Israel’s Booming Tech Start-Up Nation Starts To Give Back
(JTA) — When the Israeli mobile maps start-up Waze accepted a buyout from Google for more than $1 billion in June, each of the company’s 100 employees walked away with an average of $1.2 million from the sale.
An even bigger check, though, went to Baruch Lipner, a Canadian Israeli who hasn’t worked in the high-tech or finance industries for a decade. The acquisition put $1.5 million on his desk.
A veteran of the venture capital world, Lipner is now the sole employee of Tmura, a nonprofit that pushes Israeli start-ups to donate stock options to charity. If any of the donating nonprofits merges, goes public or is bought, Tmura cashes in the options and distributes the money to Israeli youth and educational charities. If the start-up fails, Tmura carries none of the risk.
Even though Tmura owned less than 1 percent of Waze, the record-breaking deal made 2013 a banner year for Tmura, comprising approximately three-quarters of the $2 million it raised.
“Our small fraction of a percent was worth a lot of money very quickly,” Lipner said. “A lot of the entrepreneurs running these companies are good people who are happy to help.”
Waze wasn’t the only Israeli company giving back in 2013.
As the country’s economy has grown in recent years, experts and corporate advisers are seeing a steady uptick in corporate donations and a growing culture of corporate responsibility.
Israeli corporate philanthropy experienced a nearly sevenfold jump between 1998 and 2008 – from 89 million shekels, or about $25 million, to 600 million shekels, or about $172 million – according to Hebrew University’s Center for the Study of Philanthropy. More recent data isn’t available, but observers say the upward trend has continued.
Good Vision, an Israeli corporate social responsibility consultancy that counts El Al Israel Airlines and Bank Leumi among its 25 clients, prepared reports for three companies on corporate giving last year. Now it is writing 10. Of the 320 companies partnering with Tmura, 54 donated options in 2013.
According to the 2013 Maala Index, which measures Israeli corporate giving, the 82 companies that reported giving gave about 1 percent of their profits to charity, a rate similar to the American corporate giving average.
Maala CEO Momo Mahadav says the percentage has risen only slightly since 2008, but that the number of companies reporting data has nearly doubled.
“If we look at the last 10 years, there is a critical mass of Israeli companies that are committed and regard giving to the community as one of the things they should do,” Mahadav told JTA. “The bad news is that that critical mass is about a third of the large companies in Israel. Two-thirds are less committed.”
Good Vision CEO Ivri Verbin says corporate social responsibility goes beyond writing a check. He notes that most Israeli companies urge their employees to make in-kind donations by doing pro-bono work or volunteering with nonprofits – a reflection of what some say is an Israeli reluctance to donate in cash.
Many Israelis feel burdened by high taxes, Verbin says, but they’re happy to lend a hand.
“It’s not enough to give money,” he said. “It’s much more important to be honest, to be responsible. In Israel it’s easy because even the CEOs like their employees to volunteer.”
Good Vision aims to pair its client companies with charities that could benefit from their services. The leading Israeli insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk, for example, joined with the Israeli Cycling Federation to fund a bicycle program for Israeli youth because cycling helps prevent diabetes.
A similar logic inspired JVP Community, a nonprofit created by Erel Margalit, founder of the venture capital firm Jerusalem Venture Partners. By funding youth programming and educational initiatives in poor Jerusalem neighborhoods, JVP Community hopes to foster social entrepreneurship that will complement the firm’s encouragement of Israeli business.
“We tell the kids about high-tech to make them part of the start-up nation,” said JVP Community CEO Yair Zaafrany. “They don’t have opportunities. They want to be soccer players, which they can’t achieve, or bus drivers or barbers. We want to give them more opportunities, and the connection with JVP opens that world for them.”
Founded in 2002, the nonprofit receives a quarter of its budget from JVP. Employees of JVP volunteer in the youth programs and the participants are brought to visit the firm’s offices. Other start-ups funded by JVP also have donated to the nonprofit through Tmura.
In recent years, several professionals say, the biggest challenge has been teaching Israeli companies the value of organized giving. But as more and more corporations have increased their charitable work, Lipner expects other companies to follow suit.
“When we first started to pitch the model to give options to charity, it was an educational project,” Lipner said. “Once we started making real money, the story started to change.”