At Yvel, despite incorporating advanced and innovative jewelry-making techniques using sophisticated technologies such as precise laser cutting and soldering machines and 3-D printers, the principal emphasis remains human beings.
Repairing the world
There are many ways to measure success, as it can mean different things to different people. For Orna and Isaac Levy, the founders and owners of Yvel, it is never based purely on financial gain. In fact, it isnt even about creating their award-winning jewelry brand. The Levys measure of success is based not on what they have achieved for themselves, but by what they can do for others. This mode of thinking has its roots in Kabalistic teachings, and is called tikun olam, quite literally, repairing the world. Of course, repairing injustice, prejudice and unfairness in the entire world is beyond the scope of any one person. But to try to help a specific community or sector of society is perhaps something within our sights.
As a young boy, Isaac was no stranger to prejudice and injustice. After immigrating to Israel from Argentina, his family found it very difficult adjusting to a new country and culture. It was many years before he would actually feel part of Israeli society and not an outsider. In those early years, Isaacs father was busy trying to start a business in order to secure a successful future for his family. He took all the savings that he had brought from Argentina and invested them in a sausage factory. But the familys struggle turned into a nightmare when his business partner ran off with his life savings, and the family was faced with poverty.
The young Isaac felt the injustice of the situation and had to live with its accompanying hardships. Isaacs father had been left feeling disillusioned as he endeavored to get back on his feet. I remember as a child walking with my father and my brother outside of Jerusalem, Isaac recalls. We asked him, where is that sausage factory? And he pointed bitterly in a certain direction.
It was these early experiences that roused Isaac to try and improve the lives of those on the lowest rungs of society, the immigrants. Having suffered as an immigrant, he wanted to alleviate the suffering of other immigrants. And so, from the very beginning, whenever seeking new Yvel employees, the Levys would always try to give preference to immigrants.
Isaac was particularly sympathetic to Ethiopian immigrants as he felt that they were the most vulnerable members of Israeli society. Numbering more than 120,000, they struggle to acclimate to modern life in Israel, and face high levels of poverty and unemployment. It was specifically in their plight that Isaac saw what he had suffered. I was an Ethiopian, Isaac would say, So I know how they feel, I know what they are going through.
Encouragement and hope
By the time Yvel had grown into a large internationally recognized brand, it was home to almost 70 employees, most of whom were Jewish immigrants from all over the world, especially Ethiopia. This success enabled the Levys to embark on a venture that would allow them to repair the very fabric of the society around them. They would open a school to teach Ethiopian immigrants the art of jewelry making – the Megemeria School of Jewelry and Art. The students would study for free and receive a monthly stipend. At the end of the course, they would then be able to find a good job and support themselves and their families.
In 2010, Isaacs life came full circle when in an incredible twist of fate, the Levys managed to purchase the plot of land where Isaacs fathers hapless sausage factory once stood. It was precisely on this spot, on this ground that had proved to be such a source of grief for the Levy family, that Isaac chose to build the new Yvel Design Center, along with the Megemeria School of Jewelry and Art. Isaac was repairing his world, attempting to turn what was once bad into something good. A place that caused disappointment and despair to the immigrant Levy family would finally become a place that brings encouragement and hope to the Ethiopian immigrants. This is the ultimate gesture of tikun olam.
When the Megemeria School opened its doors, 22 students began full-time studies. They learned the art and craft of jewelry-making from experts in the field. They were also given classes in math and Hebrew, along with other life skills. For these students, it was a new beginning, a new opportunity. Most of them were already married with children of their own, with little prospect for employment other than menial cleaning work mopping floors or sweeping streets. For them, Megemeria was a new start. And rightly so, because the word Megemeria is Amharic for In the beginning.
The school proved to be a great success and without previous knowledge of design, students began to create beautiful pieces of jewelry. The style of their work reflected their rich Ethiopian culture, and before long, they had crafted an entire collection of jewelry, the Megemeria Collection.
The Levys thought that if they could sell the jewelry, then the students would have continuous employment. It was this idea that led to the formation of the Megemeria Social Enterprise, a self-sustaining business run by Ethiopian graduates of the school. We believe that Megemeria will eventually be an international social business that will employ hundreds of people, a great model of socially responsible business for other companies to follow, says Orna.
A pioneering management model
The Megemeria Social Enterprise is situated next to the Yvel Design Center on the Yvel campus outside Jerusalem. It is open to visitors and tourists who are interested in seeing the Levys example of success.
The success of the Megemeria program and the growth of the jewelry industry in Israel and around the world, along with the expansion of Yvels activities, which includes opening sales points on five continents, created a real need for more skilled workers.
Driven by their belief in social responsibility and a true desire to create additional jobs, Orna and Isaac Levy decided to open the program to additional disenfranchised sectors of the population. Under their supervision, a new generation of skilled and talented designers, gem setters and silversmiths will be trained, enabling them to gain a profession and find employment at Yvel or elsewhere, and to pursue careers according to the needs of the global industry.
Every year, dozens of students will be accepted to the schools one-year course, where they will learn to be professional goldsmiths, gem setters and designers from a talented faculty that was recruited to the project by the Levys. Through their human-centered and compassionate management approach, the Levys have essentially pioneered a model for financially successful enterprises that care deeply about their workers and about supporting the community.