Arab High-Tech Entrepreneurs Changing the Face of Nazareth

arab-israeli-engineersGalil Software brings high-tech opportunities to Arab engineers in Israel’s geographic peripheries

Earlier we reported that Israel needs to pick up its cleantech pace. And sustainability is business means creating employment options for everybody, not just an elite few. Perhaps an infusion of Israeli-Arab engineering talent will help?

This Israeli high-tech firm – unlike the majority that are located around the Israeli nucleus Tel Aviv – is mostly staffed by members of the country’s Arab minority. With a modest investment, Galil Software set up shop in downtown Nazareth and won its first account in 2008 when it employed a couple dozen engineers. Today, Said says, Galil Software employs about 125 engineers, 90 percent of them Israeli Arabs in an external resource and development firm for large multinational companies based in Israel like HP, Amdocs and General Electric.

Arab high-tech flourishes

“To be in Nazareth means also to be in the largest city within the Arab community and with the highest population of academic graduates. Definitely the name of Nazareth is impressive, is known,” says Inas Said, the CEO of Galil Software, a relatively new venture that is making Arab high-tech flourish.

“I am not trying to change the image [of Nazareth], if it happens to the better, then I will be very happy about it. I want to show that business can be viable here in Nazareth, exactly the same way as it is in other places in this country,” Said says.

Start-up Nation

Galil Software gives Arab engineers a chance. It provides resource and development and quality assurance services to multinational companies based in Israel at a cheaper rate since salaries and operating costs are lower in the country’s peripheries.

Israel’s robust economy, fueled by a generation of high-tech entrepreneurs, has earned the country the moniker: “Start-up Nation.” Thirty percent of Israeli exports are high-tech-based and they account for a quarter of the country’s GDP.

But the thousands of Israeli-Arab high-tech engineers were left out of the highly networking marketplace. They say it’s because they were missing a major component in their resume: mandatory military service where trust and links are forged.

Networking

“There is this mentality of friend brings a friend, ok, network, [when people are] serving in the same unit in the army. We are not part of that. We are not part of the network of people who built the industry, who moved the industry from being military-based to civil-based,” Said says.

Speaking at his office overlooking the city, Said says that about 2,000 of the 2,500 Arab high-tech engineers who graduated in high-tech fields during the past decade have found work in their field.

Some Arab computer engineers took to hiding their identities to try to get a job. Isa Assad sent out over 3,000 e-mails but couldn’t get in the door.

“I would go to interviews and pass all the stages, but I never got accepted,” says Assad, 26. “In the end I started putting down my address in Tel Aviv and not my village Kafr Kana, almost hiding that I was an Arab, really.”

Salim Abu Rajeb, 26, says she spent years earning her engineering degree but wound up frustrated when she could only get a job as a bank teller.

“When you work out of your profession, you feel as if you wasted all those years. So when I got here I got a great opportunity,” says Rajeb, who works in quality assurance at Galil Software.

Team manager Shadi Musa has had a successful career in Israel’s hi-tech world, joining Galil Software from the beginning.

“Arab engineers have special personalities and they are very dedicated and very loyal to their workplace,” Musa says. “Being in the Galilee it is very important. It is the first chance we give to Arab engineers who find it very difficult to get accepted in other high-tech companies in Israel.”

Hi-tech onshore

The idea began some three years ago when a group of Israeli and Arab investors recognized the potential of tapping into some of the estimated $3 billion in trade Israeli high-tech firms spent on “offshore” high-tech engineering. Most of this went to countries like India, China and Eastern Europe.

Keeping billions of dollars in the Israeli company by not outsourcing these jobs is good for the economy, but also, for the Arab minority. Some Arab workers are even managing teams that include Israeli Jews, something quite unusual in Israel.

“We proved that these engineers are on the same level as the engineers sitting in Tel Aviv,” says Said. “We proved that there are lots of other benefits the Israeli high-tech industry gains from doing what we call ‘going near shore’ rather than going to offshore – India, China and Eastern European countries – whether it is the proximity, the cultural match, the language, the fact that we are accessible, that within an hour-and-a-half we can be in Tel Aviv.”

In many ways, the company’s diverse personnel makeup is evident by a simple glance at its holiday schedule. Said says his firm took pains to ensure all religions felt comfortable getting their days off.

Give ’em a break

“We are doing something different and you have to accept it and it is not bad. Actually the return on investment is huge because people come after this holiday highly motivated. They don’t need to beg for a holiday if they are not of the Jewish ethnic group and it is not mainstream,” he said, adding that the major companies in central Israel that operated on the national Jewish calendar had shown open-mindedness with the Muslim and Christian holidays marked by Galil Software.

Other small high-tech startups have sprouted up in the Nazareth area where Arab engineers can find work, but the success of Galil Software has echoed loud and clear.

“We have a very strong group of investors who are unified behind the idea that this is the right thing to do business-wise,” Said says. “But with the success we will have a huge social byproduct.”

“We think that long-term we will create a middle class within the Arab community and the government will profit from this because we will create more role models and success stories… and the next big chunk of tax payers,” Said adds.

“Although I am a dreamer and an optimist I think we have to work very hard to get there. We are in the beginning of a change and I think it is about all of the forces coming together,” Said says.

:: The Media Line

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