Source: Australian Financial Review
Author: Johanna Pitman
1st June 2016
On a recent visit to Israel with 36 women leaders, led by Lucy Turnbull and Jillian Segal, I was struck by one major difference in our oft-compared innovation ecosystems. More than the skills and research base, diversity of thinking, access to finance, and a supportive government environment – all cited as factors that foster new ventures and a thriving knowledge economy – attitude seemed to be the underlying factor that differentiates Sydney from Israel.
In Sydney, we’ve become used to the prevailing negativity that permeates both what we’ve already built and what we endeavour to create for our future. We’ve become used to hearing about how hard it is, how we’re not doing enough, how it’s not good enough, how we’re not good enough and that there are always people and places better than us. And my goodness, we actually believe it.
In direct contrast to this, the mindset presented to us in Israel is overwhelmingly positive. Achievements are heralded, obstacles are addressed and the outlook is irrepressibly optimistic. Where else is compulsory military service (for men and women) embraced so widely by the business community and seen as an important economic driver?
When all the factors are examined, Sydney is actually on par with Israel in many areas, but what we lack is the encouraging and constructive marketing, PR and downright positive attitude.
So what are the similarities between Israel and Sydney? A young population and a big pool of educated migrants. Tick. A strong educational and research system. Tick. An inventiveness due to our geography. Tick. A motivated and successful diaspora overseas. Tick. Interconnected business and social networks with only a few degrees of separation. Tick.
On top of this, Sydney is at a point of massive investment in public transport infrastructure, globally renowned for our outdoor lifestyle, and regarded as a must-see destination – these are enviable assets in the competition for global talent to fuel the knowledge economy.
And in many respects Sydney doesn’t face the obstacles that Israel does. Religious tensions, safety concerns, threats of terrorism, negative perceptions internationally, conscription and a notable percentage of the population that is not in productive employment (due to religion) are all drains on the Israeli economy.
During my visit I was lucky enough to visit many exciting entrepreneurial ventures and hear many inspiring Israelis speak about their businesses and their country. There were three words that came up repeatedly to describe Israelis and came to encapsulate the essence of Israel. The first was chutzpah, meaning a boldness and courage with a nothing-to-lose attitude. The second was pragmatism; they’re not overly caught up in legal red tape, they just want to make it happen. And lastly, zest. They move quickly and they’re direct.
So what three words would we use to describe a Sydneysider if we were to shake off the cloak of negativity?
Gutsy would be a good one. Of course we can build a gravity defying Opera House on reclaimed land next to an eight-lane bridge built when the horse and cart was still the preferred mode of transport!
Number two would be pioneering; we’ve got a track record of world-class innovation and creativity and are early adopters of many technological innovations that are now commonplace.
Lastly, we could try passionate on for size. We love our city and perhaps that’s the reason we complain so bitterly when we think it’s being hard done by.
Debunk the whine
Melbourne has no problem in singing its own praises, talking up its attributes and qualities and celebrating its assets and, actually, we quite respect that. We must do more to debunk the whine that Sydney is simply lacking. It’s become a knee-jerk reaction to bag Sydney and if we’re not careful, this doom saying will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Let’s learn from our friends in Israel and celebrate what we have, what our optimistic migrant population see when they come to our city and start to market ourselves as we should.
Johanna Pitman is the deputy CEO/head of operations for the Committee for Sydney, an independent think tank and champion for a globally competitive, resilient and liveable Sydney. The Women Leaders Trade Mission to Israel (May 13-19) was organised by the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce.
Read the full piece at the AFR