Small businesses in Israel face an unprecedented economic disruption as a result of the outbreak of Coronavirus. According to estimates, about 65,000 businesses have closed in Israel this year - an 85% increase in the number of businesses closed compared to the previous year.
In this interview, we discussed with Inbar Shashua Bar-Nir, the co-CEO of "We19", a new venture that rose to help the growth, rehabilitation and development of these businesses by providing grants.
What is We19?
"We19 is a philanthropic initiative under the "House of Social Solidarity", created to support financially small businesses in Israel. Businesses that started between January 2019 to December 2020 fell between the cracks and did not receive assistance and grants from the government and other organizations. Our venture provides grants at 30,000 NIS and 50,000 NIS levels for all identities (exempt dealers, licensed dealers, proprietary limited companies). The grants will be given through an innovative method of businesses choosing businesses. We went on air two months ago, and we have volunteers who help and provide technical support to everyone who signs up. The grants are support grants to grow and expand, especially in a difficult period that affects many people and small businesses, and that is our goal as an organization."
What do you mean - businesses choosing businesses?
"Every registered business owner that meets the criteria is asked to tell a short story about its business, beyond the hard data: What the business is about, how many employees work there, where the crisis has taken its business, and how it has affected it. This story, without the personal details, is open to other business owners that applied. Each owner gets ten random and anonymous stories from our system. Out of the ten, they need to choose two who they think deserves to have the grant besides them. It came from the notion that business owners know best what businesses need. It's not a committee that sits and decides.
A sense of solidarity inspires it - all businesses are in the same boat, and now is the time to help one another. As part of our values, it was important for us to implement it."
What led you to this social initiative?
"I have been in the social field for years and with social background. I'm just finishing a master's degree in nonprofit management, but I also have a family connection to donors. The donors are my parents - Anat and Amnon Shashua, and they are also the founders of We19. They arose out of a civic sense that it was time to take the plunge and do what they can from their side.
I run the association with Adi Atun. Adi also works in philanthropy and has been running the family philanthropy for years. When we heard about the establishment of this thing, we decided to lend a hand and manage it and really lift it up and get out with it as soon as possible to help businesses in the best way."
Why small businesses?
"Small businesses are easy to ignore, but they are such a significant part of our economy. It's painful and sad that they will fall in times like these. People have fulfilled their dream, invested all their money, and it is a pity that it will shatter. We are fighting for people's dreams."
Why is it important to volunteer?
"I think volunteering is a good thing to do both for yourself and for the world. We are all in the same boat together, whether we are business owners or not. It doesn't matter what field we work in or on which side of life we are. Now is the time to lend a hand and help, and all parties benefit from volunteering."
What made you want to influence people?
"From a young age, I was exposed to the social world and the third sector, and I knew it was something I wanted to take part in, but did not know in what way. I explored these worlds and got the opportunity to help where needed - help small businesses in this crisis. I grew up into it and knew I wanted to do it, but small business is new, and we're learning it. It's a new field that, until now, has not been the focus of the philanthropic world so much."
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to reach a high level of influence?
"Don't be afraid to step out of the comfort zone. You don't need to save the world. Do something small that you can give. Do something in your little domain. It doesn't even matter what it is, as long as it's something positive that can affect a person. Volunteering shouldn't take a lot of time, even something small that can affect others. Once a week, Once a month, an act that does not require much but can go a long way."
Do you feel that working in the organization has influenced you in any way?
"Yes, it opened up a whole new world to me. This whole venture arose with a sense of crisis. No matter what was done, we need a speedy, professional process and keep in mind the good of these businesses. Setting up something within three months taught me what is important, what is not, and how to focus. I'm learning every day about dealing with those businesses and their owners. It made me realize how many good people want to help and contribute. We meet along the way people asking how they can help, and it's impressive to grasp that there are many people like that, even now when everyone is having a hard time. I learned both about Israeli society in times of crisis and about myself and Adi as managers. I learned that everything is possible."
Tell about a special event that happened while working at your organization.
"In our phone talks with the business owners, you get to experience the whole range of emotions and struggles. The personal encounter with the business owners, learning each business, how they cope, how they think their business can grow, and getting feedback from them. Simply listening to what they need during this time, hearing the thanks. Even the little things like that I uploaded his certificate to our website's form myself, make me feel like I have helped the business move forward in the process, to the next step towards getting a grant that can help it grow.
For me, it's an interesting encounter with all kinds of people and businesses in Israeli society. We all live in our own little bubble, especially in crisis times, so there is something in this personal interaction that puts us in the same boat together."
Support small businesses impacted by COVID-19:
"We19" is currently recruiting volunteers.