«If the peace process were in the hands of entrepreneurs…»
Jacob Burak talks to Sara Hejazi 29 October 2009

We would like to know more about your work and how it relates to the local context of Israel.

I am an entrepreneur who has spent 35 years in the world of finance and even though I did well, I still feel it did not come naturally to me. As I say in the book “Do Chimpanzees Dream of Retirement?” there are things that do not come naturally to some people and finance did not come naturally to me. There are people born to work in world of finance and some who are not. The naturals are those who are very quick to assess a business opportunity and are good with numbers. Those without a natural gift are equipped with patience and discipline, but not instant talent. These are a very different set of skills. They will both be successful, but those to whom it does not come naturally are exhausted by the end of the day, while the naturals will be surprised that the day has actually ended, since they have been so engaged. So at the moment I am doing only one thing, and that is writing. I have written a second book, about the ‘noise’ present in our lives and how to deal with it. Now I will start on a third book which will be about regrets. I also write a personal column every month in an Israeli magazine specialising in psychology and financial issues, mostly the behavioural aspects of finance. Finance does not only involve exchanges and mathematics. It also involves people and their psychology. So, in a way, I try to humanize finance and return a human dimension to what is normally perceived only as mechanical, rational and logical.

Another important aspect of your work involves social activism…

Yes, I used to be the chairman of the Israeli association for social responsibility called “Maala”, which encourages the world of finance and businesses to raise their level of social awareness and responsibility. If you think about it, this involves minority rights and ethics applied to the community. Modern society made finance its priority some 140 years ago. Companies have been organized so as to limit their responsibilities. If an entrepreneur goes into business today and fails, the only money that a bank can recover is the money that belongs to the company, not his home, not his car. Hence, in terms of the guarantees, a company’s responsibility is limited to how much it is worth. No one would run the risk of doing any business if their own assets were at risk. So as to limit the extent of risk, society has allowed companies operate under limited liability, without, however, asking for anything in return for this privilege. So social responsibility means, for the first time, that society asks for something in return for those rights, such as work ethics or an ecological approach to production.

The other activity I am involved in is called “rounding up”. This mainly consists in asking credit card providers to send clients letter requesting them to round up each transaction to the next euro. The money accumulated from your rounding up is donated, based on personal choice, to one of 50 charities screened by us at a national level. We are trying to apply the same principle with cell phone and electricity company, asking them to round up clients’ bills so that the idea will spread to the whole of Israel. We also research the various charities so people can really choose to donate to the most active ones.

Do you believe that social responsibility will help the peace process in the Middle East?

Sadly I do not think so. Unfortunately this process is in the hands of politicians and not entrepreneurs. If it were in the hands of entrepreneurs I believe the process would be more practical and less emotional.

In your second book you speak about noise. Can we consider religious conflicts “noises” as well?

The book deals with all kind of noises in our life; external noise, information, medical information etc. But it mainly addresses internal noise. We all feel as if we are wearing a mask and that one day the mask will be torn off and we will be revealed for what we really are. The fear related to this discovery is a noise. Another noise is the one made by others. ‘Others’ are people of other nations, people belonging to other religions and people of different cultures. Karl Jung used the word “ shadow” to describe the veil we all project on aspects of ourselves that we dislike so as to hide them. In this sense, if “the other” disturbs us, if he makes a noise, it is because he shares many traits which we have, and are hiding. So conflicts such as the Israeli-Palestine one do represent the ‘other’, and the ‘other’ is a major source of noise, but the only way to deal with this noise is through trust.

Is this trust utopian or will it be a real chance for solving conflicts?

If you look at different countries, internally there is an immense amount of interpersonal trust. There is a big difference between the levels of trust in different nations. The level of trust in Norway is higher than the one in Italy, for example.

What elements is this influenced by?

One must believe in the power of leaders. The right person at the right time can raise the level of trust. The reason for which we are at peace with Egypt today, is because one single move by Sadat raised the level of trust of an entire nation. So, trust is not utopia. It can be real if a relation of trust is developed between a leader and his country. The problem is I just do not believe we have those kind of leaders today. The media too has a negative effect on trust. If leaders are scrutinized the way they are by modern TV, it becomes very difficult for people to trust them.

Translated by Francesca Simmons



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