As one of the largest seafood producers in the Middle East, Israel’s innovative fish-farming industry is booming. Just a few miles downshore in Gaza, though, fishermen can barely eke out a living. But a new on-land aquaculture project proposed by five Tel Aviv University graduate students could change that reality and develop a thriving industrial park in the heart of Gaza. The team proposes a “Nets of Peace” project to launch the industrial park, designed both to provide a healthy protein supply for Palestinians living in Gaza and to connect the region to foreign business investment and trade.
Two of the project’s student creators are part of the inaugural class of Tel Aviv University’s Sofaer International MBA program, a curriculum designed to nurture future executives and entrepreneurs who can work knowledgeably and creatively across international borders. Two other team members are graduate students in Conflict Resolution, and the fifth is earning a Hebrew MBA. It is a nationally diverse group, consisting of Israeli, Turkish, Irish and American students, including David Welch, a native of Sacramento, CA.
Their Nets of Peace project was presented on April 26, 2010, at TEDxTelAviv, a new conference held at TAU’s Recanati School of Business modelled on the widely-respected TEDx conference in Long Beach, CA. TED (an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a private American non-profit foundation dedicated to “ideas worth spreading,” with meetings showcasing some of the world’s most influential minds — both established and up-and-coming.
The TAU Nets of Peace team was also a finalist in the United Nations “Spirit Initiative,” a business case competition for actionable solutions to long-standing international conflicts. They presented the project at the UN on April 9, 2010.
Teach a man to (farm) fish …
“Conflict is rooted in these two nations,” says Osher Perry, one of the Sofaer International MBA team members, “and we need to change the atmosphere of mistrust and frustration. As business students, we are saying let’s bring in foreign investment, not offer charity. There are companies with records of success willing to invest in this area to make profit both for themselves and for the people of Gaza.”
To alleviate any suspicions on the Palestinian side, Nets of Peace proposes to keep Israeli involvement to a minimum and source capital expenditures from international conflict resolution funds. An international fish-farming company would then be sought to take majority ownership of the company and manage the Gaza facility, with a minority equity stake granted to a trust to fund local marine science education and training projects.
As a stepping stone to a fully developed industrial zone, Nets of Peace could improve the economy in Gaza, and increase the possibilities for peace and prosperity between Israelis and Palestinians, the students hope.
Fish farming potential in Gaza is significant. The local demand for seafood is high but much of it is currently imported. The size of the opportunities for fish farming are not only substantial, the students report, but also increasing rapidly: “Total seafood imports are expected to grow by as much as 20%.”
Farming locally, thinking globally
At TEDxTelAviv, the TAU students highlighted their project’s potential for financial advancement in Gaza. “Through Nets of Peace, we are looking to see how we can make the economic situation better in Gaza,” Osher Perry says.
He had originally planned to study for his MBA in the U.S., but was impressed by the sophistication of the one-year Sofaer International MBA program, which he is currently completing. That scholastic incubator nurtured the thinking behind Nets of Peace. “Israel is, in a way, an island, but the Sofaer iMBA is exposing us to the best of international speakers, and the best entrepreneurial companies that Israel has to offer.”