Abigail Klein Leichman
September 14, 2014, Updated March 7, 2016
Malvina Goldfeld has traveled the world but loves living in seaside Jaffa.
Malvina Goldfeld has traveled the world but loves living in seaside Jaffa.

Malvina Goldfeld, PayPal’s 32-year-old head of business development for Africa, lived one summer in a Japanese village. When she asked to join her host on a fishing trip, he warned that even men got seasick on the boat. “It’s not a good place for a woman,” he told her.

“Well, now he got me. I was going to go at any cost,” Goldfeld relates in a TEDxTelAvivWomen presentation last December. Refusing his offer of seasickness pills (“I’m not some wimpy college kid; I’m an Israeli woman!”), she spent seven hours at sea keeping her nausea in check through sheer willpower.

“The problem with letting people put you in a box because of your gender or your ethnic identity or any other category is that your behavior shifts to conform to their expectations,” says Goldfeld. “Don’t let anyone put you in a box and set your limits. Only you do that for yourself.”

Born in Moldova, she immigrated to Israel with her family on her eighth birthday. The gifted youngster from Ashdod was selected at age 13 to join the Israeli delegation to the Seeds of Peace summer camp in Maine for outstanding teens from conflict regions.

“Being with talented kids from across the Middle East, discussing big issues and what we can do about the future, gave me a taste of what I could do outside of Ashdod,” she tells ISRAEL21c. Today she serves on the Seeds of Peace global leadership council.

Goldfeld has a bachelor’s degree in public and international affairs from Princeton, a master’s degree in business from Stanford, speaks five languages fluently and three passably, and spent time doing research and/or working in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Japan and Vietnam. Since June 2013, she’s been traveling extensively through sub-Saharan Africa in her role for PayPal.

“It’s super important to broaden your horizons and learn to see and understand other cultures and be empathetic to others’ points of view,” she says. “And it’s fun.”

Developing individuality

During her last two years of high school, Goldfeld was one of 200 handpicked students from 80 countries at the United World College (UWC) campus in Vancouver, Canada.

“Our school was like a global village. I had always felt like an individual, maybe because of being an immigrant, but being one of three Israelis on campus helped develop my sense of individuality,” she says.

Goldfeld is a founder and adviser of the Eastern Mediterranean International School, which just opened in Kfar Hayarok, based on the UWC model. Students will focus on environmental and economic sustainability and entrepreneurship.

Goldfeld helped found a new international high school in Israel.
Goldfeld helped found a new international high school in Israel.

“We’ll initially have 60 kids, 40 percent of them Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian, and the rest from all around the world,” says Goldfeld, who came back to Israel after high school to serve in the communications unit of the Israeli air force.

“I was always very connected to Israel, so I came back to do my military service like the rest of my friends,” she says. When she finished Princeton, she decided to come back to Israel and get a “real job.”

“After learning everything from Brazilian film to macroeconomics, I wasn’t sure what I could do. I can BS about anything; it’s one of my most important skills,” she says with a laugh.

Inroads in Africa

Goldfeld joined global management consulting company McKinsey as a business analyst for Israel and Europe. “That was an amazing way to build a career while being in Israel and not compromise,” she says. “The people there are talented and fun, and I ended up marrying one of them.”

She and Roy Hefer did not start dating until six years after she left McKinsey, and wed last May. In the intervening years, she went to Stanford, worked at a private equity firm in Vietnam and served as vice president of Battery Ventures, an Israeli early-stage venture capital fund for Israeli and European tech companies.

At PayPal (“my best job so far”), Goldfeld handles strategic partnerships with leading banks in Africa and is responsible for expanding PayPal’s business through sales and marketing.

“It’s like running a small startup out of PayPal,” she says. “Africa is still a fairly new market for us, and it’s wonderful to see the changes taking place on the continent in the past decade. There is a growing middle class and impressive penetration of technology, and it’s amazing to be part of that.”

When she mentors girls with leadership potential in Bat Yam through Kol Israel Haverim’s program Cracking the Glass Ceiling, Goldfeld encourages them to go into high-tech or other scientific fields.

“The goal is to be a personal role model and show them what a woman can do, which is often different from the models they see around them,” says the Jaffa resident and yoga enthusiast.

Her parents encourage all her activities but sometimes question her frequent travels.

“It would be missing out on life to stay in one place,” she explains. However, she adds, “It helped me to have this grounding and to know that Israel is my home, to know I haven’t lost my sense of identity and values.”

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