Yotam Polizer Chief Executive Officer, IsraAID
“Her father told me, ‘Today, my worst enemy has become my biggest supporter. And the people supposed to be protecting me back home in Syria, are chasing me away.’ For me, it was the first time I realized what an opportunity we have, through this terrible and still ongoing tragedy in Syria, to not only save lives and provide immediate support, but to actually build bridges and change people’s perspectives. “
Yotam Polizer is the CEO of IsraAID – Israel’s biggest humanitarian NGO – and leads more than 250 people that support those affected by humanitarian crisises – they partner with local communities around the world to provide urgent aid, assist in recovery, and reduce the risk of future disasters.
Right now, IsraAID is active in 15 countries supporting communities affected by Covid 19.
Following the August 2021 Afghanistan crisis, Yotam led a rescue operation to save the lives of 167 at-risk Afghans from the hands of the Taliban. In September 2015 refugee crisis in Europe, he led IsraAID’s humanitarian mission in Lesbos, Greece, to support Syrian refugees on the island and also established IsraAID Germany, which provides long-term support for Yazidi and Syrian refugees in Germany.
Over the last 15 years, Yotam has also built and led programs in Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and in South Korea to support the reintegration of North Korean defectors. He has also led missions in Nepal following the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake and in Sierra Leone for Ebola survivors, health workers, and affected communities. He has 15 years of experience in education, humanitarian aid, and international development.
Prior to his work at IsraAID, Yotam worked in the Israeli Embassy in Nepal and was the program coordinator for Tevel Btzedek an Israeli NGO focused on long-term development programs in the Himalayas.
Yotam is married to Mayo and is the father of beautiful twins – Nao and Taiyo. He is also fluent in Japanese, Nepalese, English, and Hebrew. Yotam graduated from Tel Aviv University where he studied International Relations & African studies.
I’m all in (06:26)
Going into Ukraine (08:59)
How are we able to move so fast? (12:33)
Let’s talk about what happened in Afghanistan (19:18)
About Zionism and what it is for me (25:55)
Two personal stories I’d like to share (30:05)
Seeing all this, this is how I stay hopeful (37:59)
I’m not going anywhere (41: 15)
What’s the best way for people to help IsraAID (42:42)
There’s a lot of opportunities to join this field in ways that people wouldn’t expect (45:27)
Edited Transcription with typos – sorry:
Eitan Chitayat 01:50
Now, I’ve known Yotam for a couple of years, having delivered the IsraAID brand with my Natie Branding Agency for their organization. And I’m truly inspired. And I’ve wanted to have him on my podcast for a very long time. So Yotam, it’s such a pleasure to be able to talk to you on I’m that. Thanks for joining me here. I know you’re very, very busy.
Yotam Polizer 02:09
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Eitan Chitayat 02:12
So let me just dive in and ask you the first question that we typically ask on the show, which is simply to complete this sentence, Yotam Polizer. I’m that……
Yotam Polizer 02:24
I’m the person who is an active anthropologist, interested in people’s cultures, country’s politics. And luckily, I found a way to mix all of that through life-saving work of Israel as humanitarian aid workers.
Eitan Chitayat 02:44
So that’s pretty fascinating. And how did you get into that? Did that happen because of the organization? Or is that something that you’ve always wanted to do?
Yotam Polizer 02:54
No, I, as I said, I love I love traveling. I love people, I love cultures. And I had no idea that I’m going to get involved in these kind of life saving missions. I was. I just love travels around the world and work with different cultures. And when I was 18, actually, just before my military service, I decided to do a gap year what we call in Hebrews natural service here.
And my work was with youth at risk, primarily people who made Aliyah from Ethiopia. And you know, they had a lot of challenges here with integration, and there’s a lot of stuff suffered. A lot of them are suffered from from drug problems and domestic violence, and you name it. And I work with these incredible kids. And I think that’s where I developed my passion not only for kind of service, but also really to work with people of other cultures.
They came from Ethiopia, so obviously there so it’s a very different culture. In any my army service I was a competent for for the first two years, and then I was in a unit that also combined social work. And that then I did a project with Bedouins educational project as part of my IDF service. And it was also fascinating, I learned Arabic And I worked with, you know, in the Negev in really remote, kind of unrecognized villages. So again, even in Israel, you know, I found a way to work with really in really remote and really different cultures and communities.
