We convene today to advance critical items on the global agenda: poverty eradication, employment generation, and social integration. These are complex issues. They will not be solved easily. It is on us to find the ways to empower people, communities and nations to move the obstacles from their path – and travel down the road to success.
A Jewish proverb says "you shall eat the fruit of your own work and you shall be happy." It teaches us that empowerment, work and happiness go hand in hand.
The secret of Israel's success can be summarized in two words: empowered people. We are a nation of pioneers who took our destiny into our own hands. In just sixty years, Israel transformed from a developing country into a powerhouse of technological innovation. We have moved from cultivating apples to designing Apple Computers and harvesting oranges to building Orange mobile phones. We did so with very few natural resources, relying only on our wealth of brainpower and willpower.
The Israeli experience shows that human capital is the greatest natural resource of all. It proves that the best way to attain sustainable development is to put citizens in charge of the process. If you invest in your people – and empower them through education and a democratic political system – they will shape a better future for the country. As the Secretary General's report aptly puts it, "it is people's own actions that empower them, rather than those of others."
Israel's entrepreneurial spirit lies at the heart of our development cooperation work.
At home and abroad, Israel works to empower women, youth, and marginalized groups with the tools to create the future they want. MASHAV — Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation — uses targeted skills training programs to bring the power of entrepreneurship to all corners of the world. MASHAV has trained more than 22,000 young people in Latin America, in cooperation with the Young American Business Trust.
For more than a decade, MASHAV has been working with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the Mount Carmel Training Center, to organize skills promotion workshops for women entrepreneurs from the Caucuses and Central Asia. These women are learning skills that empower them to find and create decent work, move out of poverty and become active members of society.
We are advancing the same kind of efforts at home. We have created special programs to empower members of the Ultra-Orthodox and the Arab sectors of Israeli society climb the income ladder. The Appleseeds Academy is one of them. It provides technological training to more than 100,000 people per year. Another program is led by the Israeli economic development fund Koret, which is partnering with Microloan giant KIVA to help Bedouin and Arab Israeli women set up their own microenterprises.
People with disabilities are at the heart of Israel's empowerment agenda. Last year, we ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This marked another milestone in Israel’s continuous work to fully integrate our 1.5 million citizens with disabilities. Citizens with disabilities enjoy numerous protections under Israeli law. For instance, the Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law prohibits discrimination in all domains of life and mandates that all public buildings be accessible.
Too often, cumbersome regulation and failed public policies stand in the way of empowering too many people around the world today. This is unacceptable. Instead of standing in the way of empowerment, laws and regulation should create enabling environments in which entrepreneurship flourishes.
Entrepreneurship empowers individuals to create employment for themselves and their communities. Entrepreneurs are pioneers and problem-solvers. They can tackle the toughest challenges around them – from poverty to environmental degradation.
This year, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on Entrepreneurship for Development presented by Israel together with nearly a hundred co-sponsors. The resolution calls on governments to foster entrepreneurship as a means to empower citizens, fight poverty and achieve sustainable development. We hope it will mark a milestone in the way governments think about the empowerment of their citizens.
Empowerment policies are not complete if they do not include social protection and provide basic entitlements. Access to education, health and housing are critical in the economic empowerment of poor people. When these basic needs are met, the poor have a better chance to find decent work, improve their living standards, and become fully integrated in society.
Talent, drive, and passion are found in all societies. These powerful forces can change our world for the better. But people are only free to act if governments remove the obstacles from their path. By empowering citizens politically, economically and socially, governments can allow their people to be the drivers of their own success. That, we believe, is the surest path to sustainable development.