Watch: Ohad Elhelo ’16, IBS MA’17, of Our Generation Speaks at AIPAC conference

ohad elheloPhoto/Mike Lovett

Ohad Elhelo ’16, IBS MA’17, the founder and executive director of Our Generation Speaks, delivered a speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference Monday, March 5.

Our Generation Speaks is a business incubator based at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis that brings together Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs. The idea for the organization was developed in 2014 while Elhelo was still a student at Brandeis. It aims to create joint startups between Israelis and Palestinians, where they work, socialize and live together in a spirit of friendship and professionalism.

American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference is an annual event that features some of the most prominent political and business leaders from the United States and Israel.

Read more about Ohad Elhelo and Our Generation Speaks in Brandeis Magazine: When All Else Fails, Try Entrepreneurship


Read his speech:

I am pleased to be here today to address AIPAC, an organization that has accomplished much in support of America, Israel and the Jewish people.

I am the founder and CEO of Our Generation Speaks, a program which began in 2015 and is dedicated to the proposition that Israelis and Palestinians can work together to create a more peaceful and prosperous future.

How did this happen?  

My military service introduced me first hand to the complexities of our region.

I wasn’t altogether certain what to do about it until I came to Boston, until I came to Brandeis. It was there that I came to believe that all things were possible.

I was comforted by the warm embrace of a politically diverse Jewish community in Boston that worked tirelessly to build bridges of understanding between frequently hostile communities.  

I studied at Brandeis with students from every social, economic, ethnic and religious background who shared many of the same dreams.  And I saw how the extraordinary creativity of young entrepreneurs in Boston’s university and business communities were building a new and shared economic reality that promised a measure of security in uncertain times. 

I believe that the overwhelming majority of humanity share the same aspirations, to live in peace and security in a place where their children can aspire to a better future.  It transcends politics...We all want peace and security....We all need peace and security.
I resolved to do something about it...

I realized that I had little real knowledge of Palestinians and no opportunities to interact with them, unless on active duty.  

I understood that nothing would change unless we created authentic opportunities to interact with each other.  

I wanted to create an infrastructure of hope on both sides.  Only then could we build trust and finally, cooperation.

With the support of Brandeis, we created a program that brings Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs to Boston for three months each summer.

They live together and learn about each other’s lives and narratives. They study entrepreneurship, form teams and create businesses.  

Since its inception, we have launched seven startups and graduated 46 alumni—dedicated to working together to change the dynamic in our region.  

One venture provides highly trained Palestinian software engineers to Israeli high-tech companies scrambling for such help. 

Another does genetic education and testing of Israeli bedouins to reduce the incidence of genetic diseases.  

A third brings solar technology to areas in our region that have limited electric power.  

To date, our companies have raised more than $1 million—and we received the 2017 New England Innovation Award.

Beyond financial success, our generation speaks believes, I believe, that when people have common goals, when they rely upon each other to feed their families, when they are actual partners, when they work together every single day, they can’t help but know each other.  And when you truly know another person, hope can replace hate.

This is not a cure all, but it’s a great place to start.

As the saying goes—the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is today. 

It’s time to start planting trees. 

I do not know how to resolve the seemingly unbridgeable divide between our peoples. There isn’t a simple solution or magic trick. 

I, and many like me, know that the status quo isn’t working nor sustainable. 

Resolving the conflict demands engagement. We must continue to find opportunities for both sides to speak, to speak about anything, to speak about everything, to hear each other.

To solve the conflict between us calls for our honesty and engagement. It calls for a realization that the situation is not working for either side.  

A solution calls for new thinking based on the ancient Jewish values of compassion and empathy. We need to plant a new tree—grounded in hope and based on these principles.

Our generation—my generation—must step forward and begin the long road to shared trust. After all, in twenty years, my generation will be tasked with both the burden and opportunity to lead.  We must create the foundation now so the next generation—my generation, can advance, sustain and protect a lasting peace.

It begins with interaction. 

Then comes trust.

Trust leads to civic and economic engagement. 

This is how we move the needle.                                                         

Thank you very much.

Categories: Alumni, Business, International Affairs

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