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Thursday, April 17, 2014

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Canadian business school deans visit Israel

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Peggy Cunningham didn’t waste much time before briefing members of Dalhousie University’s business school about her trip to Israel.

Cunningham, dean of the Rowe School of Business, told her colleagues and others at the Halifax university that Israel earned its reputation as “startup nation” through entrepreneurship and in part, by the quality of its research institutions.

She suggested Israeli successes in innovation and high-tech companies could be studied and applied in Nova Scotia. And in an email exchange with The CJN, she said Nova Scotia and Israel have much to learn from each other.

Cunningham was part of a group of 11 deans of Canadian business schools who visited Israel recently under the auspices of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa. Business schools at the University of Ottawa, McGill, the University of Manitoba, the University of Calgary, Simon Fraser University and Ryerson and Memorial universities were among those represented.

They were accompanied by Dylan Hanley, CIJA’s associate director of university studies.

Prior to her departure for Israel, Cunningham said she was “more aware of Israel’s political issues than its business climate. Thus the visit totally changed my views. Learning about Israel’s success with regard to high-tech innovation was very powerful, but it was also valuable for me to see the complexity of the business environment, from small family businesses to large international businesses.”

In briefing notes she distributed at the university, Cunningham pointed out Israel ranks third in the world for entrepreneurship and produces more than 4,000 high-tech startups. “It is number 1 with regard to the quality of its research institutions. It has 18 per cent of all life-science patents in the world, and it is number 1 in terms of patents for medical devices. It has also outpaced the world with regard to job creation, surpassing the European Union, Brazil and China. Exports make up 40 per cent of its economy.”

Surveying the academic scene, Cunningham noted students generally attend following military service and are more mature than their Canadian counterparts. She suggested three Israeli universities – the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the University of Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion University, are seeking international students.

“I am going to further explore the idea of offering a tour for top achieving students from our four schools. We learned a lot on our tour, and students would, too. Many of the entrepreneurship programs we saw were the result of close collaboration between business and government. Israel focuses on information technology and knowledge management. There is a growing focus on ‘clean tech,’ water conservation and realization there is a requirement to think about environmental and social sustainability. Thus, such a trip would provide a rich learning venue for [our] students.”

Cunningham suggested other exchanges could include hosting Israeli academics as visiting scholars. “We have invited Dov Zohar from the Technion to be a visiting scholar, and would welcome others as well,” she said.

“We are creating a new program for top performing students who will be able to compete to go on a trip similar to the one we went on, with some course work taken at Israel universities,” she also stated.

That’s the kind of result that CIJA was banking on. “In the last few years, our strategy has been to work on bridge-building between Canadian and Israeli universities,” said Hanley.

Much of the discourse on campuses has been hijacked by “a small number of angry anti-Israel voices… We’re taking the high road. This is about collaboration and bridge-building in areas that are natural.”

Israel is well-known for its innovation in high tech, medical devices, environmental solutions and renewable energy, said Hanley. For their part, Canadian business schools are among the best in the world.

“We’re hoping to see exchange agreements, programs, academic collaboration, study tours and studying abroad,” Hanley said.

In a statement, the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa, said, “One of our goals at the embassy is to expose [Israel’s] success story to Canada’s business, political, cultural and academic communities.

“Our hope is to build partnerships in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurialism between Canadian and Israeli institutions that will have a long-term impact, mutually benefiting the citizens of both countries.”

Israelis are well-known for spawning innovative new businesses in high tech; Canadians have expertise in energy and resource management. Perhaps these are areas where exchanges could results, Hanley suggested.

So far, CIJA has been happy with the feedback from the participants. For her part, Cunningham went hoping “to learn more about the universities, areas for potential partnerships and entrepreneurial success. My expectations were exceeded,” she said.

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