I had heard about Linda from a mutual friend, the Prague-resident Israeli painter Hana Alisa Omer. I found Linda’s profile – and I couldn’t imagine it being humanly possible to undertake all the activities she does. When I met her in person, I realised that actually it is possible. Some women are drivers; they know what they want and they do it with an enthusiasm that recharges them so they can create something new.
Linda speaks of herself as a “connector”, meaning a person who brings together and connects others. The subject came up a number of times in our interview that women should support and help each other, and that networking is an important female capability. Although she is from an entirely different field than me, we have a lot in common and the interview was spontaneous and enriching. Her latest activity is her work for Diversio (www.diversio.cz ), an entity supporting transformational projects through networking and connecting different fields. My first question was how Linda came up with the idea of connecting Czech and Israeli female entrepreneurs, and why specifically in Israel? And after that all I needed to do was listen to her interesting points.
“OKAY, I’LL ARRANGE A MISSION…”
“I graduated from Oxford twenty years ago in Hebrew and Jewish Studies. When we received our certificates, we knew that we had lived through a wonderful year and a unique experience, but we also told ourselves that we had studied a subject that we almost won’t use in our life. We knew we were going to work as lawyers and diplomats. I myself continued by studying international relations in Geneva. In terms of occupation, I began at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was deeply involved in supporting women, because I am not satisfied with their representation at the highest levels of politics, and in the corporate and academic spheres.
I’m a member of the Charles University Board for Commercialisation (at the Centre for Knowledge and Technology Transfer). Its task is to ensure the results of applied research are available to the whole of society, as we all pay for the transfer from primary to applied research through our taxes. In light of this, the results should serve everyone. The board is well-balanced, containing men and women, representatives of various generations and branches of science. This work means I have come to realise that when a narrow group of people make decisions on the course of research, its funding, the make-up of scientific teams, etc., this ends up impacting the direction society takes. This opened my eyes and made me realise how important it is to set up a paradigm at the start of the process, e.g. ensuring women are present in advisory positions. My next steps led me to the Technology Agency, where I worked as an external assessor for Industry 4.0. This was despite the fact I’ve got a humanities education. But I never feel like an outsider or some “blonde”, though I do just happen to be one; I feel instead like someone who brings a different perspective. I can look at a whole project with a gaze those inside it don’t have. For example, I can see that groups such as young athletes or young childless people are preferred, whereas there is no defence of the interests of mothers or older people and their perspective is not taken into account. So I can ask myself what we can do for them.
And that was when I started travelling to Israel, because my friend made Aliyah there (acquired citizenship and moved to Israel). Her daughter was my daughter’s best friend, and we said as mothers that we would continue to support their friendship. I’ve always come back from Israel feeling incredibly inspired and full of energy. Loads of people started asking me to take them with me next time. I must have been the latest thing … (laughs). So I told myself: Okay, I’ll arrange a mission.
“DOORS OPENED TO ME EVERYWHERE…”
I began looking in general at entrepreneurial mission programmes. And I discovered two interesting features. First, men take other men onto the government aeroplanes and then they speak to more men, so again the female element is lost. If women do go, then they are usually the only ones. Secondly, men speak pragmatically about investments, the sale of large complexes, constructions, turbines… I think this isn’t where the future lies. Let’s look at how society is developing! Let’s take a look at start-ups (“a business venture typically described as a newly established or emerging company, and a rapidly developing and changing society”, source: Czech Wiki), accelerators (“a private company or institution set up by a region or city or an organisation affiliated with a college or university that helps new companies (mainly start-ups) to accelerate their development and growth”, source: Czech Wiki), incubators (“either a private company or an institution set up by a region or city as an affiliated college or university organisation that helps new and emerging companies (start-ups) at periods when such companies are most vulnerable, i.e. when they first begin doing business. Incubators help by providing services such as training on how to set up a business plan, or marketing, and other activities such as lease of office space or providing contacts within a particular sector. Another purpose for incubators is to create jobs and support the overall business environment within local communities.” Source: Czech Wiki). Let’s look at how we’re educating our kids, how we’re looking after those who can no longer look after themselves..
