Nir Kouris photo by Max Digital.

Who is this guy shaping Israel’s future?


Nir Kouris photo by Max Digital.

Nir Kouris photo by Max Digital.

Nir Kouris  is one of those hyper-accomplished young Israelis who cannot be described in a single phrase. Digital brand manager, tech evangelist, growth hacker, startup mentor, technology conference organizer, wearable-tech adviser, IoT enthusiast – these are all apt labels, but he prefers to call himself simply “a person who loves the future.”

He does not only mean that he loves futuristic technologies, though he really, really does. His passion is nurturing Israel’s future tech leaders by connecting them with peers and experts across the world.

In addition to NK Corporate Digital Strategy, the business he started in 2003 at age 20, Kouris got the ball rolling with eCamp, cofounded in 2008 to bring Israeli and overseas kids together for an American-style summer experience in technology.

He founded Innovation Israel  – a community for Israeli startups, entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists, angels and developers – together with Ben Lang, an American eCamper who moved to Israel five years later at age 18.

Kouris has organized Hackathon Israel, Tel Aviv Hackathon Day and World Hackathon Day, all attracting hundreds of young programmers. In 2014 he helped launch Israel’s first Wearable Tech Conference, headlined by Silicon Valley trendsetters.

Perhaps Kouris’ most ambitious endeavor is Tomorrow Israel, a movement to boost technology education and opportunities in Israel through worldwide collaboration.

Being a good person matters most

“When I was 12, I read a book that changed my life, Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty,” Kouris tells ISRAEL21c. This bestselling guide to networking taught him that “if you want to be somebody, go to tech conferences.”

And so he did.

“I was always the youngest person at these events, and at one of them, a Microsoft marketing manager asked me what I was doing there; I was only a kid. I promised myself to treat people equally, to listen to people of all ages, because nobody did that for me. That’s why I always dedicate time to young people,” says Kouris, who turns 33 in May.

At the Israeli Presidential Conference “Facing Tomorrow,” held annually from 2008 to 2013 at the behest of former president Shimon Peres, Kouris was dismayed to see no young faces among the distinguished presenters and few in the audience.

“I proposed creating Tomorrow Israel to take Peres’ vision into reality, a global movement connecting Israeli teens to others using the universal language of technology,” he explains.

Nir Kouris speaking at a wearable technology event at Google Israel in February. Photo by Tomer Foltyn

Nir Kouris speaking at a wearable technology event at Google Israel in February. Photo by Tomer Foltyn

 “I don’t believe in waiting for government officials and people with titles to take responsibility. I believe in regular people taking responsibility for our lives — not for fame, but because we really care and we love doing it.”

At first, Kouris rented venues to present workshops and lectures, and then Google Campus in Tel Aviv offered free space. Global technology gurus began accepting his invitations to Tomorrow Israel meetups, and he started sponsoring local and national conferences and hackathons for kids from Israel and elsewhere.

The Tomorrow movement has spread to Holland, the UK, India, America and Australia. Though there’s no official age limit, most participants are under 21.

“It’s not an age, but a way of thinking. We attract people wanting to make their countries better through entrepreneurship,” Kouris explains. “It’s like a VC for people. Tomorrow is all about smart and good people because being a good person matters most.”

The Amsterdam municipality, Google for Education and other entities have approached Kouris about collaborating with Tomorrow. Members are forming teams and launching projects together via national and international Tomorrow Facebook groups. Kouris is proud that Israel is the nexus of this activity.

“Before Tomorrow, everybody heard the negative stuff about Israel and now they all want to come here to see our startup culture. We’re proving we can find new channels of communicating with the next generation of leaders and empower other nations to be startup nations,” Kouris says. “We have something strong and solid in our hands.”

Creating the future

When Kouris was a teen in the early days of the Internet, he’d sit at the computers in his school library in a village near Afula, earning money by registering and selling domain names.

During his military service, Kouris was sent to work in American Jewish summer camps. “I was inspired to make something like that in Israel, combining the American camp experience with the Israeli tech story,” he relates.

He cofounded eCamp after dropping out of college (“What I was learning in class was about the past, and I had to deal with the future”) and working briefly at a high-tech startup. Now called Big Idea, the camp is still going strong but Kouris left after a year to build his branding consultancy and organize for-profit conferences supported by corporate sponsorships and ticket sales.

