BOSTON—Led by Harvard Business School professors Arthur Segel and Elie Ofek, a group drawn from across Harvard University, including four deans, an authority in the field of stem cell research, an executive vice president of Harvard, and a number of faculty members from Harvard Business School, recently spent a week on an immersion experience in Israel. The purpose of the trip was to understand how such a small country, with a population of some seven million, limited natural resources, and many security and political challenges, manages to be a leader in innovation and foster some of the finest research institutions in the world. The trip also examined the current business and economic landscape in the Palestinian territories and the opportunities for both countries to make economic, political, and social progress.
The schedule was intense and rigorous and tried to capture the breadth and depth of the fields of business, education, politics, law, social justice, and art and architecture in the state of Israel. The group's activities ranged from a meeting with the CEO of Google in Israel, Meir Brand ( MBA 1998), to a meeting with President Shimon Peres, a graduate of Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program for senior executives and leaders. The group's wide-ranging itinerary took them to a diverse list of locations, including Technion—the Israel Institute of Technology (where they met with entrepreneurs and Nobel laureates, including Dan Shechtman who recently won the Nobel Prize for Quasicrystals and has been teaching entrepreneurs for 25 years), the Weizmann Institute of Science, the new wing of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (noteworthy for its innovative architecture and outstanding collection of Israeli art ), a number of Israeli start-ups (in particular, Better Place, a leader in electric cars), and Teva Pharmaceuticals, the largest generic pharmaceutical company in the world, based outside of Tel Aviv (where they met with CEO Shlomo Yanai, also a graduate of the HBS AMP program).
The deans who participated in the trip were Kathleen McCartney (Education), Martha Minow (Law), Mohsen Mostafavi (Design), and Nitin Nohria (Business). Their involvement enhanced the experience for all participants. According to Arthur Segel, The Poorvu Family Professor of Management Practice, "One of the highlights of the trip was the interaction of the deans, professors, and our various hosts in spirited and informed discussion on a wide array of topics. For example, when we visited the Supreme Court of Israel and met with the Palestinian justice, it was an extraordinary experience to have Dean Minow lead a discussion about human rights. And as we walked through the court's spectacular building, Dean Mostafavi shared his knowledge of the architecture ."
Another key aspect of the trip was visiting with members of elite special units from the Israeli Defense Forces to understand the Israeli approach to leadership development. "All Israelis must serve in the military," said Elie Ofek, The Dermot Dunphy Professor of Business Administration, "and in many instances, particularly elite combat and intelligence units, they come out of their training with a deep understanding of how to overcome challenges. This empowers them to jump headlong into entrepreneurial ventures when they leave active service. They are thus ready and able to contribute to the economy and the greater good of their country."
In terms of the group's commitment to education and improving the practice of learning and research, Professor Ofek said, "We were all incredibly inspired by our meeting with President Shimon Peres. He is 88 years old, and continues to see the world with new eyes. When asked about education, he said that we need to shift our focus to teaching students how to learn, not necessarily what to learn, in order to strengthen the overall learning muscle given the pace at which reality is changing."
The long-term impact of the trip will unfold over time, as perspectives deepen and further connections are explored. Discussions are already underway, for example, for a potential case study on Rawabi, the first planned city in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank. Rawabi is the site of one of the largest construction projects, and the largest private foreign investment in the West Bank. It will create opportunities for jobs, education, and home ownership for Palestinian families.
"The global perspectives that the faculty gained over this ten- day immersion will have far- reaching impacts. We look forward to seeing what transpires," said Professor Segel.