In the first episode of the Taub Center’s new podcast, DataPoint, host Maya Dolgin talks to Aziz Kaddan – a young Arab Israeli start-up founder – and others from his company, Myndlift.
Meet Aziz Kaddan. He’s a young Arab Israeli “start-up-ist” and a few years ago he founded a company called Myndlift, which helps treat ADHD without medication. Zooming in on Aziz’s moving story and Myndlift’s exciting evolution teaches us about Israel’s high tech industry, education and health gaps within Israeli society, and what it’s like to navigate the start-up world as an Arab Israeli founder.
Despite being called the “Start-Up Nation”, only about 8% of working Israelis are employed in high tech. While this is the highest percentage in any country, it still means that more than 9 out of 10 working Israelis aren’t part of this world at all. Furthermore, some groups have an easier time integrating into the field than others: according to the Head Economist in Israel’s Ministry of Finance, Israeli Jews with degrees in high-tech-related subjects are 1.3 times more likely to end up working in high tech than Arab Israelis with similar degrees. This is important because, as Taub Center research shows, people who work in high tech in Israel make about twice as much as workers in the rest of the business sector – and that’s a huge difference.
Inspired and encouraged by his family from a young age, Aziz co-founded Myndlift at age 21. He explains that being an Arab Israeli founder can be challenging at times, but the background of the founding team also creates a unique office environment at Myndlift. Naomi Kaminsky, the first hired employee at the company, explains that Myndlift “has a very strong appreciation for diversity, for thinking outside of the box, for getting different viewpoints…”
She herself brings a different perspective to the office culture. She was the first woman to join the team and is still the only parent which, she explains, can be challenging at times.
While Naomi might be the only mom at Myndlift, her experience reflects that of many working parents, and specifically young mothers, across Israel. Most of the increase in women’s employment in Israel in the past few decades has come from mothers of children ages 4 and under. But while these young mothers are indeed in the workforce, in which industries do they work? In general, the fields in Israel with a lot of female employees, such as education, are characterized by fewer work hours and in others, including healthcare, there is a big difference between the number of hours men and women work, on average. However, high tech is characterized by long work hours and the gap between work hours for women and men is low. More part-time options and flexible hours in the tech industry might encourage more women and young mothers to work in the field.
While many other Arab Israeli entrepreneurs have based their companies further north, Aziz and his co-founder made a strategic decision to place Myndlift’s offices in the heart of Tel Aviv. Amr Khalaily, one of the four members of the founding team at Myndlift, is originally from Sachnin in the North and explains that “job opportunities are less available in the North – all of the North, not just Sachnin.”
The fact that most of the Arab population is concentrated in the northern part of the country and that most of the tech industry is concentrated in the Center presents a barrier to more Arab Israelis working in this industry. While the presence of Arab Israelis in tech has increased in the past decade, there is a still a long way to go.
Zooming out, Taub Center research shows a number of positive trends occurring among young Arab Israelis, but the road to narrowing education and employment gaps between Jews and Arabs is a long one, and not only in tech. Interestingly, the challenges seem to be fairly different between men and women. Arab Israeli women have notoriously low employment rates, but the younger generation of girls and young women are closing gaps with Jewish women on high school matriculation exams (bagruyot) and university enrollment and graduation. Those who go to college are much more likely to work than those who don’t.
Arab Israeli men face different challenges – a very high percentage of them are working, but not necessarily in high paying jobs, and their educational achievements are falling further and further behind Jewish men. For both men and women, fields such as healthcare have become much more open to Arab Israelis in recent decades and wages are similar for Jews and Arabs, but in other fields – such as high tech – wage gaps are larger and Arab Israelis are under-represented in the industry.
Aziz thinks a few things could be done to encourage more Arab Israelis to become entrepreneurs. Firstly, expanding and creating more programs that provide early-stage entrepreneurs with seed funding to develop their technology. Secondly, at a much more fundamental level, improving the quality of English language instruction in Arab schools is a must.
There has been a modest improvement among Arabic speakers on English standardized tests in elementary and middle school, but the story is slightly different at the high school level. The widest achievement gap between the Hebrew and Arab sectors on bagrut exams is in English as a second language.
In the meantime, Aziz says he’s trying to do his part to support other Arab Israeli entrepreneurs, but doesn’t yet see himself as a role model. He has a different conception of his own success and the success of Myndlift than his community and doesn’t want to let them down. “The hopes I raise in the community are the ones I don’t want to shatter,” he says. “I want these hopes to keep getting higher.”
More on the Taub Center podcast
In the Taub Center’s podcast, DataPoint, we zoom in from Israel’s bigger socioeconomic trends and focus on real stories. Who are the people – the millions of data points – who stand behind the numbers? How do their individual journeys embody or complicate the trends we see at the macro level?
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Thank you to the Herbert M. and Nell Singer Foundation for making this episode possible! For more information about sponsoring future episodes, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to the awesome team at Podcastico for editing and sound, and for all of their work to make this podcast episode possible.
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