Necessity Sparks Israeli Innovation


Marcella Rosen, a veteran of the advertising business and longtime activist in Jewish community and political circles here, has combined those interests in recent years. Her focus is on combatting anti-Israel propaganda. In 2010 she founded Untold News, an independent news service that “spread[s] the positive message of Israeli invention and humanitarian acts to Americans.” Untold News publicizes Israel’s accomplishments in science technology, medicine and business.

Last year the firm published Rosen’s book, “Tiny Dynamo: How One of the World’s Smallest Countries Is Producing Some Of Our Most Important Inventions,” which documents a wide variety of Israeli scientific innovations.

And next month Untold News will coordinate Skype interviews in the United States with several Israeli inventors. The Jewish Week interviewed Rosen by e-mail; this is an edited transcript.

Q: Israel’s place as the “startup nation” is well documented. How has that changed in recent years? Have other nations learned from the Israelis and started to catch up?

A: From Cameroon to Chile to China, Israel’s Agency for International Cooperation has set up protocols to work together with and train local experts in agriculture, biotechnology, education, medicine, health and entrepreneurship. Israel helps other countries learn, prosper, and thrive. The Israeli method of Drip Irrigation is used worldwide and has made poor communities sustainable and local populations happily employed. There does not seem to be any indication that Israeli innovation is slowing down, and with it tiny Israel’s disproportionate enormous contribution to the betterment of the world.

We only hear the success stories. Is every former Israeli soldier wealthy from entrepreneurial ideas today?

Certainly not.

A group of Danish business and high-tech leaders visited Israel recently for a firsthand look at the Israeli entrepreneurial model. Can outsiders duplicate the Israeli model of success? Is it possible without serving in the Israeli army?

I think other countries could try to adopt the model, but culture does play a role. For instance, Israeli culture has always encouraged questioning authority, even in the army. That’s very unusual.

I believe Israeli innovation is the result of a confluence of specifics: a harsh desert reality, a highly educated population from over 80 countries; a citizens-army military that encourages individual thinking and questioning of methods; a hard-nosed realism based on history that is built into the Israeli psyche, coupled with a kindness of heart.

What’s the hardest part of the Israeli “startup” ethos for outsiders — people dealing with Israelis — to understand?

There’s that old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and I think that’s part of the Israeli story. Given the inhospitality of both the environment and the neighbors, Israelis have had to be both inventive and tenacious to exist, let alone succeed.

Have the lives of ordinary Israelis — not just the millionaire entrepreneurs — benefited from country’s “dynamo” mentality?

Yes, they have. They have been the first beneficiaries of Israeli medical solutions — for instance, preventable blindness rates have dropped by over 50 percent in Israel over the last decade, because Israeli scientists and doctors are finding new ways to prevent and treat the four main causes — and environmental innovations such as irrigating the desert and desalination.

You write that your book was inspired on a trip to Israel, observing desert across the border in Jordan, then seeing how Israel had made the desert bloom. What other signs of Israel’s world-class role as a petri dish for inventors and inventions are evident to someone traveling around the land?

Israel shows you what human beings can accomplish in the face of adversity. This shows up most dramatically in the fertility of the land, but it’s also evident when you talk to Israelis. There’s an attitude that many of the problems we’re facing today, internationally, are solvable. An Israeli mom, Daphna Nissenbaum, created biodegradable food packaging because she was sick of recycling. The culture is permeated by this willingness to think creatively and refusal to be satisfied by mediocrity.