I had the good fortune to visit Israel recently in order to explore issues related to their innovation ecosystem and to enjoy what is a beautiful and amazing country viewed from various angles. The lessons of Israel are important and applicable to what I think about most often: the future of Mexico, my home.
Israel at 73 years old is a young country that was born on May 15, 1948. It has had a complex relationship with its neighbors and several controversial wars, though since the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020, regional tensions have eased somewhat, at least for the time being.
Israel has faced multiple challenges over the years, like creating a viable nation in the middle of a desert, something they have managed with considerable aplomb. While the kibbutz is no longer the common crux of society that it once was, its spirit impregnates the country. Solidarity, hard work and chutzpah – straight-talking audacity (my definition) – can be seen on the streets of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, the cities where I spent the most time. While I was warned that Israeli’s can be brusk, I found them funny and empathetic, though I suspect my gringa roots mean I am not very easily taken aback.
Chutzpah is a key aspect of Israel’s organizational culture, which is critical to the innovation ecosystem. Israelis rarely dress up; it is like Silicon Valley pero con más onda (but with more style). Israelis do not stand on ceremony and they really don’t care what their boss thinks; if they have a better idea they will pipe up and offer it. As one person who runs a VC associated with the University of Tel Aviv stressed stressed, Israelis do not fear authority and believe that teams that are composed of people from different backgrounds and personalities are winning formulas, precisely because they have a better chance of avoiding groupthink, a factor that increases risk and diminishes creativity.
In Mexico we insist on formality (suits and no tennis shoes at the Club de Industriales) and formality is a way to distinguish the haves from the have nots; it is by definition rigid and exclusionary, particularly for a country with persistent social inequalities like Mexico. But we want to be inclusive, right? This is something we need to consider in the context of innovation which is boosted by horizontality, open discussion and diversity.
Sometimes having too many resources fall in your lap is not a good thing, given that necessity is the mother of invention. Israel naturally lacks pretty much everything. It is a very small country (around the size of the state of New Jersey in the US); it does not have enough water (so they have become desalination experts and can also produce H20 from the air); it does not have enough fertile land (but they invented water drip irrigation used in greenhouses – and delicious cherry tomatoes!); and it does not have enough energy resources (no oil , but sun and wind? Check). Frankly, Israel and its surroundings are far from blessed. But its people – a multicultural society composed of a global re-grouping of the Jewish diaspora, as well as Israeli Arabs, have made the best of it. And then some. While admittedly it can be a narrow measurement, the Israeli GDP per capita in 2021 was US $51,430, with economic growth of over 8 percent.
So what is an innovation ecosystem and how can we make such a thing work for us in Mexico, a country blessed by a large, biodiverse landmass, two large coastlines, a border with the most dynamic economy in the world, as well as hydrocarbons and a plethora of renewable energy resources? We need to think about how we organize ourselves and how we work together…or don’t. Fifis, chairos and everything in between. We need to see each other, love each other (yes, love) and we need to strategize. There is no magic involved in economic success and yet it is not easy. But let’s be clear: it is not a matter of resources. Creating a winning innovation ecosystem that produces economic growth and greater social well-being entails an effective organizational culture and it requires that the private sector, the government and civil society work together.
What do I wish for my country as we roll into 2023? In a perfect world, the government should ensure access to public goods that include education, health, quality infrastructure and security. The private sector needs to get out of its comfort zone, do away with useless hierarchies and look for the spark of innovation to potentialize growth beyond bricks and mortar industries. Civil society should organize, discuss and support research that questions both what the public and private sector are doing, all with the goal of supporting democracy and open dialogue.
Perhaps the most important takeaway provided by Assaf Luxembourg, an entrepreneur and speaker who provided insight into Israel’s society and startup ecosystem, was that there is nothing terribly secret about Israel’s secret sauce, beyond doing your homework and being yourself. Every country has its own particular challenges and comparative advantages. Confront those challenges and use your advantages to work as a team, and the results will come.
With that parting thought, I want to wish my friends in Mexico and in Israel the happiest of holidays and a productive New Year. Shalom.
* Amy Glover is president of Agil(e) and Co-Chair of 5050 Women on Boards in Mexico. Twitter: @chilangagringa