Last March I teamed up with an Israeli classmate to take our MBA peers on an innovation and entrepreneurship trek to Israel. To incentivize students, we fundraised $75,000 toward subsidizing the 8-day trip and designed an itinerary based on student interests.
Of the 31 travelers, 28 were not Jewish and 25 were international participants representing 15 countries. The majority of their views on Israel were based on biased media. Some students grew up in regions where “Israel” wasn’t printed in history books or on classroom maps.
While to some participants this trip seemed like a fun way to spend spring break, my co-leader and I had an agenda. We wanted to expose the next generation of international business leaders to the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit in Israel. We also wanted to educate our diverse peers about the reality Israel faces, and inspire them to become goodwill ambassadors of Israel in the future. To show off Israeli innovation, we visited a range of companies, from Google, Microsoft and Raphael to start-ups on Rothschild. We heard diverse perspectives from renowned speakers, including Ari Shavit and Khaled Abu-Toameh. We networked with Israeli business school students. We toured all four quarters in the Old City and dined in Tel Aviv’s finest restaurants. We climbed Masada, floated in the Dead Sea and slept out in the desert. We learned history in the places where it happened.
Students signed up for a myriad of reasons. A Vietnamese student who worked in the coconut beverage industry wanted to learn about agricultural technologies in Israel. A Taiwanese student came because his family works in manufacturing, so he wanted to understand the culture in order to get Israeli companies to use his factory. A Chinese student had never seen a desert. A Panamanian student wanted to visit the birthplace of Christianity. A Malaysian student had longed to see Israeli innovation, but would never have been granted a visa without our sponsorship. The majority came because they were curious, though for some, the opportunity seemed like a fun and inexpensive way to spend spring break – a trip to Israel for only the cost of a plane ticket.
I’ve led dozens of Israel trips and helped send more than 35,000 people on Jewish travel experiences in my career. Over the years, I’ve come to anticipate similar reactions at certain sights. I fully expected these participants to have a fun time and take plenty of selfies along the way. But I never imagined the profound emotional impact of the trip for this group of MBAs.
They cried at Yad Vashem. They kissed the Kotel. They bought mezuzahs. They smelled the rosemary bushes in Jerusalem. They savored Israeli breakfasts. They listened with open minds to every word spoken by our guide and speakers. These Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian and atheist students used all five senses to navigate Israel’s historical, cultural and business landscape.
On Day 3 we hosted a design-thinking firm to conduct an innovation workshop for the group. We learned an innovation methodology called “subtraction,” where you remove an essential component from a product and then find uses for the new arrangement of existing components. For example, remove a wheel from a bike and you can make a unicycle.
After the workshop, a Chinese student approached me saying: “I realized something. The Jewish people have been doing ‘subtraction’ for almost their whole existence. They’ve had to innovate around not having a land, or borders, or allies in the face of constant persecution. They’ve had centuries of practice – innovating is now part of their DNA. That is why they are such a productive, creative and successful nation today. In China, my people do the opposite. We also have been persecuted for thousands of years, but instead of dusting ourselves off and seeking ways to make the best of our reality, we choose to dwell on the past. I wish my people were more like your people. You should be proud to be part of them.”
I was speechless. Tears filled my eyes, as they do every time I share that moment (even as I write this). Throughout the dozens of trips I’ve led in Israel, the hundreds of conversations I have had about Israeli innovation, and the five times I had previously sat through that same workshop…not once had that parallel crossed my mind. It took the perspective of a foreign student, who shared no historical or religious context, a mere three days to articulate this core trait of the Jewish people. This was more than just a spring break trip. And my MBA classmates weren’t just there to learn to be business leaders. They were there to extract real value: to learn about our world and become engaged global citizens. That kind of ROI is immeasurable.
For me, the trip has reinforced my commitment to creating more opportunities for Israel travel. Now more than ever, I firmly believe that the more we can learn from one another’s cultures, the more tolerant, compassionate, innovative and prosperous our globalizing world will become.
Carine Warsawski, a Wexner Graduate Fellow/Davidson Scholar (Class 27) is an MBA Candidate at Boston University. Prior to BU, she was the Director of Marketing at Authentic Israel, a provider of worldwide Jewish travel programs in Washington, DC, and a consultant to the iCenter in Chicago. Carine specializes in experiential marketing and Jewish engagement through travel. Her creative marketing strategy and execution has helped send more than 35,000 teens, young adults and families on global Jewish journeys. Carine graduated with honors from Bates College (BS) in 2007 and holds a Certificate in Marketing from Georgetown University. Raised in Lexington, MA by an Israeli father and Jewish-Peruvian mother, Carine infuses her passion for global Jewish education into all she does. Carine can be reached at email@example.com.