February 4, 2013
By Zaki Djemal Regional Director, North America , IsraAID. With the help of an ROI Micro Grant Zaki attended the 2013 Israeli Designed International Development (ID2) Conference in Mitzpeh Ramon.
At the end of a long winding road, on a ridge between a desert and a gaping hole in the ground, seventy young professionals from Israel and around the world gathered to explore Israel’s role in the field of international development. The occasion for this unusual assembly of individuals hailing from both the for-profit and non-profit sectors was a 4-day conference titled Israeli Designed International Development—or in short ID2—which aimed to spark interdisciplinary discussion on some of the world’s most pressing social problems.
The organizer’s choice to hold the conference in Mizpeh Ramon was by no means a coincidence. The once god-forsaken desert township, founded in the early fifties to house laborers building the road to Eilat, and later hundreds of poor immigrant families from North Africa and Romania, has since become a pilgrimage destination for hosts of young idealists dreaming to ‘make the desert bloom’. In many ways, Mizpeh Ramon symbolizes both the challenge and the promise of Israeli development: on the one hand—scarce resources, on the other—passion and inventiveness. In this regard, the setting for the conference could not have been better—offering participants both context and inspiration.
As somewhat of a seasoned development worker, however, I couldn’t help but question yet another initiative to innovate what many would call a dying field. It is no secret that international development organizations worldwide are struggling to remain relevant. The billions of dollars in aid money that have been poured into the field have yet to generate the anticipated returns—while the international aid movement is not without victories, corruption, inefficiency and evolving dependencies continue to undercut much of the global effort to alleviate suffering and encourage growth in the developing world. As if to echo these thoughts and concerns, on my drive down south, Meir Ariel and David Broza’s “Be’zoharei Hayom” High Noon began playing on the radio.
The song, which borrowed its name from the 1952 American Western starting Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, tells of Meir Ariel’s visit to Yerucham and of the unparalleled joy he feels when drinking an ice-cold beverage in the desert on a hot day. The joy of the beverage is extenuated by the contrast it presents to Ariel’s description of the dusty and sleepy township. The visit and beverage are cut short however when he meets a local resident who criticized him for fawning and assimilating to Western Culture. The song ends with Ariel concluding to make due with a cup of Turkish coffee, later that evening—in Mizpeh Ramon.
Despite my reservations—or perhaps because of my reservations—the conference was a great success. It is clear that the world must innovate the way its thinks about international aid and development if it hopes to bring about real change. Indeed, an interdisciplinary outlook onto development is not without precedent. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for example has been pioneering a variety of initiatives which rely on private sector expertise as well as public sector experience to create effective interventions. The collaborative energy I felt in the conference reiterated my own belief that concerned individuals, from disparate backgrounds, can achieve much more together, than possible within the confines of their individual roles. Similarly, traditional categories of private and public need not hinder a common concern for the betterment of humanity. On the contrary, their symbiosis has the potential to give birth to a whole new way of looking at the world and hopefully making it a better place, "for you, and for me, and the entire human race."