New Director of the Authority for Economic Development of Ar...
New Director of the Authority for Economic Development of Arab Society
In December 2020, Hassan Tawafra began his tenure as the new director of the Authority for Economic Development of Arab Society within the Ministry of Social Equality. The Authority promotes and manages programs that aim to reduce socioeconomic gaps between Arab and Jewish citizens and improve Arab integration into the Israeli economy. In this capacity, Hassan will oversee wide-ranging programs to improve the socio-economic well-being of Arab citizens of Israel and corresponding budgets.
Hassan is the second director of the authority. He fills the position after a two-year vacancy following the 2018 departure of founding director, Aiman Saif, who was selected to establish the office in 2008.
Taking over at a critical moment, Hassan is optimistic precisely because of the untapped potential. He explains, “The socio-economic development of Arab society is critical to the entire country. Arab society today does not contribute or realize its potential. If we learn to find its growth engines and bring about real integration, the investment of a NIS 10 billion plan over five years alone will lead to an increase of NIS 36 billion in GDP.”
Despite being one of the youngest public servants to lead a government authority, Hassan brings significant experience to the role including implementing economic reforms and restructuring in government companies, business development and innovation, financial oversight and compliance. Between 2017 and 2020, Hassan served in the Government Corporations Authority where he was appointed Deputy Director before the age of 30. A certified public accountant, Hassan worked at the corporate division of KPMG Israel, an accounting firm, and in the Israeli Securities Authority where he supervised the field of real estate companies. He is one of the very few individuals who made it into both Forbes Magazine 30 under 30, and The Marker’s Magazine 40 under 40.
Planning for ‘923’
Hassan took on the lead role at the Authority just as GR-9221, which was spearheaded and overseen by the Authority, completed its fifth and final year. Due to the Coronavirus crisis and lack of government budget, the plan was extended through 2021. Now, the Authority is overseeing and monitoring implementation of remaining GR-922 budgets while planning for ‘923’—an ambitious follow-up plan that will hopefully be approved by the next Israeli administration.
Expectations are that a new five-year plan will not only continue to build on GR-922, but also address the significant challenges created and intensified by the COVID-19 crisis in Arab society—not least of which is a sharp rise in violent crime in Arab communities, poverty and unemployment rates in Arab society that risk erasing gains made over the last decade.
In addition to the core fields addressed by 922 like housing and infrastructure, local capacity building, employment, education and higher education, Hassan is committed to promoting inclusion of additional areas that were not part of the original five year plan but have emerged as new strategic priorities. Among these, formalizing a gap year program to provide a framework and support for Arab young adults post-high school, and creating financial solutions to enhance access to credit and capital.
While vastly different programmatically, both gap year expansion and financial inclusion are considered vital to reducing violent crime and creating opportunities for Arab young adults to reach their potential.
Nearly 40% of young Arabs can be classified as NEETS (not in employment, education or training). With too much time and few options, at worst, many are vulnerable to recruitment by criminal organizations. At best, they remain unemployment or underemployed at a formative period of their adult lives. A post-high school gap year program that provides structure, personal and professional development, language skills, and support integrating into higher education or the workforce could be ground-breaking for reducing NEETS.
Barriers to financial options for Arab citizens, on the other hand, fuels criminal organizations who fill a credit vacuum with predatory and illegal lending. Currently, Arab citizens make up only 2% of Israel's mortgage holders and are more likely to be unbanked or underbanked. Hassan hopes the Economic Development Authority can begin to make the underlying changes this reality and has initiated steps to develop solutions in close collaboration with the banking system, governmental agencies, and prominent figures in Arab society.