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Helping Israelis break through the digital divide

Posted By Karin Kloosterman On February 3, 2008 @ 8:39 am In | No Comments

Counsellors from Israel and other Mediterranean countries meet in Morocco and Turkey to prepare for Cisco’s new communications technology projects launched in Israel.Recognizing that kids from the Middle East and the Mediterranean region socialize differently from their Western counterparts, computer systems manufacturer Cisco Systems – with a leading sales and R&D center in Israel – has developed new virtual networking tools intended to strengthen both Israel’s Arab and Jewish communities.

Last week, the computer giant launched two online projects – the Mediterranean Youth Technology Club (MYTecC), and Digital Cities – worth a total of $2.5 million. They were unveiled in the presence of Cisco chairman and CEO John Chambers, and Israel’s President Shimon Peres.

These two new projects join more than 20 different technology-related projects developed by Cisco that aim to improve relations between Israeli Jews and Arabs in the cities of Nazareth and Nazareth Illit. The projects are also expected to strengthen economic development and promote social change in healthcare, tourism, education and civil services via the use of Internet technologies.

The purpose of the new projects are twofold: on one level, the networking tools are designed as peacebuilders, by allowing youth from different communities, who might not otherwise meet, to communicate and share media and cultural experiences.

On a second level, the projects aim to act as an equalizer, by giving technological education and English skills to less privileged kids. The hope is that in the near future these youth will become part of Israel’s flourishing high-tech community, known for its sensational R&D capabilities and entrepreneurialism.

“We are showing students how to be citizens of the world,” says Zika Abzuk, head of Cisco’s Public Benefit Investment in Europe, to ISRAEL21c. “When they grow up they will be the business and social leaders of the region. Our aim is that they will create a network among each other and will one day do business with each other.”

The new communication tools are based on Cisco’s Web 2.0 technology, says Abzuk, and will connect to other social platforms already set in place throughout the region.

As opposed to favorite American applications like Facebook and MySpace, where people can communicate one-on-one, Abzuk says that youth in this region tend to socialize differently than American kids. “Community is much more important here, both in Israel, and also in the other Middle Eastern countries,” she says.

Cisco’s first project MYTecC will serve that need. MYTecC will be a virtual community of 400 kids aged 15-16 from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus, Yemen, Morocco and Portugal. This project was developed after the success of the Net@ program in Israel which currently has over 2,000 participating students from 24 towns around Israel.

In the new project, the youngsters will be trained in a two-year course, which will give them the technological skills needed to either enter the high-tech workforce straightaway, or continue on in advanced studies.

As part of the course, the students will be invited to conference calls, chats and forums, and will learn how to work together in a professional capacity.

The second Cisco project, called Digital Cities, is expected to promote local tourism and education between the Arab-Israeli population of Nazareth, and their predominantly Jewish neighbors in Upper Nazareth.

As an example, doctors from the Nazareth region who often need to travel to cities such as Tel Aviv for seminars, will be able to attend courses through videoconferencing capabilities instead.

To celebrate the rollout of the two projects, last week the cities of Nazareth and Upper Nazareth were declared “Internet cities” by Cisco’s CEO Chambers and Peres; Internet services and communications systems will be installed so they can be accessed by those in need.

“It’s an important event,” says Abzuk. “Now is the right time to launch such projects, because before today, the technology wasn’t available that could let kids mirror each others’ cultures.”

In recent years, Cisco has purchased nine Israeli companies totaling $1 billion and now employs 750 people in Israel. The company’s Netanya center is considered to be one of the company’s most important sites worldwide.

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