Here is a group picture of some of the Caravan for Democracy participants at the Wadi Attir farm in the Negev Desert.
This winter break I had the opportunity to spend 10 days in Israel through the Caravan for Democracy Student Leadership Mission to Israel. It is a fully sponsored trip by the Jewish National Fund for non-Jewish students to understand the complexities of Israel as well as learn about the ethnic diversity of the country. Being a leader is important in any field, and having the opportunity to practice my leadership and communication skills in a global setting was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Participating in Caravan for Democracy gave me the chance to network with student leaders from all over the country. It is very important to develop a wide social network of individuals from many different fields, and this program gave me the chance to talk with pre-med, pre-law, business, and arts students. I was able to learn about what college is like in other parts of the country while simultaneously hearing from leaders in Israel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as other domestic issues.
One of the most important concepts I learned on this trip was the idea that Israel is a startup nation. As a business student, I usually only think of companies in the Silicon Valley as startups. However, Israel is very unique in that it literally “started up” around 70 years ago from empty desert, to a thriving country. Through numerous presentations and meetings, I learned about how the entrepreneurial spirit and grit of the people coupled with innovation, allowed Israel to rise to the top and succeed in such a short period of time.
For example, Israel has world class irrigation techniques like drip irrigation. One of the places our group visited was the Netafim Factory where they make drip irrigation parts to ship all over the world. This factory is in a kibbutz in the desert, and the area where it’s located is quite green, although it is in the arid Negev Desert. A man from the kibbutz invented a special type of drip technology that then grew to a factory that has international clients. This type of drip irrigation is used in all parts of Israel to grow crops as well as in other parts of the world.
Another example of innovation is the start up culture in Israel. In Tel Aviv there are so many new businesses and tech companies that are gaining ground, and we visited one of them. We went to a maker space that allowed people to make and design their own furniture. Although this isn’t a tech start up, the entrepreneurial spirit in the company was still there. They have a maker space where people can make their own furniture and products with the help of the experts in the startup. We were able to get a tour of their space and equipment and it was cool to see how many unique ideas there were in one area.
When we visited Independence Hall in Tel Aviv where Israel was declared a state, our guide noted to us that the Tel Aviv was once just a tiny street with a few homes on it. It took years to build the city up into the metropolitan area that it is today, but that was done with the hard work of the people who lived there. However, just like any startup, Israel faced many difficulties including wars and conflicts. The people and government are still struggling with what to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some argue for a two-state solution while others think there are better ways to solve the conflict. One of the great aspects of this program was how honest we could be with our questions. We were able to ask the tough questions to the speakers that came to us, even if the topics were controversial ones. For example, we met with the designer of the security wall between the West Bank and Israel and went to the site itself. The wall itself is controversial because of the strict separation between the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and the Israelis. Although I don’t have the answer to Israel-Palestine conflict, I have more background on the history and geopolitics of the region.
In addition to learning about the economic and political aspects of Israel, we also got understand the history. We visited Jerusalem and saw many of the holy sites as well as other historic sites near the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. This program gave me the chance to get a well-rounded view of Israel and provided me the opportunity to make new friends from all over the country. For those who are student leaders on their college campuses who are interested in exploring other parts of the world, I highly recommend doing this program as it definitely impacted my way of thinking.
Megha Karthikeyan is from Vienna, Virginia and attends the University of Virginia. She intends to double major in Economics and Commerce at the McIntire School of Commerce with finance and information technology concentrations. Megha will graduate from UVA in 2020. She hopes to work in the finance industry as a finance or risk analyst, but is also looking at working in investment banking.