At Appleseeds, “the best talent takes on the hardest challenges”
While it can’t offer the same salaries as Israel’s high tech sector, the online academy fosters a ‘laboratory’ of people helping bridge technological gaps across the country
“We work hard at making Appleseeds an environment where the best talent takes on the hardest challenges,” explained Daniel Saat, Chief Strategy Officer at Appleseeds. The organization offers technology training and life skills programs in Israel’s social and geographic periphery, meaning that it needs to hire anyone from research and development talent, data analysts, marketing pros, and business development experts.
“Bridging the digital divide with high scale and economically sustainable models is one hell of a challenge. While I can’t provide the salaries that hi-tech does, I can offer something much bigger: a laboratory for managers to grow and challenge themselves, alongside passionate, smart, and similarly driven people.”
Here is how Saat attracts some of the brightest minds to help Israeli citizens of all ages and locations with advanced employment training for future-facing workforces.
Appleseeds creates social mobility in Israel through technology education. We connect a range of disadvantaged populations in Israeli society with the necessary knowledge and skills for thriving in a digital age. Beyond imparting practical and technological skills, our programs empower participants by offering a veritable lifeline in the “Digital Tsunami” we are all currently living in.
Appleseeds runs groundbreaking programs across three areas: youth, employment, and digital lifestyle. From children to senior citizens, from Kiryat Shmona to Hura, a single event to advanced intensive employment training, Appleseeds brings 20 years of experience running technology training and life skills programs in Israel’s social and geographic periphery. We have over 100 staff members from every sector of Israeli society and geographic area. Together with our coalition of partners from hi-tech, government, and nonprofit sectors, we offer cutting-edge, holistic solutions for digital empowerment, technology education, and employment programs focused on the future of work.
The Covid-19 pandemic has profoundly changed our way of life, exponentially accelerating our reliance on digital tools. The Digital Tsunami is here, and far too many Israelis are digitally vulnerable – without access to digital life rafts, they are at risk of being swept away. Grappling within this new world order are over 1.3 million Israelis lacking basic digital skills, over 700,000 school children without access to after school programs, and as many as a million unemployed adults, many of whom will be unable to return to their previous positions. As the crisis renders the digital divide increasingly more pronounced, the economic, social, and emotional ramifications are unfathomable.
Description of the problem:
The Appleseeds strategy team has a huge job - to chart a clear course forward for the organization in the face of great uncertainty. First, internally we had to lock arms with our operational team to measure what was working and what wasn’t with the transition to virtual, and to then deliver quick pivots in real-time. However, externally we need to engage key funders, tech partners, and government agencies to ensure that as they developed their own responses to the Covid-19 crisis, that they had Appleseeds’ models and strategies front of mind. In order to succeed, we need talented people ready to take on big challenges.
Presenting the refined solution:
We work hard at making Appleseeds an environment where the best talent takes on the hardest challenges. Bridging the digital divide with high scale and economically sustainable models is one hell of a challenge. While I can’t provide the salaries that hi-tech does, I can offer something much bigger: a laboratory for managers to grow and challenge themselves, alongside passionate, smart, and similarly driven people.
We are breaking the paradigm that the best and brightest go to hi-tech. On my team alone, you will find research and development talent, data analysts, marketing experts, and savvy biz dev minds. People who I consider to be the best in their field – for profit, nonprofit, or otherwise. Together, we are working on big, hairy problems. Not only are we trying to create a big impact, I would argue that we provide workers with the opportunity to really test themselves and build professional resiliency, which is something you can’t always find developing the next big app at a startup.
What challenges do the Covid-19 crisis and the social distance that accompanies it pose to the organization on its way to design and implement the employer branding strategy?
Appleseeds has been going through rapid changes as an organization, transitioning into a fully virtual and remote operation. The strategy team thinks all the time about how we work together, synchronize processes and information, and recruit excellent talent, all in a remote setting? We have hired three new people in the last six months, all of whom I never met in person before hiring them! Onboarding new talent is a real challenge, and keeping them engaged as a team as well as across the organization with the teams that we serve, is even harder. We are playing with all kinds of approaches – daily standup meetings, buddy systems, informal “hang out and work time” on Zoom.
I have also readjusted as a manager. I have totally scrapped the notion of “regular hours”, and have shifted to “regular output”, especially during lockdowns when childcare is canceled. I work with my team to determine the two or three things that must get done in a day, week, or month, and then set them free to navigate their complex calendars, home situations, and so on. If they have to be with the kids in the afternoon, and then plug in at 9 p.m. to produce, so be it. Second, we have radically shortened all meetings in order to allow for more productivity time – instead of 30 minutes, let’s get it done in 15. Instead of 60 minutes, could we start with 30? In a Zoom-driven world, there’s no such thing as a meeting longer than 60 minutes – anyway, can't you do it in 50 minutes?
One thing is certain – Appleseeds’ goal is to impart these skills to our program participants, so we must practice them ourselves at the same time internally.
Our main strategy for readapting our organization to the post-Covid age is to pilot, learn, pivot, repeat. These iterations can feel a little unsettling for our staff at times, but I think it’s a skill and a muscle that we all have to develop. Our organization works and feels very different today than it did six months ago, and I expect it to be very different six months from now as well. The strategy team has to lead the way in developing that ethos – especially during the pandemic when we are all isolated at home. We have to figure out how to maintain balance, reflection, and connectivity through these very isolating and intensive times. If we don’t do it for ourselves, no one will do it for us, and we surely won’t be able to do it for the communities we serve.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Appleseeds will continue to leverage and maximize the opportunities we have unearthed in virtual and remote models. But I am equally certain that the physical experience of learning, working, and community will be incredibly important in the future. The question is: how should the physical experience look and feel, now that we don’t need a physical classroom and a trainer to learn, or a fixed office space in an office building to work on our daily jobs? My team is starting to reimagine the purpose of physical space for learning and work – the unique experiences and connections that can only happen when we are all in the same place.
The pandemic has revealed a profound need in Israel – to support jobseekers, youth, and the unconnected in weathering an unprecedented storm. Inasmuch as crisis breeds opportunity, we are now realizing incredible potential for new kinds of scalable training models and cross-sector partnerships. Together, we are building bridges enabling a new generation of technology workers to take shape, with remote capacities spearheading change, particularly within Israel’s periphery. Appleseeds is proud of our alliance of long term partners from across the business, tech, philanthropic, and government sectors. But we can and must do more.