Remarks
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of the Spokesman
Jerusalem
March 3, 2009


MS. GUTMAN: Welcome, Madame Secretary.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Bonnie.

MS. GUTMAN: We are all very honored for you to be here with us today. We’ve got an exciting group of women, a dynamic NGO that I’m very happy to introduce to you today. The women who drive it are very exciting. The group is called Sviva Tomechet, which in English means “Supportive Community.” It’s a women’s business development center. Four business women, all new immigrants from the former Soviet Union in 2003, founded this group to support and promote women from all sectors of society in their economic and social integration into Israeli mainstream. And they had a secret; they developed a niche: they decided to help women by supporting their micro-business enterprises.

And one of your guests today, Diana Ahdout, co-produced a video about Supportive Community, and that video was placed among the finalists in an international video competition sponsored by the State Department. That was our competition called, “My Culture + Your Culture = ?” Now, Diana did a good job of answering that question mark, I think, because she participated in a State Department training program on the use of new media.

But now I’d like to introduce you to the other women here, and then we can go on with our program.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Great.

MS. GUTMAN: Seated on your left is Ms. Yulia Reznikov. Yulia is co-founder and vice chair of the organization, and she’s now the program director there. She also heads a clinic for alternative medicine.

To your right is Rachel Farada. Rachel was born in Ethiopia and she started a catering company following a course that she took at Supportive Community. And you’re going to see her very shortly because she stars in the video that we’re going to see.

Seated next to Rachel is Hagit Rubinstein, and Hagit is a Hubert Humphrey Fellow alumnae, having completed a year at the American University in Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Excellent.

MS. GUTMAN: Now she works for a foundation that, with Supportive Community, provides the only micro-credit loan program in Israel for women.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, really?

MS. GUTMAN: Yes.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have to talk.

MS. RUBINSTEIN: We should.

MS. GUTMAN: And next to Hagit, again, is Diana. Diana, as I said, co-produced that video. She also, when she’s not doing video production, coordinates community relations and volunteers for the organization.

And seated next to me is Marina Savizky, who was born in Russia and began her flower business after she took a course in Supportive Community. And she received in 2008 that organization’s best business award. And you will also see Marina in the film.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Great.

MS. GUTMAN: But now that you’ve heard me talk, I would like to ask the co-founder of the organization, Yulia, to tell you a little bit about her community and about the video.

MS. REZNIKOV: (In Hebrew.)

MS. GUTMAN: The film will be here in English.

SECRETARY CLINTON: The film is in English?

MS. GUTMAN: Yes, it is.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay, great.

MS. GUTMAN: And it’s subtitled, anyway. And there were actually 40 videos selected across the world in four different categories, and this was in the top ten for international.

(The video was shown. http://connectcontest.state.gov/video/supportive-community_2)

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s great. Excellent.

MS. GUTMAN: Let me start by asking a question, if I may.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, please.

MS. GUTMAN: Marina, your excitement for your business is so palpable, but I don’t think you got that excitement from Supportive Community; I think that came with you. But can you tell us a little bit about what you did learn from Supportive Community and how that did help you develop your business?

MS. SAVIZKY: (In Hebrew.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s right.

MS. GUTMAN: And I think, Rachel, you have a very interesting story also. Perhaps you can share that with the Secretary?

MS. FARADA: (In Hebrew.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I am so happy you came to see me. And I loved seeing one of your children, that handsome young man, one of your sons.

MS. GUTMAN: Actually, Yulia, you have a daughter. Would you encourage your daughter to go into business for herself?

MS. REZNIKOV: (In Hebrew.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a good example.

MS. GUTMAN: And taking courses at Supportive Community, 50 percent of the women who have been through your courses have doubled their income.

MS. REZNIKOV: (In Hebrew.)

MS. GUTMAN: Ah, excuse me. So those courses are very valuable. Do you want to tell us a little bit more about them?

MS. REZNIKOV: (In Hebrew.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I would like to know a little bit more about the way the micro-finance works because I’ve worked in this area for probably 25 years or so. It would be very interesting to me to find out how that works. Do the women come to Supportive Community and then apply for loans? What’s the model that you use, Hagit?

MS. RUBINSTEIN: Well, first of all, I must say that there’s very little microfinance in Israel.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.

MS. RUBINSTEIN: Very little.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I was surprised when you said there was only one program for women.

