I had procrastinated writing this final blog piece for 2 weeks after returning from Israel, in order to put observations and learnings in greater perspective. As news on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resurfaced in the news of late, more thoughts transpired.
Fissures within the Israeli society were both broader and tighter than I had expected prior to the trip. It was broader in the sense that the local population was divided along more lines than just the ‘Israeli-Palestinian’ divide that we read about in the news. Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Russian Jews, women, etc., represent each a facet of the Israeli society. By mathematical combinatorics, the number of fissures multiply as more sub-groups are defined. The implication is that it becomes much more difficult for private sector activity to target specific gaps, and relying on the spontaneity of business activity to bridge gaps may result in some falling through the cracks. On the other hand, these fissures were also tighter than I had expected, as the lines drawn appeared to be a social construct. At the individual-level, I have observed much more inter-group collaboration and integration in the private sector, specifically the technology sector. This could have been the result of self-selection by educated, progressive and forward-thinking young people within the high tech industry. I was most surprised by the significant involvement of locally-educated women in an Israeli Arab biotechnology start-up and a Palestinian online travel start-up that we visited. This, I believe, is a great example of the importance of education in facilitating integration of a divided society. Therefore, as Israel continue to grow its technology sector, supported by investments in education and the inherent start-up culture, it is not difficult to imagine the compounding positive externalities that the private sector can bring in bridging fissures.
If there is one program at MIT Sloan thus far I felt I had benefitted most from, it has to be the Israel PosEx study tour. Overall, it is an excellent embodiment of the pedagogical approach that MIT Sloan espouses: action-learning. Prior to the trip, we had five 3-hour classes to explore the background of the conflict. Sitting in a class with representatives from more than ten countries, it was refreshing to hear each other’s viewpoints based on personal home country experiences, and previous interactions with Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians. Spending a week on the road with twenty-eight other Sloanies, and Zvi Geva (our tour guide), who are articulate, passionate, and – most importantly – know how to have fun, was by far the highlight of the tour. Action-learning of this study tour goes beyond the subject matter. Through a common experience inside and outside of the classroom, we have also learnt to work as a team, be respectful of each other, and, specifically for me, the importance of being on time.
On my flight back to Boston, as I watched Stephen Frears’ 2013 film Philomena, I was reminded of this refrain from T.S. Eliot, “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” Indeed, arriving back at Logan airport, I have brought back a deeper understanding of a subject matter that I had little knowledge of when I left two weeks earlier. As a student of the MIT Sloan – Harvard Kennedy School dual-degree program, this study tour has kick-started an academic interest in the intersection of business and politics that I look forward to exploring in other parts of the world, such as the Korean peninsula, the Straits of Taiwan, the Kashmir, etc.
Apr 11, 2014