Peres Center for Peace and Innovation |

Innovation for All

It was with a sense of awe that we entered the inner sanctum – Shimon Peress private office – to hear Efrat Duvdevani, the Peres Center for Peace and Innovations Director General, reminisce about a formidable visionary whose final grand project, the Israeli Innovation Center, will soon be opened to the public

Rebecca Kopans
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Shimon Peres, the 9th President of Israel, passed away exactly one year ago at the age of 93, tirelessly working till the end to contribute as much as possible to the country he loved so much. His innumerable achievements are well-known. Among many distinctions, he was Ben Gurions protg during Israels early days, established the Dimona nuclear reactor, won a Nobel Peace Prize and enjoyed a long political career, during which he served in almost every ministerial position – including Transportation Minister, Defense Minister, Finance Minister, Foreign Minister and, of course, Prime Minister. Finally, at age 83, he began a seven-year tenure as President of Israel. 

The new Israeli Innovation Center will take up three floors of the Peres Center in Jaffa

Indefatigable, Peres devoted most of his life to the pursuit of peace, eventually establishing the Peres Center for Peace with the purpose of promoting tolerance and cooperation among Arabs and Jews. The Centers architecturally stunning home was inaugurated in 2009 in Jaffas Ajami neighborhood, with a spectacular view of the Mediterranean and a no-less-impressive staff of idealistic disciples.

During the last chapter of his life, Peres focused much of his attention on the role of Israeli innovation as a catalyst for peace. Determined to build an Israeli Innovation Center, he raised funds for the project and was involved with its planning. Construction of the Innovation Center will begin on the first anniversary of his death, and the new attraction is set to open its doors to the public in September 2018. It will occupy three of the four floors of the aptly renamed Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.

The best public relations for Israel

When Shimon Peres was President, recalls Efrat Duvdevani, the Peres Center for Peace and Innovations charming Director General, he often hosted high-level delegations from around the world who were interested in seeing the Start-Up Nation with their own eyes – but there wasnt anything concrete to show them. When President Obama visited, we had to build an ad hoc exhibit so that he could view the best of Israeli innovation. Peres wanted his gift to be a permanent innovation center that would showcase the numerous Israeli inventions that left a mark on the world.

In fact, Duvdevani continues, the soon-to-be-built Innovation Center will hopefully join the ranks of must visit venues on every foreign visitors itinerary. Peres talked about his spiritual legacy and he saw innovation and coexistence as being closely linked. For him, innovation was the key to a promising future for both Jews and Arabs in the region, she notes, adding that, It was in his DNA. Peres believed that technology would lead to peace. Indeed, the Peres Centers numerous coexistence-oriented projects all incorporate elements related to innovation. According to Duvdevani, who worked closely with Peres for decades, he was adamant about promoting inclusiveness and wanted everyone to have access to the Start-Up Nation, regardless of whether they were women, kids, Arabs, Jews, disabled, etc.

Duvdevani stresses that Peres saw the Start-Up Nation as Israels crowning glory. Peres used to say that the Jews were degraded by the Holocaust and faced impossible challenges when Israel was born, and all these difficulties forced us to be innovative. Rather than collapsing, we became global leaders in many fields – technology, agriculture, medicine and others, she asserts. Peres truly believed that innovation is the best public relations tool for Israel. He was well aware of the scope of Israels contribution to the world and the fact that we are so significant in the global hierarchy. Peres thought that Israeli innovation is the best diplomacy, and this was his strategy when he was Foreign Minister. He encouraged cooperation with developing countries, focusing on projects such as establishing high-tech farms in remote parts of India and urging foreign students to come to Israel to learn innovative technologies, notes Duvdevani.

In keeping with Peress vision of innovation serving as the new tool of diplomacy, the Peres Center is already working to establish Israeli Innovation Centers around the world. Despite the fact that the prototype in Jaffa will only be inaugurated next year, plans are already underway for tailor-made Israeli Innovation Centers in places such as China, Hong Kong, Hungary and Ghana that will promote local start-ups and joint ventures with Israeli companies, as well as providing Israeli guidance to foreign entrepreneurs and businesses. This type of modern diplomacy based on human contact is a key part of Peress legacy.