And then, you know, after the army, I did what every Israeli do, I followed what we call the homeless trail, you know, and it’s called the Hummus Trail, not because the Hummus is so, you know, because they had Hummus originally they started making Hummus for the Israeli backpackers and I went to India. That was my Hummus trail and I was there for six months. And then I moved to Nepal. Nepal, I started tracking and I was with a friend. And we tracked in the Himalayan who was beautiful. And then as soon as we got off the mountain, I saw a small kind of advertisement, you know, suggesting backpackers to volunteer with street children. No, I had no idea what it is. But I thought, Okay, that sounds cool. I’ll do it for for two weeks. And I’ll continue to Thailand or wherever I was going. And these two weeks in Nepal turned into three and a half years of doing this kind of, of social work there. And I get I can get to it later. But that really one thing led to another. And and it’s all because of my passion for people for cultures and for traveling.
Eitan Chitayat 05:45
So that’s very interesting, because I think most people want to help people. I think, given the chance people would help other people if they could. But how do you fall into such a crewman? What was it about like, starting on something that was meant to last two, maybe three weeks? And it ending up being three? Over three years?
Yotam Polizer 06:26
I think it’s I think it’s it’s really, I would say an extreme extreme interesting people extreme passion for for service extreme. You know, openness for what the world brings to us and, and not missing out opportunities.
And so, you know, I dive all in, I’m all in I’m very, I’m not 100%, I’m 150% kind of person. So when I’m getting to something, I’m doing it with all my heart and all my soul and all my body and on my spirit. And then, you know, you start this work with street children in Nepal, or in the tsunami in Japan, or in the Ebola crisis in West Africa with Syrian refugees.
And first of all, you fall in love with the people you really do. And, and they’re really inspire you, and you learn so much from interacting with them. And also, you realize that there’s so much work to do. And it’s nice to do something for two weeks, but it’s like putting a bandaid, right, you can’t really see the impact. You have to do things long term, you have to, you know, especially when it comes to our work at Israel, which is about, you know, disasters, whether it’s, you know, climate related disaster, or whether it’s a manmade disaster, or what we’re seeing right now in Ukraine, which, you know, I’ll probably talk about later, but, you know, it’s the needs are long term, I know, the media interest is very short. And we only hear about it when it’s when it’s in the media or on social media.
But actually, you know, the recovery process for these people takes years. And and I feel personally and organizationally responsible to help these people through this journey and through this very long recovery process. Well, let’s, you know, our two weeks can easily turn into three years, and sometimes more.
Eitan Chitayat 08:35
Well, let’s get back to, you know, everything that we’re talking about in a second. But let’s let’s actually talk about Ukraine right now. So as as, as the crisis is ongoing and worsening, I understood that you’re mobilizing, and indeed have sent an Israeli team for an emergency response mission in Moldova, the southern border of Ukraine, to help refugees in need so, so what’s going on there? And what are you guys doing? Exactly?
Yotam Polizer 08:59
So this is all very, very fresh, right?
You know, the Russian invasion, the brutal invasion started on Thursday, and today, it’s Sunday morning. So, very quickly, we understood that we’re going we’re speaking about beyond the politics beyond the global affairs. It’s just a terrible, terrible, terrible humanitarian crisis, something you know, that could be at the scale of Syria or even worse.
And and as humanitarian organization realize we have to get involved. Now, that’s complicated, because, obviously, as a CEO, I have to prioritize the safety and the well being of our staff and make sure we’re not sending them to an active war zone. So we decided to really focus on supporting the hundreds of 1000s of refugees fleeing from Ukraine, and we sent our message Emergency Response Team, which is an incredible team credible group of people, very experienced, it’s not a it’s not a huge group, too small but very professionalized team who could really provide and help organize the kind of initial relief efforts and sort of set up a temporary refugee camp.
And the reason we went to Moldova, there’s two reasons why we went to Moldova. One is because we received a direct request from the Moldovan government for support. And we know Moldova is not a wealthy country, it’s, you know, they have a lot of challenges they deal with, regardless of these prices, obviously, they will need a lot of support.
