The world is in transition from an old reality in which growth was based on expanding physical territory, to a new reality based on the expansion of the human mind, science, technology and innovation. The late President Shimon Peres believed that this new world could be more peaceful, as it is not based on the zero-sum rationale of old paradigms, in which countries needed to conquer new territory and exploit natural resources from others in order to grow and to defend their interests militarily. In this new “win-win” world of science, one does not become great at the expense of others - everybody can grow at the same time. Peres believed that the correct formula for a more peaceful world is the combination of the values of peace and Tikkun Olam, alongside science and technological advancements. Both are two sides of the same coin, because technology without values can be very dangerous and values without technology don’t lead to progress. He was adamant that Israel has all the tools to be a leader in this paradigm shift and possess all the elements for success in the new world. Israel is considered the “Start-Up Nation” because it has more start-ups per capita than any other country in the world, more companies registered on NASDAQ outside the US and more patents registered per capita, among many more amazing achievements. The three driving forces behind Israel’s creative and innovative spirit are necessity, diversity and audacity - or as we call it, chutzpah. The necessity to innovate can be traced back to our arrival in our ancient homeland. We made our way out of Egypt only to find that what was written in the Bible was not exactly true - Israel wasn’t the “Land of Milk and Honey,” but more a land of swamps in the north and deserts in the south. If Moses had a GPS, he would probably have taken the Jewish people anywhere else, rather than bringing us to the only place in the Middle East without natural resources. While most of our neighbors are oily countries, we got stuck with being holy. In the end, however, it was a blessing in disguise, because without natural resources we were forced to be creative and focus on our human capital. Israel is a country of a multitude of people of diverse backgrounds who must be entrepreneurial by nature. In order to address the many needs and challenges facing them, they must be able to start from scratch and develop a can-do attitude against all odds. Because of our diversity, we have a remarkable fusion of people speaking different languages and offering new perspectives, which enriches and contributes to our creative energy. The final piece of the puzzle is Israelis’ audacity - our rebellious spirit and our undisciplined character. Israelis don’t respect authority and don’t like to play by the rules. We don’t pay too much attention to titles and rank and we challenge absolutely everything. All these characteristics may make us quite obnoxious some of the time, but very innovative most of the time. More than 360 multinational technology companies have established their R&D centers in Israel because they know that Israelis will challenge even the most basic assumptions of the company, which is exactly what you need in order to disrupt and innovate. Shimon Peres is well-known all over the world primarily as a result of his Nobel prize-winning work in the pursuit of peace, but Peres’ legacy is also as one of the founding fathers of the Start-Up Nation. During his prolific career in government, he promoted Israel’s transition from an agricultural and centralized economy to a technological and economic powerhouse. His state of mind was one of innovation, in establishing the Israeli defense infrastructure and industry and later in saving Israel from hyperinflation, and of course, in peacemaking. Throughout his career, he pushed Israel to be on the forefront of science and technology. He always said that we are too small to be a significant market or industry, but that we can export our ideas to the world. In 1996, Peres founded the Peres Center for Peace to work toward advancing his vision for a peaceful and prosperous future for Israel and across the Middle East region. Finding himself in the unfamiliar position of being out of elected office, Peres sought to answer the question of how he could promote peace in a different way. Thinking innovatively as usual, and as a lesson learned from his work on the Oslo Accords in 1993 and from the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, Peres came to realize that peace could not be achieved solely from the top down and that political efforts must be complemented with a bottom-up approach that promotes person-to-person connections. Seeking to promote peace in an apolitical manner, the Peres Center began connecting Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, on the ground, building relationships between would-be strangers based on common interests and shared challenges. Through a variety of immersive programs aimed at breaking down the existing barriers to peace, the Peres Center developed unique methodologies that today remain a world-class example of impact-focused peace and capacity building. After seven years as President and 70 years serving the Israeli people in government, Peres took office at the Peres Center for Peace for the first time in 2014. That year, the Center expanded into “The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.” Innovation was always a clear part of Peres’s vision for peace and he strongly believed in the synergy between peace and innovation. He believed that peace is made possible through innovative diplomacy and that innovation in science and technology can help solve some of the underlying reasons for conflict and violence. With approximately 60% of the Middle East’s population aged under 30, Peres believed that a vastly more innovative landscape in the region would ensure a prosperous future for all. If we can help our neighbors create a similar ecosystem of innovation as we have in Israel, they will be less attracted by the influence of extremists and jihadists, instead harnessing the energy of future generations and channeling it toward positive and constructive causes. Peres strongly believed that both morally and strategically, it is not good for Israel to be an island of prosperity in a sea of poverty. In adding innovation to the mission of the Center, Peres was able to realize his vision for an educational hub for innovation. Whenever he hosted world leaders, Peres had many places to show them Israel’s past, but nowhere to showcase the modern, future-oriented Israel. With the Peres Center’s strategic programs implemented in hospitals, schools, businesses and on sports fields across the country, there was an opportunity to transform its headquarters on the shores of Jaffa into the Israeli Innovation Center, which today stands as a unique "one-stop shop," showcasing the role of Israeli innovation in making the world a better place and in shaping a peaceful future.
In its inaugural year, the Israeli Innovation Center drew 75,000 visitors – from Israelis and tourists of all ages, genders and backgrounds, to heads of state and esteemed business delegations – inviting them to explore the past, present and future of Israeli innovation through an immersive state-of-the art experience. Serving as a national and international hub for knowledge and innovation, we promote innovation-collaboration agreements with international partners and serve as a bridge between the global community and the Israeli ecosystem, offering a direct channel to Israel’s leading experts and most innovative startups, and to opportunities for business development and mutual learning. A big emphasis is put on the values of diversity and inclusion, as well as an effort to promote entrepreneurship and innovation in younger generations through the development of educational tools for students, providing them with the skills they need to become agents of positive change in their communities. As an alum of the Wexner Israel Fellowship, I am proud to say that the values of The Wexner Foundation of connecting Israel and North American Jewish communities in Tikkun Olam align perfectly with the mission of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. We invite you to visit and join us as we embark on this journey into the exciting new world of technology and innovation in pursuit of a better future for Israel, the Jewish people and humanity. Check out The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation 2019 Impact Report filled with many of our rich and diverse activities. Take a look of the Israeli Innovation Center in this marvelous video. WIF Alum Nadav Tamir (Class 15) is currently serving as Senior Adviser for Government and International Affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. He can be reached here.