“I just visited a Bedouin settlement in which women have Smartphones but are not connected to the electricity grid. They didn’t have the technology or training to look for a clinic and then be able to make a doctor’s appointment,” confides Dafna Lifshitz, CEO, Appleseeds Academy, Skyping from Tel Aviv. “And, it may be surprising to learn that although Israel is considered the ‘Start-Up Nation’, inside Israel there are many disadvantaged youth, Haredi, Arab, Christian and Druze men and women who just don’t have access to technology.”
Dafna Lifshitz, 49, winner of the 2014 prestigious Israeli Prime Minister’s Prize for Initiative and Innovation is the first woman lawyer to specialize in commercial real estate and employee labor law in her home town of Rishon LeZion, Lifshitz grew up in a religious family and was aware at an early age of the disparity between low and upper income families at school. “I love to run and fellow runner, Benny Moran, who established the non-profit Appleseeds Academy in 2000 and became its first CEO, asked me to join the company as legal council,” explains Lifshitz. “Our Chairman, Leon Recanati, the well-known Israeli philanthropist and visionary realized that we needed to focus on training all Israeli society in the centre of Israel since so much attention was already being paid to established tech start-ups in big cities.”
“So 12 years ago, we began approaching the Mayors of little towns in Israel and within three years we had established 30 Appleseeds Academy Centers across the country. There are now 350 and we have expanded internationally to Africa,” says Lifshitz proudly.
If disadvantaged people are at the heart of non-profit Appleseeds Academy, multinational high-tech companies like Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, Google, WIZO and others like Bezac and international Jewish Federations, are it’s pulse: “ Intel was our first strategic partner,” says Lifshitz and what’s wonderful is that these companies came to us with funding to create sustainable projects that have had long-term impact. We reach 100,000 people a year through all sectors of Israeli society.”
Appleseeds Academy’s many programs include:
Net@ in collaboration with Cisco, (supported in part by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver,) is a four-year program in Israel encouraging technological excellence and social leadership for students in grades 9-12. The program has produced 5,000 graduates. In addition, “the program is the only one of its kind that integrates Muslim, Jewish and Christian youth in joint activities,” says Lifshitz.
Community Knowledge Centers offer modern hi-tech hub classrooms and teaching for adults, youth and children, in low income municipalities in Kiryat Shmona, Acre, Nazareth, Kfar Saba, Tira, Tel Aviv, Ramla, Beersheva, Dimona and Eilat,
Intel Professional Development Teacher Training with The Ministry of Education trains 8,000 teachers annually on integrating technology in the classroom (available in Hebrew & Arabic)
Career Advancement for Women Vocational Training (all ages) Since 2006, Appleseeds Academy, along with the Israeli Employment Service, WIZO, and Microsoft Israel, have been running the program for the advancement of women’s employment. More than 6,000 female jobseekers (unemployed or on income support) have been trained with follow-up job placement in 70 localities throughout Israel.
“You know it’s not easy for women in Orthodox and Arab communities to come forward and join many of these programs, explains Lifshitz. “They have to get permission from their rabbis and imams. These women are highly intelligent and run big households. My greatest discovery was how beautifully they all get along together because they all have a common wish – for their children to excel.”
In 2009, when former Cisco president, John Chambers visited Israel, he selected Appleseeds Academy as implementing partner in a global coalition working to realize Cisco’s commitment of $10 million for the Clinton Global Initiative for economic development in Africa. Since then, Appleseeds Academy working together with Cisco and other partners is operating over 70 Community Knowledge Centers in Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Ghana and Uganda.
Lifshitz recounts a wonderful story of when, three years ago the Christian Ashanti King of Ghana was a guest of President Shimon Peres and they visited Nazareth together. “The King noticed an Appleseeds Academy Centre there and went inside,” says Lifshitz. “He was so impressed that he wanted to bring them to Ghana. I’ll never forget the faces of those African kids when we showed them where they were living using Google Earth! ” she laughs.
“Technology should have no borders and we walk the talk,” Lifshitz affirms.
TOP PHOTO: In 2014, CEO, Dafna Lifshitz, Appleseeds Academy, is presented with the prestigious Israeli Prime Minister’s Prize for Initiative and Innovation (non-profit category,) by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.