“Israelis usually don’t pay for conferences, so it has to be something exceptional you can’t get anywhere else,” explains Kouris, who says his favorite hobby is “meeting people smarter than myself.”

Nir Kouris addressing a Tomorrow Israel gathering.

Nir Kouris addressing a Tomorrow Israel gathering.

He’s persuaded big names like Robert Scoble, a top American tech evangelist, and Prof. Steve Mann, “the father of wearable technology,” to come to Israel along with participants from China, Europe and the United States. “They come on their own budget because they feel these conferences are the best,” Kouris says.

He’s planning two international confabs in Israel for 2016, one to present outstanding technologies to the world on behalf of Innovation Israel; the other a free Tomorrow gathering to introduce the established global tech community to the next generation.

The single Herzliya resident says he is “having great fun and traveling the world” as he helps shape the future of Israel.

Click here  to listen to ISRAEL21c’s Viva Sarah Press speak on TLV1 to Nir Kouris about Israel’s role in this revolutionary trend.

The RespiDx team (Ian Solomon is second from right).
Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

ISRAEL21c coverage helps RespiDX advance

The RespiDx team (Ian Solomon is second from right).

The RespiDx team (Ian Solomon is second from right).

Last month, ISRAEL21c reported that two Israeli startups – RespiDX and NanoVation GS — won seed grants from Grand Challenges Israel for their product ideas for diagnosing childhood pneumonia in low-resource regions.

We recently received word from RespiDX that our coverage proved critical in promoting its concept to key organizations and corporations working to reduce childhood deaths from pneumonia in developing countries.

“The article ISRAEL21c wrote describing our Respimometer project has been very helpful to us, and was used by Grand Challenges Canada to create connections for us to the relevant UN bodies, UNICEF, and a range of potential industrial partners,” says Ian Solomon, VP business development for the Profile Group of Companies  in Jerusalem.

“Following this, the company we established for this project, RespiDx Ltd., is already in discussions with several of these bodies, so the article has been most useful.”

He adds that ISRAEL21c’s article was the only one circulated to potential partners by Grand Challenges Canada, and that it came to their attention from an outside source.

Respimometer is envisioned as a cross between a pacifier and a digital oral thermometer. The mouth stop just under the child’s nose would be embedded with sensors to measure breathing as a way of detecting pneumonia immediately.

“We filed a patent and now we’re looking to use the grant to make a prototype and test it against existing means of measuring respiration rate to prove it’s good enough to be out in the market,” Solomon told ISRAEL21c.

RespiDX has applied for a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant and is seeking matching funds to run a test project in Africa in order to identify cultural and field conditions that could impact the final design of the reusable product and the training protocol for healthcare workers.

“We also made contact with a researcher who has experience running trial projects with community health workers,” says Solomon. “The idea is to simply diagnose and also simply treat children right in their villages.”


This dresser was the first item in the Street Capture series.

Furniture for a graffiti age

This dresser was the first item in the Street Capture series.

This dresser was the first item in the Street Capture series.

From their studio in South Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood, industrial designers and best friends Ariel Zuckerman and Eran Shimshovic watched as the old-time carpentry workshops closed at the end of the workday and the streets gave way to lively nightlife in the gathering darkness.

Month by month, more carpenters were closing shop permanently amid the changing character of Florentin. Zuckerman and Shimshovic realized they could combine the vanishing world of furniture-makers with the emerging vibrancy of street artists.

Street Capture, their resulting line of high-end, one-of-a-kind furniture, is a hit in Israel and abroad. Now the pair has expanded into tableware and is contemplating a road show in America.

“Taking something two dimensional from the public space and make it into a three-dimensional piece of furniture for your house preserves both the craft and the culture, Zuckerman tells ISRAEL21c.“It’s like taking a stone from the Berlin Wall and making something new from it.”

 Eran Shimshovic mounting a blank board in Florentin.

Eran Shimshovic mounting a blank board in Florentin.

They began by attaching blank wooden boards to the walls of Florentin’s alleyways, knowingly supplying a clean canvas for graffiti artists. Some of the boards got stolen, but most of them were soon covered in bold graphics.

