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Building economies, improving lives

Students convene business and political experts from Middle East

The USC chapter of the TAMID Israel Investment Group hosted two panels on “Investment and Policy: A Collaborative Approach to Economic Development in the Middle East.”

At the February event, students and faculty from four USC schools gathered with business and political figures who work in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan to discuss the economic development of the region and the role of cooperation in expanding business ventures.

Daniel Silvermintz, president of the USC chapter of TAMID Israel Investment Group, a student-led initiative that connects students at top universities with business, tech, economic and entrepreneurial opportunities in the Israeli economy, introduced the event by discussing how the Middle East’s robust private sector economic activity is a key to the improvement of people’s lives in the region.

Larry Harris, Fred V. Keenan Professor of Finance and professor of finance and business economics at the USC Marshall School of Business, elaborated on this point in his introduction to the private and nonprofit sector panel he moderated.

“Economic development,” said Harris, who served as chief economist of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from 2002 to 2004, “gives people the wherewithal to do other things, whether it’s art, athletics or political engagement. Every area of the world needs this kind of thinking.”

Reflecting the complexity of the region’s business, political and cultural environments, panelists Yadin Kaufmann, venture capitalist and founder of Veritas Ventures and Sadara Ventures; Radi El Fassed, telecommunications specialist and vice president of business development for Mena Apps; and Robert Zwang, social entrepreneur and founder and CEO of the Israel-Palestine Cooperative for Economic Expansion, proposed bringing about change by integrating underrepresented sectors in the tech economy, accessing more risk capital, enhancing research and development and addressing anti-normalization.

The public and academic sector panel, moderated by Jared Fleitman, founder of USC’s TAMID chapter and current national co-chair, brought together Eli Groner, Israel’s minister for economic affairs to the United States, and Ben Graham, assistant professor at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences’ School of International Relations, who conducts research on foreign investment in fragile states.

Discussion by both panels touched on Israel’s high-tech boom, ignited, they said, by a combination of engineering and scientific talent and entrepreneurial drive.

“Creating a cultural mindset for innovation that drives growth is what sets Israel apart,” said Groner, who cited Startup Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, a book that addresses how Israel, a 60-year-old, war-torn nation of 7.1 million people, has produced more high-tech startups and a larger venture capital industry per capita than any other country in the world.

Kaufmann also pointed out the Israeli government’s Yozma program, which created 10 venture capital funds and encouraged fund managers to bring in foreign partners in 1993, as critical in Israel’s high-tech revolution.

Speakers also took up the question of how governments can facilitate economic growth.

“When you create mutually beneficial, sector-specific institutional relationships across borders,” Zwang said, “people engage out of choice. Working side by side, their view of life changes, and they take that back home.”

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