And also, we saw that there is a huge, huge influx of refugees there. And not that many organizations, many other organization went to Paul. So this is another kind of Israel principle, to try to, not necessarily go or all the other organizations are going and you know, it’s a, it is a flooded marketing the way there’s a lot of organization, you know, big organization, like Doctors Without Borders on the Red Cross, or even Jewish organization like, you know, JDC and others who are doing great work.
Each of them is in their focus area, and what Israel has been famous for is really to go to the most remote places to places that other organization don’t go to try to fill the humanitarian gaps. And so that’s what we’re doing right now, our team will reach the border in a couple of hours. And, and we are planning to actually send a second team to another border, either with Romania or Poland later this week. So it’s an escalating crisis for us.
Eitan Chitayat 11:43
When when you hear about disaster relief organizations, what we see, you know, the general public is, you know, and I’ve worked with you before, so I, you know, I have a certain understanding about what it is that you actually do, but for the benefit of the of the listeners, you know, you see these tents, you see people in uniforms, and you see people helping each other, but it’s not as simple as that there’s a lot of logistics involved. There’s money involved, there’s politics involved.
How how do you manage that as an organization, and so quickly, because when disasters happen, whether it’s a typhoon or a war, or an earthquake, these things happen very, very suddenly. And one thing about Israel that that is unique is how small you are, which allows you to be nimble, and you’re not that small. I mean, you’re growing, but like, compared to the Red Cross or other other. How do you manage that?
Yotam Polizer 12:33
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s a great question.
I think the secret is a combination of being very nimble, very flexible, very creative. With a lot of Israeli chutzpah, I think there’s a very Israeli part to it, you know, us just really jumping on a plane, you know, getting out there finding a way, this is one part one aspect, but derive that it’s not that simple. It’s not enough to just to have these people who jump on a plane.
So we did build, and this is really something that happened in the last few years, we did build an incredible headquarter here in Israel, that provides all the logistical support immediately, whether it’s, you know, with procurement of relief supplies, or with legal support that is very much needed, or financial support, you know, have to transfer money, all of these things, or with communications and fundraising, which is obviously crucial at any given moment, but especially now when the needs are so massive.
So all of the system kind of are combined, you know, and over this weekend, which is, you know, Shabbat here in Israel, it’s not the easiest time to work, but everyone came together, you know, dived in and and to kind of mobilize and, and have all these systems in place, you know, people need cash, they need equipment, they need their flights booked, they need insurance, they need to have all the contacts on the ground, and we need to raise money to allow so so the money part is interesting, because I think we were able, again in the last few years to build trust with incredible group of donors and funders and very generous people who really believe in the organization and its mission.
And and it’s, you know, it’s enough that I contact them on water, sometimes, and they can make a commitment to, you know, some significant amount of donations, we always need more, but at least it gives us the seed funding to jump in, and also we build an emergency fund, especially for that so we don’t have to only rely on donors, but we can actually be proactive. So there’s a lot of there’s another group of donor who understand that time is of the essence and are supporting us. In this emergency fund, which allows us to mobilize immediately, even before we get the seed funding for this specific crisis.
Eitan Chitayat 15:10
You have an incredible team. I’ve met your team, I’ve spoken extensively with them because of our work with you. What’s so special about in your words, your team and how they managed to do the incredible work that they do.
Yotam Polizer 15:26
I mean, dedication, wisdom, commitment. Being very humble, people are very humble, they’re not. They’re in it. For the people, they’re doing it to really, you know, without making a big noise out of it. They’re just really, really professionals, really, really professionals. And I think we really went a long way to professionalize our operations and, but also keep the spirit right. It’s not just a day job. It’s not like a nine to five day job that people are coming and doing professionally and leaving no. So a combination of being very professional on the one hand, and very committed and passionate. And one more thing I want to add…I think all of my team will share, and I definitely feel that way. For me, it’s smart for me, and I guess for all my team members, it’s much more difficult to not do anything. So for us being able to respond when you see this massive scale disaster is some and we know we’re a small part of this crazy puzzle. But you know, being able to do our part is is really is it’s really comforting.
