Two summers ago, Shalem freshman Sapir Bluzer was a participant in an alumni conference for LEAD, an initiative that identifies promising young Israelis and nurtures their leadership skills. The conference’s theme was addressing the country’s future challenges; to that end, the main plenum was given over to a debate on Israel’s Jewish and democratic character. Yet Sapir felt this was a missed opportunity. “I simply didn’t believe that any discussion of Israel’s future challenges could fail to include a mention of its economy,” insists Sapir, who studied economics for a year at a leading Israeli university before deciding to apply to Shalem. “The dangerous influence of special-interest groups, the lack of economic knowledge among Israel’s governing class, and the insufficient involvement of its citizens in the setting and reforming of policies—these are serious problems, no less important to Israel’s future vitality than its approach to security or the Jewish nature of its society.”
The result was a group of 17 individuals who committed themselves to building a network of other future leaders in the economic realm. Numerous meetings with high-profile businessmen and financial-media personalities later, Israel 2050, a study- and advocacy-based initiative for young Israelis concerned about Israel’s economic situation, was born.
“The idea behind Israel 2050 is to fight the economic status-quo on two different fronts,” Sapir explains. “The first is in the realm of knowledge. There, the goal is building a critical mass of influential citizens who are schooled in economic theory and understand the underlying reasons for Israel’s economic woes.” Alongside this endeavor is a concerted effort to make that knowledge accessible, both to policy makers, leaders in the private sector, and civil society alike. The second front, she continues, “is the realm of ‘action.’ There are regulators who are actively trying to reform the system, for example, by refusing to succumb to special-interest groups and unions’ demands. They need support, or they won’t be able to maintain their stance. Citizens need to understand the issues, too, so that they can back policymakers and others who are at the front lines of the war against economic inefficiency. Likewise, politicians who are feeding a flawed system should be held accountable, and we plan to do that by raising awareness of their role in perpetuating the problem.”
Today, the core group of Israel 2050 members comprises fifty individuals—twelve of them students from Shalem—who organize “learn-ins” and other activities in Jerusalem, as well as develop training materials for use by others who wish to found satellite groups. In addition, the group has formed a strong network with other organizations aimed at economic reform, in keeping with the founders’ belief that collaboration is the key to success. By the end of the current school year, declares Bluzer, the goal is for 1,000 students to be taking part in the initiative, in every part of the country.
Pointing to the success of the initiative’s kick-off event—a lecture held this past December at Shalem, featuring social entrepreneur Shahar Cohen—Sapir insists that the group is undeniably off to a positive start. Cohen, who is academic director of NOVA: Management and Academia for the Community, was the youngest member of the Trajtenberg Committee, a commission appointed by Prime Minister Netanyahu to propose solutions to Israel’s socio-economic problems in the wake of Israel’s 2011 housing protests. “We hope to make lectures such as this a regular occurrence at Shalem and throughout the country, so that students have economic role models to emulate as they begin the learning process,” concludes Sapir. “The hope is that, in the future, we won’t need recourse to housing demonstrations to spur reform. Rather, the members of Israel 2050 will have sufficiently educated civil society as to the root of the problems in Israel’s economy, and how best to change it. Reform will happen organically. That’s the goal.”