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Ramaphosa lauds Israel’s entrepreneurship funding

  • cyril ramaphosa
The African National Congress has taken the approach of disinvestment, disengagement, and downgrading relations with Israel since Cyril Ramaphosa’s election in December 2017, so it came as a surprise when the president himself lauded Israel’s economic and technological innovation at a conference in Johannesburg last week.
by TALI FEINBERG | Nov 07, 2019

“They [Israel] are leading by leaps and bounds, and they are actually innovative in a number of sectors of the economy, in agriculture, in maritime, and a number of other areas. They have shown that they can lead, and we can learn a lot from what they do with challenge funds [funds that enable entrepreneurs to come up with business solutions to solve developmental issues]. I find this very interesting and would like to know more,” said Ramaphosa at the Women in Business Conference on 29 October.

He was responding to a question about Israel’s technology investment model in the public and private sectors.

Pointing out that South Africa could learn from Israel’s leadership in creative entrepreneurship, he said, “I’m interested in this one you talk about in Israel, because one knows about what exists, say for instance in other countries like the US. But [Israel] funds enterprises in the technology space, and you call it a challenge fund,” said Ramaphosa.

“For me that’s a very interesting nomenclature [classification], because it possibly could challenge the private sector, but it could also challenge the entrepreneurs themselves that come out of the woodwork. ‘Here is money, come with plans and innovative ideas which we can fund, and then we can seed your business.’ In many ways that [challenge funds] is what I guess has got Israel to lead in the technology space,” he added.

Israel’s trade commissioner to Southern Africa, Amit Lev, told the SA Jewish Report that assisting South Africa with challenge funds could become a reality. “We would be delighted to deploy challenge funds together with the South African government, and to stimulate cutting-edge technology in the private sector.

“We see a growing business interest between Israeli and South African companies especially in agritech, cyber security, fintech, mining tech, and healthcare. The trade mission assisted in facilitating more than R100 million of business deals this year in these sectors in order to strengthen technology and innovation among South African companies.”

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies said the comments were positive, with National Director Wendy Kahn remarking that “Israel has so much to offer South Africa in the area of technology, and we are encouraged by our president’s recognition of this potential for our country.”

In response to the president’s points, Israeli Ambassador Lior Keinan said, “Israel has become a world leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. We are delighted to see Israeli tech discussed by President Ramaphosa. We are also delighted to see such an amazing result in our efforts to increase economic co-operation, trade, and investment. The Israeli embassy will continue its mission to encourage avenues of co-operation between Israel and South Africa for the betterment of our countries.”

Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the South African Friends of Israel (SAFI), said, “We are most pleased that President Ramaphosa appreciates Israel’s remarkable economic model of funding, innovation, and entrepreneurship. We believe this model could be replicated in South Africa to the enormous benefit of our economy.

“South Africa can only gain from opening up to Israel and learning from the ‘start-up nation’. Every other BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) nation except our country has realised the impact that Israel can make on the country’s local economy. I’m certain that Israel would be more than willing to assist South Africa should she be open to it. It’s time to upgrade relations between South Africa and Israel.”

A clip of the president making these remarks was posted by SAFI on Facebook, where it was widely shared. But some South Africans saw the comments as “too little, too late”, saying they were contradictory.

Others encouraged the president to go to Israel to see innovation in action. Wrote Joan Elias, “Put your pride in your pocket. Go to Israel. You will be amazed at what you will see and they would be thrilled to help you move forward in our country with all their innovations and proven techniques. Go Cyril, go!”

Alida Schoultz asked rhetorically, “Is he busy opening his eyes and ears? A positive move, Mr President. Now keep moving forward. Speak to the Israeli ambassador in South Africa, visit Israel, and speak to people who can show you the right way forward. They can teach you a lot. Are we seeing our prayers answered?”

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