December 21, 2009

Webventures: Harnessing the Web to Promote Self-Sufficiency

Israel's low workforce participation rate reflects a range of cultural, behavioral and regulatory obstacles to employment. These include language and disability, as well as lack of experience, soft skills or formal education. Chronically unemployed Israelis, such as adults with disabilities who face stigma, or immigrant adults in Israel's periphery who lack cultural and geographical access to employment – need support to surmount these barriers in order to achieve financial independence.

JDC's Webventures trains chronically unemployed Israelis in Internet entrepreneurship: a more accessible means of employment. That is, it can be home-based; experience and large overhead are not required; and language and culture are not apparent to the customer and may be utilized to reach niche markets. Participants learn the technical, business, marketing and legal aspects of starting a web-based business and are assigned a mentor to guide them through the process.

Most recently, business owners in Israel's southern conflict zone have experienced a major downturn in trade due to the ongoing security situation and the change in consumer culture whereby residents only shop when absolutely necessary. These entrepreneurs need to market their wares beyond the local economy, but lack the means, knowledge and tools. JDC has adapted and expanded Webventures to help them do so via the web. Business owners are helped to develop websites and receive guidance in web-marketing their products to expand their potential client base in Israel and around the globe. The project is creating long-term viability for these businesses, especially important in the event conflict re-ignites.

Client Profile: Dror

Dror is no stranger to adversity. As a child, undiagnosed learning disorders kept her moving from school to school. By the time she was a teenager, Dror was masking her frustration with drugs and alcohol and having left her home, living with foster families. For years, Dror battled multiple addictions – from food to spending – finally overcoming them in the late 1990s.

Yet new challenges quickly arose. In May 2000, following medical investigations of recurring stomach problems, Dror fell into a coma from which she awoke blind and paralyzed. Once again, Dror was being asked to start anew. Not only had Dror lost her mobility and her sight, she was forced to leave her job as a caregiver to the elderly and people with disabilities as well.

After an initial recovery period, Dror was determined to take full control of her life. She decided she wanted to share her story with Israeli youth to inspire them to overcome obstacles in their lives. She began traveling the country, speaking to schools and youth groups about her life but soon realized she needed an effective way to publicize her effort.

Now Webventures is there to help. By providing her with the skills she needs to create a professional website and market it over the Internet, Webventures is helping Dror turn her life story into both a successful business and an inspiration to others.

As Webventures helps Dror turn a voluntary venture into a career as a motivational speaker, it is not only increasing her audience, it is allowing her to become self-sufficient and self-fulfilled.

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