Eitan Chitayat 16:53
Do you think that it’s, I don’t want to be insensitive with the word that I choose. But is it almost like to be able to help people this kind of like a, almost like, something happens around the world? And there’s almost like this addiction? How can we help? How can we? We’ve got to do something here. And I imagine that you’re not able to help everyone, you’re not able to be everywhere.
Yotam Polizer 17:17
Yeah, first of all, yes, it is an addiction. And I think a lot of my team members, not maybe not everyone, but team members share this addiction with me. For the most cases, it’s a positive addiction, obviously, when you look at family and personal life, and how to balance all of that. It’s sometimes difficult, but you know, I’m, I’m grateful I have the best partner who support me in this effort.
Eitan Chitayat 17:44
Yeah, you just added moment’s notice you just like you have to go, I gotta go, you know, my team, we have to go, we have to be there right now.
Yotam Polizer 17:51
Yeah. But look, we are also not naive. We know, we can’t help everyone and everywhere. And again, I you know, I don’t want to sound cynical here. But you know, realistically speaking, there are many crises in the world that just don’t receive any attention. And, in some of them, we are able to help, like in places like Mozambique, or Vanuatu, or places like that, because we were able to build strong partnership, and, you know, to find the funding, but we can’t ignore the financial element of it.
And we know that, you know, for the case of Ukraine, or for the case of Afghanistan, which was the most recent disaster with I got really involved in we know the media attention equals to donor attention, we know the attention is very limited. And so we have to, in a way, leverage that to bring and create long term support, because we know long term support will be needed.
So we know that right now is the time to respond, because there are immediate humanitarian needs, but not less important is to raise enough funds and support that we so we will actually be able to operate long term, which will be crucial, because the recovery process of these people that trauma, you know, if they’re going to stay as refugees, they, you know, it’s going to take years.
Eitan Chitayat 19:18
So what happened in Afghanistan?
Yotam Polizer 19:21
Afghanistan is that is a is a unique operation, even more than Ukraine in that sense. And Ukraine is refugee crisis. We’ve done that with the Syrian refugees. We’ve done that with refugees from South Sudan. We’re doing it with refugees from Venezuela and Colombia right now who are fleeing their country. Afghanistan was different. It’s a country that don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel. We did not have any presence there.
And people were not allowed to leave the country by the Taliban. So in late August, when the Taliban took over, we kind of did our assessment and our initiative decision was that unfortunately, as long as there’s no refugee camps or stuff like that, we won’t be able to get involved. But then really, at the last day of, you know, just just as the Americans left Afghanistan, I got three phone calls. That kind of changed everything.
One was from a journalist friend, Donna Harmon, who is Israeli British journalist who wrote a story for The New York Times about the first African girls robotics team. And, you know, she was like a family for these girls. And they contacted her asked if she could help rescue them.
A second phone call was from the Israeli Canadian billionaire and philanthropist, Sylvan Adams, who was trying to support the first African girls, cyclists team, and secureauth, were riding their bikes, and were targeted by the Taliban for riding their bugs, unbelievable. And the third phone call was from a friend who worked with us in Greece, to support Syrian refugees. And he told me he have contacts in Afghanistan that can basically secure kind of safe crossing for the country. So that was a game changer, obviously.
And with his support, we actually organized the bus. And we had the cycling girls and the robotic girls altogether in the bus 42 Girls and family members in total. And yes, we actually receive a permit from the Taliban. I know, it sounds weird. Obviously, the Taliban, you know, the word Israelis. And they crossed all the way to the border with Tajikistan, which is an orphan border. Everything actually went smooth on the Afghan side. But, you know, then we realized that it was kind of all on the go, it was not planned to be very honest.
You know, and when they reached the border of the cheeks, and we realized, Okay, we have to put a lot of diplomatic contacts because they were not willing to let these girls in. And then, you know, for a lot of contacts of different donors and business people we were able to reach. And some world leaders who we were able to reach a President of Tajikistan, it’s not a democracy that you can stand you have to get to the President. And I think after so many phone calls, he realized, Okay, I will let this crazy Israelis have their way and we let these groups pass, but under one condition, that these girls will stay only for 24 hours.