MS. RUBINSTEIN: Actually, there are two programs. One is the one that we’re talking here, which is a micro-credit loan fund, and another one that we’re doing with the Arab Bedouin women in the south of Israel, which is based on the Grameen model of Solidarity Group, et cetera. The way it works with Supportive Community is that women – actually, our trainers and consultants go to them and help them, go to their house, go to (inaudible) house (inaudible) and help them create the business plan – small business plan, after they’ve been through a training. And then they kind of get a work plan. It’s a process that they go through to create – to get the loan. It’s not just, they get the money and bye.

I think that the hardest thing for – we were just talking with (inaudible) before because she really wants to take a loan, and the hardest thing is personally. Women are reluctant to take credit. They’re afraid because they usually pay.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Right. It’s almost like 98 percent, yes.

MS. RUBINSTEIN: Yeah. So because they pay back, they worry, will I be able to pay back? So they’re very slow about it. We believe that a loan can really make your business jump and – but it’s a lot of personal things that have to –

SECRETARY CLINTON: Where did the initial seed money for the microfinance come from?

MS. RUBINSTEIN: Right now, most of it is coming from donors in the U.S. A co-ed foundation in San Francisco is one of the big – actually the founder of this program. The truth is that one of the problems – I think one of the reasons why it’s so small is because Israel is not considered a developed country – a developing country.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.

MS. RUBINSTEIN: Some say it’s a question. It’s a question. It’s not a developing country, so an organization like USAID, Save the Children, FINCA, all those will not – do not come here because we’re not poor enough. But (inaudible) there are a lot of poor people in Israel. So we’re kind of stuck. We don’t have the scale, you know, the money to make it big, so we hope. But right now it’s very small, and we have big plans about making it national, reaching a lot more women. But it’s still a drop in the sea.

SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s very exciting, though. I’m a very, very strong believer in the power of microfinance. Diana, you worked on the film didn’t you?

MS. AHDOUT: Yes.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Had you heard about this program before or were you asked to do the film by the program?

MS. AHDOUT: (In Hebrew.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s a wonderful story that you now have a business doing business like this. I think that’s a great compliment to you.

And, Yulia, when you started the program, was one of your goals to have it be both supportive for women, but also to bring in the variety of women in Israel, so it’s Jewish and Arabic, and it’s different racial backgrounds?

MS. REZNIKOV: (In Hebrew.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I know that Hagit said that it is challenging for anyone to go into business. Are there special obstacles for women in Israel to go into business, Marina?

MS. SAVIZKY: (In Hebrew.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think everyone has a different story, and each person has to follow her own interests and deal with her own talents and challenges. But I decided, when I was a young woman, to become a lawyer. I think that was a good decision for me because I learned a lot about how to present arguments and how to study problems and analyze them. I have practiced law, but I’ve also done these other things.

I think it’s just a question of continuing to learn – like all of you have done – by coming to the Supportive Community, finding people who will invest in you – as this NGO does – so that there are good models and mentors around to help you, and working really hard.

I don’t think there’s any substitute for hard work. I wish there were. But I think it’s a question of being willing to try even when it’s hard, not being afraid to fail if it’s something you want to do. Because every experience in life teaches you something, and that just adds to your ability to try something new.

I am particularly happy to hear about this NGO, because I have long believed that women helping women is one of the best ways for us to try out new things. Because if you’re in a woman-supported environment, you may be less worried about looking like you don’t know what you’re doing or failing or trying something and not succeeding.

I think this is exactly the kind of model that needs to be replicated, because you need a safe, supportive community to test your own dreams and your own talents. It does require taking risks, as Hagit said. And lots of times, women are less inclined to do that than men. Sometimes we think men take unnecessary risks, but then the opposite side of the coin is sometimes women won’t take necessary risks. It comes with the territory, as we say.

I think part of the importance of what you’re doing is you’ve created this safe space. I think it’s as needed now as it ever has been.

There are many more opportunities for women, even from the time that I was a young woman. But it still is challenging, and especially if you have children, you have obligations at home, if – you may be a new immigrant. Those are all challenges you have to overcome.

I really commend you and I am very proud that the State Department, Bonnie, and her colleagues here in Israel – but colleagues like her around the world – are reaching out with this important cultural program.

I wish you success as we get to the finals. I think there were over 800 applications worldwide.

MS. GUTMAN: A huge number.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Even more than that. So you are down to 1 in 40, did you say?

MS. GUTMAN: Mm-hmm.

SECRETARY CLINTON: So you’ve already done extremely well with telling your story and having it so well presented. I’m just happy that you could come and spend some time with me so I could see you in person and see the good work that the State Department is doing, but more importantly, the good work that all of you are doing.

Thank you all very much.



PRN: 2009/T2-9