The Israelis really liked the idea of a women’s entrepreneurial mission and helped me loads. My contacts in Israel helped me: I took part in an AJC conference (the American Jewish Committee, a highly prestigious American organisation protecting Jewish rights and social rights in general), where I got an overview of what is currently “cutting-edge” in Israel. The current Israeli ambassador in the Czech Republic, J E Daniel Meron, helped me. The Czech embassy helped me, especially my former Foreign Ministry colleague, Ambassador Ivo Schwartz. He gave me a list of women – Israeli entrepreneurs – so I could set up contacts. One of them was the head of AJC, Avital Leibovitch. I did an interview with her – and with Israel being small and people relying above all on personal recommendations, doors opened to me practically everywhere.
“WE WENT TO MAP THE ISRAELI ECOSYSTEM…”
What was different about my mission? We went to map the Israeli ecosystem. We went to take a look at start-ups, accelerators, e.g. the city accelerator in Herzliya, which seeks to solve the city’s problems using small start-up companies and large companies looking for ways to innovate. We then went to look at the IDC in Herzliya (a private university). This is a higher education institution that supports entrepreneurship – something we lack in the Czech Republic. Students there don’t work for work’s sake – I didn’t enjoy that during my studies – but rather set up companies, set up their start-ups; they’ve got a laboratory and they can test everything out in practice. You can see just how far it pushes them. We also went to look at investors, because that’s another important area: you can see how well set up access to capital is. The government helps in loads of these activities, launching lots of great development programmes to ensure companies succeed. It is interesting that even though Israelis naturally look at success, they are not satisfied when it is too great. They say that perhaps then they have played it safe, and if they choose a company that is bolder, then in a few years they could have greater success. So they don’t go for the things we focus on here in new operational programmes, such as studies or holding conferences, but they work with ideas looking towards the future, so there is something to develop. We have mapped the Israeli ecosystem like this from many perspectives.
“DIVERSIO IS DESIGNED TO SUPPORT WOMEN, BUT I DON’T WANT TO DISCRIMINATE AGAINST MEN…”
There were women from the civil service, top managers in corporations, universities, entrepreneurs and investors on the mission… Diversity was assured purely in the fact that we were from diverse sectors, and it wasn’t just the programme that was valuable to us, but also the mutual discussion. Our WhatsApp group is still going, and we support each other. We were a total of twenty-two women and one man. Diversio is designed to support women, but I don’t want to discriminate against men (laughs).
“CHEEK, DIRECTNESS, FIXING THE WORLD”
If I were to summarise what I took away from Israel and want I’d like us to have in Czech society, then that would be above all changes in attitude: adjusting how we think about whether something can be done or not. It begins with chutzpah(a Yiddish word meaning cheek, or assertiveness): having a healthy audacity, healthy self-confidence. And just to try things out, because it’s preferable to make mistakes than to do nothing at all. In the Czech Republic, one might even make the claim that in contrast the logic here is: “whoever makes no mistakes is praised, and whoever is praised is promoted”. We lack an appreciation for mistakes.
It might begin with chutzpah, but chutzpah isn’t enough on its own. Chutzpah needs to go along with diversity. Few people realise that Israel is a country containing immigrants from a hundred and thirty countries. It is incredible the cultural education and diverse mind maps that people arrive there with. And that’s diversity! We keep rehashing the “men – women” perspective, and yes, that’s where it begins, that’s the most visible aspect, but here in the Czech Republic we are unable to work even with the diversity of four generations at the workplace, or with rural and urban diversity.
A second concept is tachles, “to the point”: typical Israeli directness. “I’m doing it”. We’re not going to mess around, we’re not going to write another feasibility study; we’re going to show what we know – and we’re back to fear of failure. It won’t work! Then we’ll learn something about it! Statisticians tell us that eighty percent of first start-ups fail – but they also tell us that ninety percent of second start-ups succeed! We get hung up on the fact that a particular project might not work out. But you always learn something. Try it out; don’t wait for perfection– because you’re never going to get perfection in this world anyway.
The third concept, and my favourite, is tikkun olam: make the world a better place. Israel is a small country surrounded by countries more or less hostile to it, and thus its products must be global from the beginning. Everyone speaks perfect English there (This is also something else we could learn from – even after thirty years we still aren’t able to get over our fear of languages). They don’t speak perfectly, but they can get their points across. They think globally and try to make the world a better place. This has a long tradition in Judaism.
