative and organizational levels, as well as concentration on human and institutional capacity building. MASHAV’s professional training activities in medicine and public health are conducted both in Israel and on-site in host countries.

Humanitarian Aid & Emergency Relief

Beyond development programming, MASHAV is also the Israeli government’s main organ responsible for coordinating Israel’s official humanitarian assistance and emergency relief. Drawing upon its vast experience in crisis and disaster response, Israel has been recognized globally for its expertise in rapidly providing and dispatching the needed supplies and assistance to countries in need. Furthermore, MASHAV provides training and capacity building to local medical professionals in emergency and disaster medicine based on a triaged response to mass-casualty events.

Conclusion

MASHAV believes that placing people at the heart of development and empowering communities with the skills and tools to overcome development challenges leads to the transformation of societies. It is committed to leaving no one behind and to continue to develop innovative and affordable technologies and solutions to inspire and support fellow communities in their struggle to achieve sustainable development. The people of Israel are willing to go a long way in order to contribute to the prosperity and well-being of all populations facing severe development challenges. Engaging in constant development cooperation activities enhances human capacity and leads to the elevation of economic and infrastructural abilities. MASHAV believes that humanity’s success is their success.