“We didn’t say anything to anyone, as we were curious to see how it would evolve in the most ‘natural’ manner,” says Zuckerman, speaking to ISRAEL21c in his new studio in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood.

“Each morning we discovered something new. Sometimes the boards remained untouched, sometimes just a few penciled lines or letters were added. Finally, layer by layer, a ‘whole’ work was created.”

Street artists gradually filled the boards with artwork.

Street artists gradually filled the boards with artwork.

They then took the boards to their studio, transforming random night-time inspiration into a sort of artistic time capsule. The artwork is protected with acrylic and fused onto HDF, a dense, smooth fiberboard that can be cut, drilled, painted or processed.

“The first product was a dresser we called Zerifin 35, which is the street address where we hung the wooden board. Then we did a cocktail table,”says Zuckerman.

“These were very authentic. Then, as people started finding out about what we were doing, street artists asked us how they could participate,” he explains.

Each Street Capture piece is unique.

Each Street Capture piece is unique.

“So now we are doing collaborations with street artists. It’s less authentic because we control the process, but they are free to paint what they like — all in one day. We pay them and give them the credit.”

The unique Street Capture line gained popularity swiftly. “Mostly it’s being used as office furniture, but also some individuals have bought it,” says Zuckerman.

Orders started coming in after they exhibited their creations at Tel Aviv’s contemporary art fair, Fresh Paint, and at Saga Gallery in Jaffa.

A Street Capture cocktail table.

A Street Capture cocktail table.

They recently had an auction of Street Capture items at Tiroche Auction House in Herzliya Pituach, where they hope to pursue a collaboration with Israel Prize-winning designer Dan Reisinger, who’s responsible for some of Israel’s most classic business logos including that of national airline El-Al.

The design website Touch of Modern may soon begin selling Street Capture online. The dresser costs about $4,000, while a four-table cluster goes for about $2,000. Items in a new line of tableware, such as fruit bowls, will be priced at around $300.

Zuckerman, 37, worked for 10 years as a freelancer for Keter Plastic, designing many of the company’s extruded-plastic furniture and housewares for sale at North American chains including Costco, Loews and Home Depot.

In 2010, he opened Studio Ariel in Florentin with his childhood buddy Shimshovic, and initially created lighting collections that met success in Israel and abroad.

This Street Capture set costs about $2,000.

This Street Capture set costs about $2,000.

Street Capture has caught the attention of leading museums and galleries in San Francisco, New York, Toronto and Tokyo. But Zuckerman and Shimshovic do not intend merely to ship their products. They want to make them specific to each city.

“We got the crazy idea to do a road trip to five or six locations in the United States, getting local mural artists in those cities to paint on the wooden boards, and then after a month or two,we would make furniture out of them. We want to do an exhibition of them all together, showing which one was made in Chicago, which one in LA, and so forth,” says Zuckerman. “We just need to find local art producers and workspaces.”

Street Capture obviously is striking a chord. “People want to feel unique and to be part of a community, and this is a way to do that,” says Zuckerman.

For more information, click here.

The Shuka Team in Times Square, from left: Solomon Taraboulsi, Gabriel Israel and Josh Sharon.

3 Israeli dudes and their Shuka truck

The Shuka Team in Times Square, from left: Solomon Taraboulsi, Gabriel Israel and Josh Sharon.

The Shuka Team in Times Square, from left: Solomon Taraboulsi, Gabriel Israel and Josh Sharon.

Three Israeli friends fresh out of the army go to New York to build a nest egg. Then they sink their hard-earned cash into actual eggs, outfitting a 2003 Ford food truck to purvey four varieties of shakshuka (also spelled “shakshouka”), the tomatoey poached-egg dish that Israelis love for breakfast and all day long.

They rolled out the Shuka Truck during one of the coldest-ever New York winters.

Are they cracked?

Not at all, explains Solomon Taraboulsi, the trio’s business strategist. He and his partners, Josh Sharon and Gabriel Israel, figure that starting with a trickle of customers during the frigid winter months will prepare them to handle hordes when the weather warms up.

“It’s our first business and we need to be ready for the spring and summer, so this is our learning period,” saysTaraboulsi, 24.