Computerized illustration of the Israeli Innovation Center's exhibits

Broad appeal

It was with a great sense of fulfillment that Shimon Peres attended the Innovation Centers cornerstone ceremony only two months before his death. Despite the sad fact that Peres is no longer physically present, his spirit is still a powerful force throughout the Center, and there is no doubt that the new Innovation Center will precisely reflect his dreams and wishes.

In keeping with Peress vision, we designed the Innovation Center to appeal to a broad range of visitors, including business tourists and foreign delegations, as well as Israeli school children and soldiers from all backgrounds, explains Efrat Duvdevani. The Peres Center consulted with a range of partners, such as the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Economy, the IDF and Taglit-Birthright Israel, to make sure that the content will be suitable and attractive to younger visitors from all sectors of society – in keeping with the motto of the Centers educational program, Innovation for All.

Taglit-Birthright Israel, for example, has brought over half a million young Jews from all over the world on all-expense-paid trips to Israel with the goal of deepening their connection to the country and its people, as well as strengthening their own Jewish identities. Gidi Mark, Birthrights CEO, explains why he believes its important to expose Birthright participants to Israeli innovation. Over the years, we noticed that our young participants were increasingly interested in the unique story of the Start-Up Nation. We saw that it was important to expose them to the world of Israeli innovation in a professional and experiential manner, he says, adding that, I have no doubt that Birthright alumni will take on key positions in the global economic arena, and their familiarity with the Israeli Start-Up Nation will certainly inspire them to create significant partnerships with Israelis.

State-of-the-art interactive exhibits

The Innovation Center will not only showcase innovation; it will itself be highly innovative – both in terms of its contents and the way they are presented. One of the highlights will be the Centers library, which will feature futuristic life-size holograms of Israeli inventors. These human holograms will serve a dual purpose: providing information about the people behind groundbreaking Israeli innovations, while also inspiring visitors to feel that they too can be part of the innovation nation. The holograms will include people from diverse backgrounds, many of whom dont fit the stereotype of the high-tech entrepreneur. Amazingly, they will be programmed to answer a range of questions so that visitors will be able to have actual conversations with the inventors. 

The buildings ground floor will be transformed into a state-of-the-art exhibit presenting Israeli innovations that made a significant impact in the world, contributing to tikun olam. For example, under the heading water shortage, Israeli water-saving inventions, such as drip irrigation, will be presented and explained in a fun, interactive manner.

The first floor will be devoted to the theme 70 Years of Innovation in Israel.  Arranged according to decades, from Israels birth in 1948 till the present, this floor will describe key events in the countrys history that led to important inventions in various fields. For example, the section about the 1950s will illustrate how Israels acute security challenges at the time resulted in the development of the kibbutz – certainly a unique Israeli innovation – as well as the Hebrew Ulpan system and the modern cowshed, whose technology has since been exported all over the world. The timeline will be interactive and visitors will be invited to solve riddles on tables in the middle of the room, based on the information in the exhibit. As in the rest of the Innovation Center, the riddles will target a large range of age groups and will be available in many different languages.

The second floor will focus on Future Challenges, looking towards whats next in the world of innovation. Virtual reality stations will allow guests to travel in time and learn about the many challenges the Earth is facing, such as an aging population, increasingly crowded urban spaces, hunger, etc. Leading futurists were consulted for this exhibit and the results are expected to be extremely intriguing and thought-provoking.

The buildings lower level will house temporary exhibits featuring Israeli start-ups. In addition, courses and workshops will be offered on a variety of subjects. However, the staff insists that the building in Jaffa is only a physical home and that they will continue to actively initiate and run projects around the country, and indeed around the world. To that end, the Innovation Center will offer Innovation Trails around Israel tailored to specific interests, such as tours of sophisticated desert agriculture facilities for visitors interested in agrotechnology. Furthermore, in the spirit of inclusiveness, the Innovation Centers content will also be available digitally, enabling virtual visitors to access its unique trove of information from all over the world.

Just like many of Shimon Peress ideas, the much-anticipated Israeli Innovation Center will be filling a significant void, and one cant help wondering how nobody thought of it sooner.