Since the company’s early days, Yvel founders and owners Isaac and Orna Levy have been purposely hiring immigrants to join the Yvel workforce. Today 90% of Yvel’s more than 100 employees are immigrants from over 20 countries, including Iraq, Russia, Morocco and the United States. Yet, the ambitious and socially conscious pair aspired to do even more. In 2010, with the upcoming opening of the new Yvel Design Center in Motza, the Levys decided to launch a corporate social responsibility initiative focused on strengthening the most vulnerable of Israel’s immigrant populations, the Ethiopian community.
Numbering more than 120,000 people, Ethiopian immigrants in Israel face higher poverty and unemployment rates than the general population, as they adjust to a completely different way of life than what they were accustomed to in Ethiopia. Despite making significant strides in many crucial areas, the community still must contend with daunting cultural, language, employment and economic challenges. Recognizing this inequity, the Levys committed themselves to helping this community.
Learning valuable skills
Megemeria, which means “genesis” in Amharic, the native language of Ethiopia, truly offers its students an empowered new beginning. “We purposely look for those people who exhibit talent but who have for some reason or another fallen through the cracks. People who are older and lack skills, those who did not receive an education, or those who are not eligible for other types of assistance for various reasons,” explains Isaac Levy. Not only do the students learn jewelry design and manufacturing techniques and skills from experts in the field, they also take classes in Hebrew, math and everyday life skills where they acquire tools to help them succeed in their daily lives in Israel.
The Megemeria students’ tuition is completely subsidized, and the students are also given a generous monthly stipend so that they do not need to seek employment while enrolled in the program. Additionally, the students receive help with finding employment in the jewelry industry after graduation, with many continuing to work at Yvel or Megemeria as full employees. The valuable skills the students acquire—from jewelry design, to tool-handling, goldsmithing, gem setting and pearl stringing—during the year-long course empowers them to become economically self-sufficient and to break the cycle of poverty and unemployment.
Through the Levys’ generosity and vision, and under their active leadership, the Megemeria initiative has blossomed from a jewelry school into a budding social enterprise. Graduates and students of the Megemeria School design, manufacture, market and sell their own independent line of Jewelry, also called Megemeria. The contemporary handcrafted collection is inspired by the personal and collective journey of Israel’s Ethiopian immigrants. Many of the silver and gold-plated pieces incorporate inspirational inscriptions in Amharic, such as ‘forever,’ ‘love’ and ‘hope,’ or Jewish verses and prayers in Hebrew. All profits from the sale of Megemeria jewelry are reinvested into the school and social business to ensure its continued development.
“The social business has great prospects of becoming a self-sufficient and socially responsible business that other successful companies can emulate,” Orna explains. “The Megemeria enterprise is “definitely designed as a for-profit business” with the long-term goal of creating a financially self-sustaining venture.”
A brighter tomorrow
The unprecedented Megemeria project quickly gained the support of the Israeli government, private donors and important Jewish organization such as the San Francisco Jewish Federation and World ORT among others.
The dedicated Megemeria team is constantly moving forward. In addition to building brand recognition and expanding the markets where Megemeria jewelry is sold, Isaac reveals the brand new philanthropic project which will be launched within the next month: The Megemeria Craft Center. This center offers its visitors a unique and authentic experience allowing them a glimpse into an Ethiopian village, very similar to the one the Megemeria students have left behind. The Megemeria Craft Center will showcase the students’ jewelry as well as original, traditional works of art designed by Ethiopian artists, such as ceramic art and traditional embroidery. At the end of the tour visitors will enjoy an Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony (Buna) which is an integral part of their social and cultural life. An invitation to attend a coffee ceremony is considered a mark of friendship or respect and is an excellent example of Ethiopian hospitality.
In the meantime, along with designing exceptional jewelry and running a successful business, Isaac and Orna have succeeded in making the many immigrants studying and employed at Megemeria, as well as the many immigrants working at Yvel, a part of their family. Like the dedicated parents they are to their own two children, the Levys have given their extended “family” the priceless treasure of a better today and hope for an even brighter tomorrow in Israel.
A success story
Yvel, a luxury jewelry brand renowned internationally for its exquisite award-winning designs featuring the finest pearls, diamonds and precious gems nature has to offer, was founded in Jerusalem in 1986 by Isaac and Orna Levy. The young newlywed couple launched their business when they were both unemployed and short on cash. With just $2,000 remaining of their savings, the couple invested it all – along with an abundance of passion, energy and dedication – towards turning their jewelry business dream into a reality.
The Levys initial investment paid off; Isaac Levy Jewelers evolved into Yvel (a reversal of the Levy surname) whose exquisite nature-inspired designs are now sold on five continents, at over 600 luxury retailers, and to some of the most discerning customers, including an ever growing following of celebrities and royalty. In 2010, about 25 years after the Levys devised their business in their bedroom, Isaac and Orna inaugurated Yvel’s new sparkling state-of-the-art Design Center located in the hills on the outskirts of Jerusalem, in the village of Motza. The 50,000 square foot facility is surrounded by lush flower gardens, sweet-smelling fruit trees and cascading waterfalls. Inside are Yvel’s corporate offices, jewelry factory, showrooms, a visitor’s center, an impressive wine cellar filled with Israeli wine from the surrounding Judean Hills, a 3-D movie theater and more. Tourists from Israel and around the world seeking a sophisticated and unique destination frequently stop off at Yvel for a tour of the facility, wine tasting, and an opportunity to try on and purchase the dazzling jewelry.
Yet, professional success was never the Levys singular goal. Since the early days of the company they have been and remain staunchly committed to giving back to the community by helping Israel’s immigrants. This passion to help immigrants better their lives is personal; as a child, Isaac immigrated with his family to Israel from Argentina. During the ensuing challenging years adjusting to a foreign culture and life in a new country, Isaac made a promise to himself to help other immigrants if he ever had the opportunity. Years later, as an adult, Isaac stayed true to his word. With the growing success of the family jewelry business, the Levys increasingly invested their resources and energy into giving immigrants to Israel an opportunity to succeed in their new home.
To find out more and support the Megemeria project , go to www.megemeria.com