Food trucks are nothing new in the Big Apple, but shakshuka-on-the-go is a novel concept and therefore risky.

Customers can watch their meal being prepared inside the truck.

Customers can watch their meal being prepared inside the truck.

“Everybody knows the food industry is one of the toughest, and as a new business it would have been easier to come with a food truck that sells familiar food because Americans like to get what they know,” Taraboulsi tells ISRAEL21c. “We came with something entirely new; most people don’t know what it is.”

Well, they do now. Since December 1, the bright yellow Shuka Truck has been parking in six different locations announced daily via social media, tempting lunchtime diners with upbeat music and exotic cuisine. The Shuka Team, as the childhood friends are dubbed, has gotten a lot of play in the press.

Love at first bite

Prices range from $9 (for a shakshuka sandwich) to $12 (for a platter with Israeli-style homemade chips and salad). Chef Gabriel Israel insists on using organic eggs, cheeses and vegetables whenever possible. The olive oil, herbs and spices are imported from Israel, and the tahini from Lebanon.

“Many people fall in love when they taste it for the first time,” Sharon tells ISRAEL21c. “And people who do know shakshuka just get crazy! They can’t believe they’re seeing this in New York.”

How do they get passersby to taste it in the first place?

Eschewing the usual free tastings, the buddies instead offer a sensory experience, says Taraboulsi, starting with the attractively designed truck, upbeat American music and wafting odors of bubbling tomato sauce. Customers can watch the entire three- or four-minute prep process.

Chef Gabriel Israel developed four varieties of shakshuka.

Chef Gabriel Israel developed four varieties of shakshuka.

“We checked, and no other food truck in the city makes and serves food the way we do. Our customers see the whole system, and they love it.”

Having learned that “Americans love to join lines,” the guys asked friends to come and queue up each time the truck appeared in a new location. “Then more people started to come and suddenly we’d have 45 people on line, smiling and dancing to the music,” says Taraboulsi.

Most importantly, he adds, many customers return next time the Shuka Truck is in their area.

Four varieties

Sharon explains that the three buddies grew up in Ra’anana, a central Israeli suburb that he calls “a great place to raise children,” and completed their military service in 2013. Then they sought their fortune in New York, along with Israel’s longtime girlfriend.

Since the age of 14, Israel had worked in his father’s Herzliya chef restaurant, Vino Socca, and Tel Aviv banquet hall. After taking a fewclasses at the Culinary Institute of America, he went to work at Boulud Sud, a midtown Mediterranean restaurant.

“I was making shakshuka for brunch there, and they were selling it for 20 bucks a dish,” he relates. The other employees started calling him “Shuka.”

The other two friends were working for a real-estate company, but all three dreamed of starting their own business. Israel’s parents urged them to think outside the box of a traditional restaurant.

“A food truck is really mobile and can show your product to everyone,” says Israel.“Opening another taco or pizza truck wouldn’t be original — New York is all about trends– so I thought to try shakshuka, something different but easy and fast to make so it meets all the criteria for a food truck.”

 A Times Square police officer shows a little love to the Shuka Team.

A Times Square police officer shows a little love to the Shuka Team.

While the dish is normally served in a bowl, the friends recreated their childhood habit of stuffing it in a baguette to make a portable sandwich.

“It’s a little messy, but not more than a burrito or a burger,” says Israel.

Using their own earnings, they bought a used food truck and refitted it with new kitchen equipment to Israel’s liking. Six months later, they opened for lunchtime business from Sunday to Friday; under private kosher supervision, the truck doesn’t operate on the Jewish Sabbath.

Israel concocted the menu with care. “Everything is fresh; we cut our salads every morning and bring as much organic stuff as we can. Our food is very soulful; you can feel the love from the food.”

In addition to traditional red shakshuka, the Shuka Truck offers green shakshuka (made with spinach, asparagus, pickled onion, zucchini and goat cheese with honey); white shakshuka (charred eggplant, mushrooms, onion, blue cheese, cumin and za’atar); and humshuka (hummus, garlic, paprika, roasted pepper and chopped cilantro).

If the Shuka Truck is successful, the buddies may expand to other American cities and maybe even to Israel.

