Social and Economic Justice

Negev Social Entrepreneurs Share a Home

By New Israel Fund

Starting a second career after 22 years of teaching, Ibrahim al-Tzariya chose BETA -- the Negev Hub -- as his base. Down the hall from a social entrepreneur from Sderot and a business innovator from Yerucham, he trains Bedouin kindergarten and early childhood staff, and prepares Bedouin youth for their university entrance exams.

Established six months ago by Tor Hamidbar, Keren Shemesh and SHATIL, BETA is a shared office for social and business entrepreneurs who come from throughout the Negev region to work and to collaborate. The first such hub in Israel's Negev, it is also seen as a home by its members.

The Negev Hub idea was brewing for many years. SHATIL and NIF recognized the importance of such a center and it received further leverage through SHATIL's Negev Leadership Network when many members helped to get the initiative moving. Tor Hamidbar, a local Negev-based NGO, is responsible for the day-to-day coordination.

As Israel's least developed region, the Negev poses a challenge for these entrepreneurs who can get a leg up with the support, networking, and consulting services that BETA provides.

"I found BETA almost by chance," says Ibrahim. "But it has proven a wonderful home for me; the rent is affordable and I have all the help I need to develop my initiative."

Located in Be'er Sheva, capital of the Negev, BETA operates according to the principles of local sustainable economic development and attracts those who want to collaborate, discuss and develop projects in a supportive environment that encourages innovation. The shared space meets all their needs and includes a conference room, workstations, printers, fax, WiFi Internet and, of course, good coffee!

According to Tor Hamidar Director, Bella Alexandrov, one of the most important aspects of BETA is its role as a meeting point between diverse populations who would not normally get to know one another.

"We have hi-tech entrepreneurs, Bedouin social workers, ultra-Orthodox educators, students and immigrants, all working from BETA," she said. "Our task then is to use this opportunity to foster meaningful and substantive encounters, with the understanding that real change can best be achieved through the networking and the collaboration of diverse communities."

A typical week here may include several sessions led by an entrepreneur, designed for Bedouin women who wish to be trained in social work; a workshop open to the larger community on social media; a course session for social-business entrepreneurs, and members' consulting sessions.

Entrepreneurs at BETA receive guidance from mentors with expertise in a variety of fields including strategic business development; resource development and income generation; networking and community organizing, and media relations, PR and marketing.

Galit Yahya Tzfadia, SHATIL Negev consulting coordinator, provides extensive consulting for BETA itself as well as for its entrepreneurial community.

"I worked with BETA to define its mission and target audience, to identify its added value in the Negev, to build partnerships and secure funding, and to create the social-business course," she said. "I am pleased to see how BETA has taken off in the past half year. All its offices are in use by social organizations and the open space is filled with a wide variety of social and business entrepreneurs. BETA has already made a name for itself among those promoting social and economic development in the Negev."