In an effort to focus Negev leaders on the development of this severely neglected region in Israel, SHATIL last week launched the Negev Forum for Multi-sector Leadership. More than 40 of the region's most influential community leaders gathered in Be'er Sheva to kick off the initiative. Forum members will form 'think-and-do tanks' involving cross-collaboration on specific issues such as the development of affordable housing, promotion of employment and career opportunities, effective absorption of immigrants and promotion of Bedouin rights. And while this Forum will become a valuable network unto itself, each individual brings his/her own networks, adding further value to the project.
The event combined business with fun, as students from the acting school and theater in which the event was held mingled among the crowd, dressed in costumes and role-playing various characters. In order to facilitate relationships between the diverse group, the participants broke out into 'café style' groups of four where they engaged in intensive conversations.
According to SHATIL Be'er Sheva Co-Director Yarona Ben-Shalom, who helped develop this initiative, "The discussions exposed life-long Negev residents to issues they knew nothing about. Many had not previously known of the existence of the Abu Basma Council of Unrecognized Villages! The chair of the Industrialists' Union [who is a prominent business person in the Negev and internationally] became interested in promoting hand-made crafts of Bedouin women. At the same time, other participants were astounded to find out that the income from these crafts (as little as $5) is often the only money to which Bedouin women have independent access."
Shortly following the launch of this initiative, SHATIL partnered with Ben Gurion University and the Be'er Sheva Municipality in hosting a conference entitled, 'What's Happening in the Negev and What does the Future Hold?". Among the panel discussions were the benefits and drawbacks to the Israeli Defense Force's plans to move several military bases to the region, as well as the controversial plans to expand the Cross-Israel Highway (Route 6) which would displace some 3,000 individuals, primarily Bedouin. There were also extensive discussions about sustainable transportation as well as economic and environmental development. All these issues and more will be part of the agenda of the Negev Forum for Multi-sector Leadership.