“There’s a saying in the army that if you survive the winter you’ll be successful in the summer,” says Israel. “It’s only the beginning, and where it goes from here only the future will tell.”

For more information, click here.


19 under 19: outstanding Israelis to watch

Plenty of Israeli kids have reached the heights of success while still in their teens.

We’ve had young standouts like Mapped in Israel creator Ben Lang, serial entrepreneur Mickey Haslavsky, mobile marketing guru Tomer Hen and cyber-security wunderkind Nir Gaist.

We’ve got high-achieving teens like Shaked Reich, 16, and Eden Rozen, 17, studying physics at Tel Aviv University through a national academic accelerator program for future scientists. We have high-tech entrepreneurs like Iddo Gino, 17, and Reuven Karasik, 16. We have recording artists like Hatrempistim (The Hitchhikers) – Haifa high school seniors Idan Kogan, Tom Bunzel, Tom Goldstein and Tomer Borenstein.

The Hitchhikers released their second album, "I Like Where This is Going," in February.

The Hitchhikers released their second album, “I Like Where This is Going,” in February.

Listed below alphabetically are 19 of the most accomplished Israelis under the age of 19, excelling in music, sports, academia and business.If you know of others, we’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

1Linoy Ashram, 15, started competing in rhythmic gymnastics internationally in 2011 and won the all-around gold at the 2014 Junior Grand Prix Final in Innsbruck, Austria. She is a two-time Israeli Junior National Champion and earned bronze medals in clubs and ribbon at the 2014 European Junior Championships, qualifying her for the Israeli delegation to the Youth Olympics Games.


2. Or Assulin, 17, is one of 14 outstanding Israelis chosen to light an Independence Day torch at the annual ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on April 22. The teen from Acre (Akko) heads an enterprise to develop young entrepreneurs, and studies brain science at ORT Braude College of Engineering once a week through Atidim, an advanced science program for the top 10 to 30 percent of high school students from Israeli periphery towns.

Or Asulin

Or Assulin

3. Motti Fang Bentov, 17, son of a Chinese mother and Israeli father, began playing piano at five. At age 10, he appeared as a soloist with Symphony RG in Rishon LeZion and won first prize in the Chopin Competition in Tel Aviv. He has since won several national prizes and scholarships, and performed twice in New York. He now studies with Prof. Tomer Lev at the Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv.

4. Avital Boruchovsky, 17, became the 2014 European Youth U18 Chess Champion after winning a four-hour game against a Spanish opponent last October. The 12th-grader from Rehovot won both the 2012 European Individual Chess Championship and the 2013 European Club Cup, and was crowned the youngest Israeli Grand Master in January 2014. He plays four hours a day at the Kfar Saba Chess Club.

Avital Boruchovsky (Photo: Przemysław Jahr/Wikimedia Commons)

Avital Boruchovsky (Photo: Przemysław Jahr/Wikimedia Commons)

5. Linoy Dalmidi, 13½, recently lectured before 1,000 people at a Bar-Ilan University Night of Scientists event about her experience as a science reporter for Young Galileo, Israel’s popular science magazine for kids. She writes a monthly column, “Diary of a Young Researcher.” Linoy is also an accomplished opera singer whose soprano voice recently earned her first place In a singing competition.

6. Tzuf Feldon, 16, is considered Israel’s leading junior gymnast. Last summer she placed first in uneven bars, beam and floor events in the national junior championships (which were interrupted briefly by an incoming rocket from Gaza). She’s competed in Hungary and Czechoslovakia and is a likely future Olympian.


7. Maya Fishman, 16, is a first-year medical student in Tsameret, the Elite Military Medicine Track at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine in Jerusalem. She is set to become Israel’s youngest doctor when she graduates at 22 and enters active service. Maya aced her college-entrance exams at 14 and won a competition for exceptional Bible students at Bar-Ilan University.

8. Yulia Gordichuk, 16, is a Paralympic swimmer with a prosthetic leg. A panel at the Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sports chose her “Most Promising Young Athlete” for 2014, calling her an outstanding example of an accomplished athlete with a disability. Yulia placed fourth in the 400-meter freestyle in this year’s European Championships in the Netherlands, assuring her a spot on Israel’s Paralympic squad.