What I like about Israelis is their open mind: they want to share what they have discovered with the world. They don’t leave it for themselves. Let me give examples of some of the phenomenal projects set up in Israel that help: the OrCam glasses, also available on the Czech market, which are glasses that allow the blind practically to read, and meet up with people. They have been localised into Czech – in this way, Israel has shown that Czech-Israeli relations are special. Also, for example, specially-designed walkers that help paraplegics to walk, or at least stand up so they don’t have to sit in a wheelchair all the time. A wheelchair was also developed in Israel for the developing world that costs just eighty-eight dollars. Most people in developing countries haven’t the money to afford a standard wheelchair. So some Israeli engineers got together and came up with the idea, which anyone now can print using a 3D printer, and set it up. In medicine, we’ve got artificial intelligence and big data. My friend is developing an application that is designed to prevent breast cancer, because breast cancer is becoming prevalent amongst lower age groups and an annual check-up is no longer enough. On the basis of your medical and family history, the application tells you: “At this age start this, do this, avoid that…”. And those are just a few examples.
“THE ISRAELIS LIKE OUR COHESION”
We still need to work on relations between Israel and the Czech Republic. Yes, President Masaryk’s trip to Mandatory Palestine as the first head of a European state to do so, and his defence of the falsely accused Jew Leopold Hilsner formed a good foundation, but that’s the past; we can’t live off that forever. That’s why I want to continue these missions, and take children to Israel as well as women. When I have met Israeli female entrepreneurs, they have said they like our Czech cohesion, something like “Slavic solidarity” (laughs).We followed on from each other, saying how we met, and how we support each other. In Israel, there is great pressure for performance and individualism, so there isn’t the time or energy for mutual support and networking. This made our approach inspiring for the Israelis. At the end of the day, that’s how women do business – we nurture relations, we cultivate society. The trend now isn’t to push for performance, but rather to demonstrate that results can be achieved by being connected, supporting, sharing contacts and helping each other. At the same time, we don’t want to end up merely chatting over coffee. From words to deeds! As the Israelis say: Ja’ala, ja’ala!(an Arabic word in Hebrew meaning “let’s do it!”)
“I’M DISAPPOINTED I’M NOT A CHILD MYSELF AND I CAN’T GO THERE…”
November will be the second year of the mission for female entrepreneurs. Some of the women on last year’s mission were so enthusiastic that they’re going again, so I want to arrange a different programme. I’ll keep Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as our bases, but this time I’d like to take a look at Beersheba, which is an interesting city in terms of cyber-security. The university in Beersheba has long been headed by a woman – and I think she was the first Israeli woman ever to hold such a high position. Also fascinating is how Beersheba was planned as a city in the desert. We’d like to look at (Arab) Nazareth – a city that is a good model of Jewish-Arab co-operation set up by women. And we’ll end in the Golan Heights. I’m now arranging the Tikkun Olam programme for kids to support their entrepreneurship and discovery. When you take the Czech youth, our promising next generation, what is it they want? To get a good job in a foreign corporation. What is it that young Israelis want? To set up a start-up and one day sell it to a corporation. So I came to realise that we need to start early, like the Israelis do. I am very pleased to have got representation for Big Idea, which is the top company running youth camps, when they take children from seven to seventeen years old, divide them up into age groups and allow the kids to choose from forty workshops. I’m a little disappointed I’m not a child myself and I can’t go there… (we laugh). On the other hand, I wouldn’t be able to choose whether I wanted to build a robot, fly a drone, work on cyber-security, surf the ocean waves or act in a play…”
Thank you for the interview, and here’s to more joy from making connections!
You can find out more about Linda and her work on her website: www.diversio.cz
Photo from the mission – Linda in the light blue dress, second from right in the first row.
Articles published on the websitewww.oheladom.cz are copyrighted articles and translations by PhDr. Terezie Dubinová. You may not copy them and place them on your website without her consent. You are permitted to share them on FB using a full link; let the author know by e-mailing
email@example.com . Thank you.