Ten billion dollars. This is the estimated sum that the Government of Israel is investing in order to move major army bases to the Negev (in the south of Israel). It is clear that this investment presents a potential turning point for the southern Israeli periphery, an opportunity to improve the quality of life for thousands of residents in the region. Yet, this promising potential can easily be missed if the local authorities do not taking active roles in the planning and implementation of this complex process, in order to benefit from it.
How is this challenge connected to our work? Just a few months ago, our municipal team was interviewing mayors in the South. In light of the positive results of our municipal work in the Western and Eastern Galilee, where we connected municipal leaders to one another to collectively create long-term development strategies, we thought to implement a similar strategy to boost the Negev.
Comprising 55% of Israel’s landmass, yet only about 8% of the country’s population, the Negev is filled with both opportunities and problems. Many of the development towns that were created in the 1950’s are still underdeveloped, and approximately 70,000 of the Bedouin residents of the area are living in unrecognized towns and villages. In addition, there are significant gaps between the various municipalities in the region, in terms of their socio-economic level and local capacity. This combination has created not only poverty and lack of opportunity, but feelings of helplessness and desperation. Ben-Gurion famously noted that Israel’s future lies in the Negev, but this region is far from reaching its potential.
What we heard, from almost all the mayors we interviewed in the Negev, is their concern towards the upcoming move of the army bases. Instead of looking forward to what was clearly an unprecedented opportunity to boost the region, they felt uncertainty and doubt. There emerged a need to increase their dialogue with the Ministry of Defense, and to establish innovative platforms for cooperation. Another challenge was to forge cooperation among the mayors themselves, to work together as a group to create regional involvement in the process.
As a result of these meetings, we developed a plan called Negev Circles, which aims to enhance cooperation and create long-term regional development strategies in the Negev. It involves local mayors, representatives of the Ministry of Defense and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), senior government officials, and leaders of the non-profit sector. By forming a multi-sector dialogue, we are creating the opportunity for stimulating collaboration that will impact the future of the region.
The essence of the Negev Circles program will be the creation of task forces made up of representatives from the various bodies, who themselves will decide which areas to focus on (for example education, employment, housing and transportation). These task forces will work together towards a common goal with the mandate to create real change in the Negev region. In the short-term this will involve planning workshops and the creation of the task forces; and in the longer-term the development of regional development strategies.
The Institute’s role is to identify and convene the partners, develop the mechanisms for cooperation, facilitate the workshops, provide ongoing support to the leaders involved, and oversee the program to ensure its successful operation
:Our partners in this endeavor
– Mayors/Chairpersons of the various local municipalities and councils in the Negev
– Representatives of the Ministry of Defense, and of the IDF’s Relocation to the Negev Transition Authority
– Representatives of the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee
– Representatives of major institutions in the Negev (for example, Ben-Gurion University and Soroka Hospital), and leaders of the non-profit sector
Negev Circles is supported by the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee. Its official launch will take place on February 22 in the southern city of Dimona. The Minister of Defense and the Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galilee will be attending, as will 22 mayors, generals, and leaders of the non-profit sector.
This program is a prime example of what the JDC Institute for Leadership and Governance is all about – multi-sector collaborations aimed at achieving high-impact.
All the best,