I am a Czech businesswoman. Before going into business, I studied Hebrew at Oxford and ran the Diplomatic Academy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. My passion is Israel, and in particular its business culture, which I try to explain to Czech business people in simple terms, including through my work in the Czech-Israeli Mixed Chamber of Commerce, where I run the Section for the Digital Economy and Trade.
I prepared a seminar entitled Plan B, or ‘how to think about alternatives’, for the EPALE educational platform, using marketing methodology developed by Dr. Sharon Tal Itzkovich from Technion.
Managing the situation with COVID-19 as a trainer
Given that the pandemic deprived me of most of my teaching and consulting business, I used the time to support a group from the Single Mothers’ Club, promoted links between various experts from Israel and the Czech Republic and, last but not least, contributed to the popularisation of the activities of the Czech-Israel Chamber of Commerce (ČISOK) in connection with the topic of Israel as a Start-Up Nation.
Many people sewed masks, but I couldn’t even handle a pin cushion properly in third grade. So, I decided to help single mothers instead. The journalist, Nora Fridrichová, who has been dealing with this issue for some time now, draws attention to the fact that the group of single parents is relatively large in this country – consisting of 200,000 families, where the main breadwinner mainly works on a part-time contract. It took the government over a month to approve a support fund for this group.
Half of these families have a budget of CZK 20,000 a month, a third live on only CZK 10,000. These vulnerable families suddenly found themselves without a source of income. At the same time, they had to cope with the pitfalls of online teaching. Many children were left with no contact with their school or their peers. As a mother of two teenage children, I realised the demands that online teaching was starting to have on our household, even though I am lucky enough to have a husband who works in ICT. Each child needed a computer, the Wi-Fi couldn’t keep up and after a couple of days of heavy traffic, the printer left for the eternal hunting grounds. But now, imagine the same situation from the point of view of a low-income family in a remote location. At first, I focused on donating used laptops, desktops or tablets. Then I moved on to mobile telephones. As the crisis developed, many mothers had to decide whether, or where, to buy a functioning telephone and where to get money for food and rent. There are still families who have not yet received the carer’s allowance they were promised. Have you ever tried applying? Did you succeed the first time? Without a scanner? Without a data box? And how do you get confirmation that a school is closed, when all the schools are closed and computer skills are not one of your strengths? After electronics, it was time to send clothes and toys, children’s glasses also found enthusiastic recipients. Savings had to be made everywhere, but the fact that shops and traditional delivery points remained closed for a long time was also a major problem. Often the value of a present was not only the thing provided, but, more importantly, sending it and its delivery to a specific recipient. Assisting in this way taught me a lot, not only about the true situation faced by one neglected social group. Digitalisation has to begin at the government level, not by issuing even more planning documents, but in everyday practical relations with the authorities. Different strategies should then also take into account the computer literacy of different groups in society and try to improve them. And, thirdly, online education is not about sending assignments by email to pupils and their parents, although this approach has been prevalent in many schools for weeks.
Given the similar course taken by the pandemic in the Czech Republic and in Israel, the Czech-Israel Mixed Chamber of Commerce (ČISOK), where I head the Section for the Digital Economy and Trade, actively sought to connect potential experts, advisors and politicians to encourage the transfer of best-practices and the sharing of effective approaches within the context of the fight against the pandemic. This primarily concerned procedures related to blanket testing, e-Health or concrete bilateral cooperation in science and research. My thanks go to Tomáš Jelínek, Commissioner for e-Health at ČISOK, and Delana Mikolášová from the embassy in Tel Aviv for their cooperation. I look forward to the time when the Czech-Israeli innovation days in Liberec and Olomouc this autumn develop specific projects and support further advances in the area of e-Health and telemedicine. The question remains, to what extent will we be willing to accept best practices and how much time, energy and financial resources will we again waste by following the well-known Czech way.
All activities related to lectures were moved online. This meant that I had the opportunity to test out Zoom, Click, MS Teams, Skype for companies, Slack and many other applications. Given that most of the information in the media was negative, I decided to focus on the prospects for the future, both near and far. Unfortunately, the pandemic did not allow us to properly celebrate the 30th anniversary of the re-establishment of Czechoslovak-Israeli relations, or the 72th anniversary of the existence of the State of Israel. Thanks to the ČISOK management, we were able to organise a webinar on the topic of Israel as a Start-Up Nation, where I had the opportunity to talk not only about Israel’s unique start-up ecosystem, but also about the activities of the Chamber. We are happy to provide our know-how and it will be beneficial if this format is used more frequently to inform the wider public of the Chamber’s activities or to meet inspiring personalities in a remote setting.
I also focused on mentoring support for various innovative projects, whether related to the student hackathon, or the Hack the Crisis CZ project, which falls under CzechInvest.
As part of my role on the Charles University Council for Commercialisation, I assessed three projects which will be supported under a special Call for solutions related to Covid-19.
And, of course, my colleague Jiří Schlanger and I began to prepare another meeting of the Science, Research and Innovation Section in June, because this crisis has shown that the future belongs to applied research and a close collaboration between science and business is essential.
Within the framework of international cooperation with Israel, I focused on support for the international EdTech summit on new forms of education, which takes place virtually in early July. I am also helping to organise the El Ha Lev conference, which deals with active self-defence for girls and boys (Empowered Self Defence) and will take place in March 2021 in Prague. Its unique concept is based on a combination of assertive communication skills and physical defence. And, thirdly, on the basis of an offer from Professor Dafna Kariv, I am looking for a suitable partner institution to launch a virtual accelerator connecting women in start-ups in the Czech Republic and Israel.
Help for entrepreneurs and SMEs in the Czech Republic? I have carried out most of my activities pro bono, because I am convinced of their social benefits. For me, being an entrepreneur means the need to create value, whatever the conditions. This made me resent even more the current government’s approach to the support and use of products and services from Czech businesses and entrepreneurs. Simple proclamations that it is entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises that form the backbone of the Czech economy do not mean much to families in which both spouses are engaged in business.