And I said, of course, sure. And I had no idea where I’ll take them. And then as soon as they crossed the border, we started calling other countries who are taking the long term plan was that then which kind of diet which is where they’re going right now. But we will take time. So so then we reached our new best friends, which is also an incredible part of the story in the United Arab Emirates.
And, and when they heard actually, there’s an Israeli group behind this kind of rescue mission, they immediately agreed to take them. And they call the the first joint humanitarian mission of the Abraham, of course, is incredible. And then I joined these, this group of girls and together with Donna and Ronnie who are on my team, we reached Abu Dhabi and we received like a warm welcome, you know, that is usually saved for Prime Ministers are there with this group of 42 African girls? It was beautiful. And we thought that’s it. But as good Israelis, we had a lot of good spend, we said no, we have to do more. And also, we realize a lot of the family members of the people we evacuated, were actually in Afghanistan. And once you know, the Taliban will know that, you know, not only that, they escaped, but also they were doing it with the help of Israelis, it may put their families at risk. So we decided to do another rescue mission, which unfortunately didn’t go so well as the first one, the cross all the way to the border.
And then when they reached the border, the Taliban basically stopped them. And we had, for lack of a better term, we had a kind of a hostage situation with this group. And we had to find a way to negotiate with the Taliban and through some, you know, contact in Qatar and, and then, you know, realize they can’t cross the border by land where we can arrange an evacuation flight, but 41 of these people didn’t have passports. So we were able to get in touch with an African diplomat abroad and created his passport and send it to us and I was with the team in Tajikistan, we actually transfer this passport across the border. These passports were confiscated by the Taliban. It’s an insane movie, like it’s you know, and I can’t believe myself when I’m sharing the story, but it really happened.
Eitan chitayat 25:00
What’s interesting when you’re talking about this is and I can’t, I can’t help but bring it up. It’s like Hillel Neuer, you know, the executive director of the UN watch who is who was on Season One of the show, he actually said, I’ll quote you what he said, he said to me, ‘I grew up in a tradition that says you’re responsible, you can’t be indifferent. I think that’s why Jews who are also not necessarily religious, religious, are activists. I think that activism is actually part of the religion, you have to care for the other and what you actually said, when you were on a panel, for Jane, a few essays, conversions on Zionism, you said, that you view your work with Israel as an extension of your Zionism, you said, Zionism, for me is about responsibility. Israel and Jewish people have so much to share with the world, especially vulnerable communities. So that’s what Zionism is about.’ And as you’re talking, I just, I just wanted to get your take on on how that plays into what it is that you do.
Yotam Polizer 25:55
Yeah, I mean, I think both myself and my team members, I kind of live by this lady’s value. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s the it’s hard to explain, right? It’s a kind of an inner, inner, inner inner drive, that you have, that you feel responsible. You know, I told you in the beginning of this conversation, and it’s, you know, it’s a passion for both for service and for people.
And, you know, whether it’s Jewish or Israeli, I mean, I strongly believe that where we are today in the world, we have strong responsibility, and we have so much knowledge and expertise that we should share with the world’s most vulnerable community. And this knowledge and expertise was not gained, because everything was so good here. Now, it was getting because of all the incredible challenges that, you know, our ancestors, our parents, and, and our grandparents and the Holocaust, and our parents here, when they came to this country and faced not only ongoing conflict, but you know, water scarcity, ongoing traumas, all these extreme, extreme challenges, you know, created huge, you know, richness of expertise and know how here, that really, we really feel responsible for sharing.
So that’s for me, is Zionism. Right now, in its in its, in its current form, I know, it’s, it’s a word that mean a lot of things for a lot of people. But for me, that’s what it means that, and that’s why I want to do this work as part of Israel, not as part of the UN, or as part of the Red Cross Border, I want to connect Israelis in the world in that way. And that’s how I see that the the goal of our work is really to support the most vulnerable community, but the added value, which for me, personally, and I know, for many people, this right is extremely important, is building bridges and changing people’s perspectives.
Eitan Chitayat 28:12
Why is that so important to you?
