September 20, 2013

David Cooperrider's Tefen Industrial Park visit shows business in action as an agent of world benefit

Business can turn any global issue into a bona fide business opportunity to do good and do well.
David Cooperrider at TEDxUNPlaza on Sept. 16, 2013
David Cooperrider at TEDxUNPlaza on Sept. 16, 2013 

Business as one of the most positive forces for a better world? It's true!

Imagine what would happen to you if you had the ability to consistently see and connect with every strength, every one of the capacities, inherent in the world around you—if you had the ability to see every positive potential in your son or daughter, or, like Michelangelo, the intellectual ability to "sense" the towering, historic figure of David "already existing" in a huge slab of marble, even before the reality took shape.

Indeed, the appreciable world—the universe of strength, value and life-generating potential all around us—is so much larger than our normal appreciative capacity. Yet there are some (we all know them) who seem to have a special knack for seeing, noticing and connecting with ever-expanding domains of positive potential. There are great coaches who see extraordinary things in their players, hidden strengths no one has ever seen. There are grandparents who "know" the specialties of their grandchild intuitively, it seems, long before those potentials are nurtured or even recognized by others. Could such appreciative capacity explain, for example, the success of leaders who have ranked relatively low on traditional measures of IQ but have gone on to change human history or reshape entire industries?

This is exactly what we are finding in our worldwide study of leaders showing what it means to create what we at the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value at Case Western Reserve University call Business as an Agent of World Benefit.

At the time of this writing the situation in the Middle East appears more unstable, some say hopeless, than ever. Syria is a case in point. It appears that nobody can find a solution to the bloody bombings, the conflicts and bitterness, the suffering and distress, and the spread of terror around the world. It's precarious. It's dangerous. And nobody sees an easy solution.


A few years ago I had the opportunity to speak about Business as an Agent of World Benefit as an invited guest at the dedication for the new Arison School of Business in Israel. During the talk I raised questions about where the peace is going to come from. From the lawyers? Not likely. From the military? Not likely. From governments? From religious leaders—Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and so forth? My proposition, tentatively offered, was that it would be from none of these. The best place to look, I argued, would be the world of business—that business could be the most important ground and force for peace. The 21st century is going to be a time when we learn to unite the dynamism and entrepreneurial capacities of good business with the global issues of our day.

I did not have many examples of business as a force for peace, but I made the argument anyway. Did you know war and the containment of violence costs us over nine trillion dollars U.S. per year—almost 10 percent of the gross world product?

After the talk a stranger came up to me. He said, "I'd like to invite you to meet me at my helicopter tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. I want you to see this thesis in action: business as a force for peace." He went on, "It’s a story of human imagination and the capacity to make something from nothing except hard work." The next morning we flew to the Galilee region, across the desert to an area without any natural resources. It is called Tefen, and later I discovered that this unassuming man was perhaps the wealthiest person in Israel; his worth was estimated to be over four billion dollars, and what he has created now accounts for over 10 percent of Israel's export gross national product. His name is Stef Wertheimer. And for what he has accomplished, he honestly deserves to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

When I got out of the helicopter, I could not believe my eyes. Up until the mid-1980s Tefen was a barren hilltop grazed by local herds of goats. Today the scope of industrial exports manufactured at Tefen equals that of the entire Jerusalem area. Beautiful homes and neighborhoods surround what Wertheimer calls a "capitalist kibbutz"—with four Tefen Model Industrial Parks that have given birth to more than 160 new businesses, as well as schools for all the children that now populate the area. Most surprising, the whole thing is based on the principle of coexistence, with Arab and Jewish residents living together, going into business together, building schools and art museums together, and dramatically transforming entrenched conflicts into collaborative energies for economic empowerment, development and peace.

Stef Wertheimer is igniting a revolution in hope by harnessing the best in business to melt frozen animosities easily and rapidly and in the process create islands of peace and shared prosperity. His plan: create one hundred more of these islands—distinct and special entrepreneurial industrial parks modeled after the "Tefen Miracle"—and strategically locate them throughout the eastern Mediterranean. It's this region's version of a Marshall Plan, and it's one that growing numbers of supporters from Turkey, Jordan, Israel and Palestine believe could lift the region out of poverty and take the biggest step toward ending terrorism. It's something all of us should take notice of. In his book War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century, the prolific author Alvin Toffler cites Wertheimer’s example as one of the most important quiet revolutions in the world today.

Many are now calling the 84-year-old Wertheimer a genius, but most do not know that this genius dropped out of grade school. He couldn't cut it. He failed in most classes. For survival, he created his first business, and the first two people he hired were an Arab and a Jew. The seed of a vision was born and was motivated, as he puts it, by "the metaphysical concept of survival" and by his growing conviction that creativity and entrepreneurship together were the only things that could create conditions for lasting peace, dignified lives and the eradication of strife. "A booming industrial base will provide more security than any military outpost," Wertheimer told me. Today he is working tirelessly to establish many more of these industrial parks throughout the non-oil-producing parts of the Middle East; he just helped open a version of Tefen in Nazareth in 2013.

The most exciting part of my visit with Wertheimer? I sat in on a class of Jewish and Arab 10-year-old children laughing, playing, singing and learning together in a region of the world most define as hopelessly entrenched in hatred. It's a story that with the click of a button should be shared with everyone in the world.

Traditional IQ tests cannot explain—and never would have predicted—what I saw from the helicopter that day in Galilee. Appreciative intelligence is indeed on the cutting edge. It illuminates.

Stef Wertheimer could see what colleague Tojo Thatchenkery calls "the mighty oak in the acorn." Where there was desert, he could see vast neighborhoods. Where there was poverty, he could see the unlimited human resource of collective imagination. One part of his brilliance is that he re-framed everything. For example, Stef was ecstatic that there were no natural resources, such as oil, in the area: "Think about the places, alas, that have been cursed with oil," he said to me. Along with such reframing, this genius noticed everything worth valuing, appreciating positive possibility in every person and situation he was engaged with. He is proof that we can live with a positive love of life amid onslaughts of torment. Another part of his genius is his capacity to see the future-ideal interwoven in the texture of the actual; he knows peace will prevail and watches a Marshall Plan for a whole region emerge from a simple demonstration of going beyond "what works" in Tefen.

With the help of IDEO, Case Western Reserve University's Fowler Center for Sustainable Value is creating a cutting-edge digital platform to create something more powerful and impactful than a Nobel Prize: It will be a worldwide experiment in exponential learning to elevate, magnify and scale up stories of brave leadership—just like the story here.

Also, mark your calendar: don't miss the Third Global Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit in October 2014. More than a thousand people and amazing business leaders such as CEO and entrepreneur Naveen Jain will join us on the campus of Case Western Reserve.

If you wish to connect with this worldwide effort, engage with leaders like Wertheimer and gather their stories, or help build our digital platform for mass collaboration allowing stories of Business as An Agent of World Benefit to surface and spread, please contact or email me at
David Cooperrider, PhD - Fairmount Minerals Professor of Social Entrepreneurship and professor of organizational behavior
With colleague Ronald Fry, PhD, professor of organizational behavior, he invented the large-scale change management technique of appreciative inquiry while still a doctoral student at Weatherhead.

Learn more about appreciative inquiry and Business as an Agent of World Benefit: Watch David Cooperrider's 2013 TEDxUNPlaza talk. For more on Tefen Industrial Park, check out this New York Times article on "Giving Galilee a Foothold in Industry."

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