Powering Up Israel’s Haredi Community

September 13, 2011


Pini Mandel is one of Israel’s trailblazing social entrepreneurs. Three years ago he co-founded 3Base, a technological boutique company specializing in the development of advanced web information technologies and services.

Through its successful partnership with JDC’s TEVET employment initiative—which equips Haredim (ultra-orthodox) with job skills and empowers them to advance in their country’s burgeoning economy—3Base is fully staffed by members of the Haredi community.

Today 3Base has become a major player in the development market, a preferred alternative for nearshore and offshore solutions for many high-tech companies, both in Israel and abroad. It is also a pioneering business model, lauded by Israel’s President Shimon Peres and many others as an innovative solution to a crucial impasse in Israel’s economy—the growing unemployment and underemployment of Haredim.

JDC: How did you come to found 3Base?

PM: Yossi Cohen, who is now our Chief Technology Officer, and I started 3Base in 2008 to give ultra-orthodox women a place to work that would meet all of their special needs within a high-tech company.

We provide the infrastructure for Haredi women to work comfortably and equip them with expertise in web and programming. They help us service our customers-start-ups and high-tech companies with high-end programming needs. Today our company employs 90 female developers who are some of the very best in the field!

JDC: Why did you initially found your business model around Haredim?

PM: The social cause was the initial motivation and the business came afterwards. I am an entrepreneur and I am religious, though I am not Haredi.

Before 3Base there was no opportunity for Haredim within the sector. We wanted to be a unique place that could on the one hand give the ultra-orthodox community an employment opportunity and on the other hand give Israeli high-tech companies a chance to work with this highly qualified community.

JDC: So how does your business model address the unique cultural norms of the Haredi community?

PM:Haredim have special needs when it comes to their workplace environment:
Women can’t sit beside men; they need kosher food; they can work only eight hours a day; they can’t go further than 30 minutes from their homes because they have a lot of children whose needs they tend to…

These needs were very difficult for regular high-tech companies to meet. Instead they would go to India or Eastern Europe to find workers and encountered language and cultural barriers, as well as the challenge of working in different time zones. All the while Haredim couldn’t work in one of the country’s biggest emerging sectors! We saw a way to change that.

3Base decided to invest in the facilities and the infrastructure to employ this community and give high-tech companies a place they can come and get their client needs met at a competitive rate.

Now our customers have a unique, dedicated community that wants to work very hard for them. All of the women are very smart, know what they need to do, and are very high-end programmers. They want to remain in the same job for at least 5-7 years—loyalty that is extremely rare at a high-tech company.

JDC: So what does a bird’s eye view of the office look like?

PM: We have two floors and most of the space is open plan with stations or cubicles for the programmers. We have a lot of meeting rooms for the customers and the management.

JDC: How does JDC-TEVET play into your business model?

PM: Working with Temech, an Israeli organization founded to enable women to achieve their potential professionally and relieve pressing poverty among Haredi families, TEVET gives the new candidates an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have to become programmers. Through TEVET, we take new employees from Haredi college.

Every candidate for a position at 3Base goes through a unique and rigorous four-phase selection process that we developed in partnership with the Israeli military, which includes computer tests of hard skills and interviews with HR, a project manager, and one of our leading managers.

TEVET helps give the employees their initial training; every woman who comes to us goes through a unique training program through TEVET that we built with the high-tech unit of the Israeli military. It’s an intensive 2-4 months(depending on the expert level we are training the employee for); eight hours in the classroom every day, with additional individual work. The women learn programming skills and at least two programming languages. It is very hard but the result is amazing.

JDC: Do all of the candidates come in with a computer background?

PM: Not necessarily—but most of them studied computers at Haredi college for two years. The first phase of our selection process requires them to know computers.

Really, though, logic and reasoning skills are the most important skills a programmer needs. Knowing computers is important but not a must.

JDC: Do these women have opportunities for upward mobility once they are with your company?

PM: Yes, of course. We now have women who started as junior programmers, became senior programmers and then team leaders, and are now project managers. A project manager is responsible for 4-5 customers and 4-5 team leaders, in addition to 15 programmers. So now every programmer who we hire sees what she can become in just a few years.

JDC:Israel is proud of its emerging reputation as a “Start-Up Nation.” Do you see 3Base as a leading model?

PM: Yes, we are talking with the government and with the President of Israel and they are looking at 3Base as a model that needs to be replicated. Right now we are working with TEVET and other government units to figure out how we can make that happen.

JDC: What do you think will be the challenges and opportunities in replicating this model?

PM: When we started 3Base a lot of companies only wanted to give us their simple rather than high-level work. They wanted low-cost employees who would do the same thing over and over, a lot of copy and paste kind of stuff.

We didn’t agree; we had skilled employees and wanted the high-end work. It took a lot of time to convince our customers that we would be able to meet their highest level needs.

People think that because it can be cheap to hire Haredim they can only do low-end work. The government’s models need to do the same thing we did: ensure that they get high-end projects. This can be very hard for a young company and will be a challenge to overcome.

JDC: But what are the opportunities?

PM: If you can surmount this obstacle you have very happy clients who will know and like this community-and employees who will want to stay with the company for many years. And I think that a happy customer on both sides is what every company wants.

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