There is a strong consensus across the international community about the critical importance of poverty eradication. Few problems present such a formidable challenge to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. Fighting poverty offers an opportunity to tackle them at once.
Poverty is not simply characterized by a lack of adequate income. It is an all-encompassing issue. People who experience poverty suffer from a number of deprivations and restrictions. Its manifestations include hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion, as well as the lack of participation in decision-making and in civil, social and cultural life.
The Old Testament teaches us that society—any society— has to consider the least privileged within it in order to thrive: "When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow." Israel believes these principles must prevail in the international society as well.
Yet we cannot defeat poverty through charity. From the basic elements of biblical social justice an entire body of ethics has emanated. The Medieval Jewish Scholar Maimonides taught that we must "anticipate charity by preventing poverty". We should empower people with the means to sustain themselves.
Unemployment and underemployment lie at the core of poverty. For the poor, labour is often the only asset they can use to improve their immediate well-being. It is crucial to provide decent jobs that secure income and empower the poor, especially women and young people.
Israel works steadily towards this objective both at home and abroad.
As a small globalized economy we as well are subjected to the hardships that the current crisis places on us and which render some parts of our society more vulnerable. There are some principles that we consider fundamental: enlarging participation in the workforce, increasing access to education, especially scientific higher education and technical-vocational training, and placing great emphasis on entrepreneurship.
Our government encourages citizens to participate in the workforce. Working parents enjoy tax credits. The majority of Israeli families have both parents working full-time while their children enjoy a subsidized childcare system, as well as after-school programs. The last few of years have emphasized how important the middle class is for social cohesion and Israel continues to look for ways to best cater to their needs, while at the same time, considering the needs of the least-privileged, in order to maintain this social cohesion.
Numerous Israeli initiatives promote employment, particularly among the Orthodox Jews and Arab-Israeli populations. One example is the Appleseeds Academy, which bridges social gaps by diminishing Israel's digital divide. It provides people from disadvantaged communities with technological training, leadership skills and personal empowerment workshops. More than 800,000 people have already gained marketable skills through the program.
When it comes to creating work opportunities, Israel understands that entrepreneurship carries tremendous potential. Entrepreneurship has the power to help build societies in which people have the confidence, skill and desire to solve the problems they see around them. It is our responsibility to create favorable environments for entrepreneurship to flourish. Israel promotes entrepreneurship among all sectors of its society. Our Government helps fund a New Generation Technology incubator in Nazareth, which provides Arab-Israeli entrepreneurs with a platform to turn their ideas into businesses. Twenty start-up companies in various stages of development enjoy the incubator's support today.
Israel also greatly values small and medium sized enterprises, especially the micro-enterprises. Kiva, the international microloan provider, is partnering with an Israeli economic development fund to help Bedouin and Arab-Israeli women set up their own micro-enterprises. In 18 years, the organization has loaned more than $206 million to 8,000 small and micro businesses, creating more than 40,000 jobs.
Maimonides also observed that proper behaviour, whether for the individual or the community, is a means to attain intellectual achievements. On a political level, this means that the state must do more than protect life and property; it must see to it that all its citizens are educated.
MASHAV, Israel's agency for international development cooperation, also works to promote entrepreneurship around the world. In Latin America alone, MASHAV has taught entrepreneurial skills to over 22,000 young people, in cooperation with the Young Americas Business Trust.
Access to health care and education are vital to break the cycle of poverty and to prevent passing it on to the next generation. Agricultural productivity and rural development are also essential to promote economic growth in rural areas, to ensure better food security and to promote stronger markets that can withstand shocks.
Israel’s international cooperation work has been especially focused in these areas. In Ghana, MASHAV administers a network of community-based pre-natal and healthy-baby clinics, known as Tipat Chalav. In Kenya, MASHAV partners with Germany to rejuvenate Lake Victoria and replenish its Tilapia fish stock. In Senegal, MASHAV oversees a drip irrigation project that increases crop yields and allow farmers to collect harvests year-round. This project is now being implemented across West Africa. Sustainable agriculture touches upon so many levels in development that we believe it must be treated as a key component in fighting poverty .
In a related effort, MASHAV recently signed a cooperation agreement with UNIDO which focuses on capacity building in agriculture technologies and biotechnology; support to small and medium industrial enterprises, rural entrepreneurship development, and women's empowerment.
Empowering women is a prerequisite to eradicating poverty in the context of sustainable development. Women in the developing world remain less likely to than men to have access to medical care, property ownership, credit and financial schemes and employment. Al this while women are the main axis through which families grow, kids get their education and have a chance of growing their opportunities and in the long-run enhancing the over-all social cohesion.
Israel's development work places a special emphasis on women. When a woman is empowered economically, she reinvests 90% of her earnings in her family, and the positive effects ripple cross an entire community. We therefore must ensure that they are given the tools to be able to prosper, and that includes giving them the ability to make their own decision about their own reproduction.
Last spring, MASHAV organized a symposium for women entrepreneurs in South-East Europe, in cooperation with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. Participants gained valuable knowledge on a variety of topics – from defeating psychological barriers to devising financial schemes for small-scale enterprises.
Just this month, MASHAV and the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture are hosting an international workshop on the empowerment of rural women through agricultural entrepreneurship. The program includes sessions on everything from advanced agricultural techniques to the branding of produce and creating chains of supply using classic and new-media methods.
The thread that connects of all of Israel's efforts to reduce poverty is one: empowering people to be the drivers of their own success. This is the spirit that should guide us in the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda. No government, agency or organization can fight poverty better than the people who suffer from it. Our job is to provide them with the tools to do so.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.