Yulia Gordichuk.

Yulia Gordichuk.

9. Nadav Guedj, 16, will represent Israel in the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna this May following his victory in the TV singing competition Kochav Haba (Rising Star) on February 17. Nadav, the youngest contestant, wowed the judges and voting viewers with his renditions of John Legend’s “All of Me” and Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love.”

10. Marc Hinnawi, 17, set a new record for his age group when he won a gold medal in swimming at the 2013 Youth Olympic Games in Holland. He finished the 400-meter freestyle heat in 3:57.73. Marc, an Arab-Israeli from Jaffa, is expected to compete at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

11.  Ariel Lanyi, 17, began playing piano at age two and has performed across Israel and in London, Paris, Rome, Prague and Belfast. In 2012, Ariel released “Romantic Profiles,” a recital album featuring works by Schumann, Liszt, Brahms and Janacek. He studies piano, violin, chamber music and composition at the High School and Conservatory of the Jerusalem Academy of Music, and is concertmaster of the High School and Conservatory Orchestra.

Concertmaster Ariel Lanyi.

Concertmaster Ariel Lanyi.

12. Neta Mark, 18, is making her mark in international modeling circles and is represented in Tel Aviv and Paris. She has said that kids in school used to make fun of her disproportionate body and thick lips, but agencies love her unusual look. Watch for more of it in print ads and runways.

Neta Mark in an ad for Hairgonomics.

Neta Mark in an ad for Hairgonomics

13. Tal Mordoch, 16, became Israel’s first national yo-yo champion in 2014, and captured second place in the 2015 European Yo-Yo Championship held in Poland on March 5-7.  Tal, who lives in Ramat Hasharon, is now training for the world championships in Tokyo to be held in August.

14. Yshai Oliel, 14, captured two Junior Orange Bowl tennis titles in two years. He bested Taiwan’s Chen-jui Ho in the finals of the international tournament in Florida on December 23 last year, becoming only the ninth male in the tourney’s 53-year history to win both the Boys 12 and Boys 14 title. He’s likely to be Israel’s next Dudi Sela or Andy Ram.

Yshai Oliel on the tennis court.

Yshai Oliel on the tennis court.

15. Ido Shkuri, 17, is an MVP guard on Israel’s national basketball wheelchair team for athletes under 22. Ido was an avid soccer and tennis player until four years ago, when surgery to remove a tumor in his pelvis left him unable to walk without crutches. His talent for wheelchair basketball was discovered at the ILAN Foundation for Handicapped Children’s Ramat Gan sports facility. In September 2014, he was part of Israel’s first delegation to the European Championship team of young disabled athletes, held in Spain.

16. Avraham Terifa, 16, made history in 2013 when he became the first Ethiopian Israeli to be accepted to the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Since then, the young violinist from Jerusalem has performed solos with the Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He began his training at age eight at the Jerusalem Conservatory’s Hassadna program.

Ido Shkuri (photo: Nimrod Glickman).

Ido Shkuri (photo: Nimrod Glickman).

17. Nicole Trosman, 18, is considered a table-tennis prodigy, winning the European Youth Championships in 2011. She played for Israel at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing last August and is expected to represent Israel at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. Her father, a table-tennis coach, started her on the sport when she was six and a half.

18. Eyal Walach, 12, is studying for a BA in mathematics and physics at Bar-Ilan University. In fourth grade, the Hod Hasharon youth took an exam normally administered to seventh-graders by Bar-Ilan’s Center for the Advancement of Mathematical Sciences. His results were so outstanding that he was offered an opportunity to take the high-school matriculation exam, which he aced. Eyal is expected to earn his bachelor’s degree before he turns 15.

19. Raz Zuaretz, 17, was last year’s youth recipient of the Presidential Medal for Volunteerism. He began volunteering at age 12 in the Netanya chapter of Krembo Wings, a national voluntary organization for children with special needs. Later he was elected coordinator of all Krembo Wings mentors,giving him responsibility for managing 80 volunteers aged 14-18. Raz also volunteers with Latet, collecting holiday essentials for needy families, and with Psagot, which mentors high-potential children from disadvantaged backgrounds.