Traditional Druze women are integrating into Israel’s hi-tech scene thanks to UJIA

Si3 is a UJIA social impact investment initiative, aiming to drive positive social change in the Jewish state


A Druze programmer at the women-only Lotus Hub, a UJIA Si3 social impact investment (Photo: Jinan Halabi)

Religious and traditional Druze women living in Israel are being integrated into Israel’s hi-tech sector, thanks to a UJIA investment programme.

The Lotus Hub, located in Dalyat Al Carmel in Haifa, is a fully renovated women-only space to accommodate for religious practices and traditions, providing professional training and employment opportunities.

During UJIA’s social impact investing (Si3) dinner last week in central London, Lotus CEO Maysa Halaby Alshiekh told hundreds of attendees that Si3 impact investments had helped her achieve her “dream of creating solutions to problems I was facing along with many other women from my community.

“We are smart and talented and excel in our studies, but face many barriers to career opportunities due to the restrictions of our culture,” she said.

“Usually, they work for small local businesses in low-wage jobs. Religious Druze women have been forced to choose between high-paying jobs and religious traditions and community. I asked myself: ‘Why should things be this way?’”

She said that she founded Lotus “to grant women hope […] and to be part of the Israeli start-up nation, as true partners in society.”

The pioneering hub provides a high [level of] training and employment “for talented women for the first time in the history of Druze communities”, said Alshiekh.

Si3 is a UJIA initiative aiming to drive social change in the Jewish state through more socially conscious investments. They are investments made with the intention of generating positive, measurable social and/or environmental impact alongside a financial return.

In the past year, five initiatives in Israel have benefited from Si3 impact investments — two supporting youth-at-risk, one to promote integration of the Strictly Orthodox into the workforce and two investments in emergency loan funds to support war-affected businesses — bringing the total portfolio to 23 with over £2.5 million invested.

Guests at the evening also heard from the Ethiopian-Israeli Small Business Loan Fund, another beneficiary of Si3 investments under the Koret Israel Economic Development Fund (KIEDF).

The loan fund grants non-bank loans to promote entrepreneurship and support social mobility among the Ethiopian-Israeli community. It has so far granted some 87 loans to the community, which has historically found it difficult to secure bank loans for their businesses due to cultural hesitancy to borrow money and the banking system’s restrictive risk assessment methods.

Alexi Lewy and Steven Kaye, UJIA trustees and co-chairs of UJIA’s Si3 Investment Committee hosted the evening.

Lewy referred to impact investing as “revolutionising the way our community does philanthropy”.

She said around 2015, UJIA had begun to understand “that we needed a way to do philanthropy that felt more relevant to our times, that would be driven by the changing needs of the society we all live in. The old models of giving to Israel still have their place, but we needed something fresher.

“Younger up-and-coming donors want to know that their money is being spent wisely, strategically, and sustainably.”

Kaye said they had three funding priorities when looking at potential investments: education, employment, and community development.

“We look at what gaps exist in building a resilient society in Israel, and back initiatives that address them. We look at how can we best promote opportunity, employment, entrepreneurship in sections of Israeli society that up until now have not enjoyed the fruits of Israel’s hi-tech economy,” he said.

“In short,” Lewy added, “how can we ensure that those in the peripheries and those at risk of being left behind are given full and equal opportunities? Because their success will be Israel’s success.”

They said Si3 is already “the most active investment portfolio by a charitable organisation in Israel… and we’re just getting started.”

Businessman Sir Ronald Mourad Cohen, who has been referred to as the “father of social investment”, spoke to guests via a video message.

He referred to impact investing as a “revolution” and “the future of investing”, which achieves “both financial return and, at the same time, measurable social and environmental improvement”.

He argued that the “attempt to maximise profit without worrying about the consequences on people and the planet, has created future challenges for us that we are unable to solve.

“What I believe, and what the impact movement is trying to achieve, is to bring our whole economic system, our investment and our business decisions to optimise, not just risk return, but risk return and impact.

“By bringing impact, alongside risk and return, we create an economic system that drives solutions to our environmental and social problems.”

Well-known Tel Aviv restaurant Claro catered the evening.

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