Yotam Polizer 28:15
Because I feel it’s desperately needed now. You know, with everything that happens in the world globally. And, and especially in our region, right, like in it’s not the easiest region in the world, there’s still so much hostility, misunderstandings, misconceptions, between people, between countries between religious so I feel like our work have a potential of changing a lot of that and building bridges. And I’ve seen it firsthand, especially when we work with the Syrians, but also with the Afghans and others. Yeah.
Eitan Chitayat 28:53
So that’s exactly what I wanted to ask you about next, which is, you know, in many ways, you’re an ambassador for you know, you, your organization, whether you see yourself as this or not, but you’re an ambassador to Israel, with what you do. You’re an ambassador as, as as a Jewish man out there in the world. And I wanted to ask you, for people that you that you are serving for the those people who you are helping for the organizations that work with you that might not benefit necessarily, from your help, but our partners to you, when they see you and your team, as Israelis as Jews helping, can you share an experience?
Can you share a story? Because I think that’s so important to understand, on the very, very intimate personal level, what that’s like, and as opposed to, you know, yes, we’re an organization we’re from Israel and we are helping other countries and they see that I the bonding that is formed under these awful circumstances. Sometimes we actually helping people. A change in perception. it’d be great if you have a story or two to share at the most human level.
Yotam Polizer 30:05
Yeah, and I have two, two short stories to share.
The first one is really from the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, when millions of Syrians were fleeing their home, you know, escaping the Assad regime and ISIS and all this wonderful people. They, many of them reached Greece. And and, and most of them went pass through an island called Lesbos, which is a tiny island in the Mediterranean, beautiful Greek island. And people were coming on these tiny rubber boats that was supposed to carry 30 people each, but actually seen 150 people on one boat, and it’s really insane.
And we had a group of medical professionals. Interestingly enough, there were both Israeli Jews and Arabs working together. And, and I remember one day in December 2015, a boat capsized just before it reached the shore. Thank God that day, our team was pretty close. And I was there with them. And we were able to pull everyone out.
And I was I was carrying this I guess, four or five years old girl, who was literally shivering and shaking my hands and, and I can see that she was suffering from severe hypothermia hander headed her over to our to our doctor who’s actually Arab, from Israel. And he treated her and she was okay. And she stabilized.
Her father was able to pull himself out because he knew how to swim but so he was okay. But he kept staring at us with you know, with with a shark. And then we finally opened his mouth, he spoke actually, he actually spoke fluent English, which was interesting, because I learned he was an engineer from Damascus, very educated guy.
And he told me the following sentence that I always quote, he said, my worst enemy became my biggest supporter. And the people who are supposed to protect me back home in Syria, are chasing me away. And and, and I think for me, it was the first time that I realized what an opportunity we have through this terrible tragedy, by the way, is still ongoing in Syria, again, not only to save lives, not only to provide immediate support, but actually to, to build these bridges and change people’s perspective.
The second story is from Afghanistan, you know, very recently, so when we conducted these dramatic evacuations, the big majority of the people from the people that were evacuated, did not know that he was coordinated by Israelis, obviously, we didn’t want to put them on extra risk. They only learned that we’re Israelis, once they cross the border.
And we met them in Tajikistan, or in Abu Dhabi, or, and, and it was very interesting, because they were, I would say, they were positively positively shocked. They did not expect that that was conducted by a group of Israelis.
And, and it was really, really interesting to see. None of them, you know, to get in a bad way. freely, they just didn’t expect that. And what was beautiful to see is that, you know, since then, you know, every Shabbat, you know, I get a Shabbat, Shalom messages from hundreds of Afghans. Well, Happy Hanukkah, or like, they all became like, very, very supportive, actually, you know, have this kind of bridge that was created with them, that none of us expected in really, the worst tragedy of their life. But again, it was such a beautiful opportunity.
Eitan Chitayat 34:01
I know that you live this, and you told the story a few times, but but to hear it. It’s just really inspiring. And it gives a certain measure of hope in the world, and especially, you know, like you see something like what’s going on right now, for the average person waking up in the morning reading the news, what’s happening in Ukraine? How do you feel that that when it comes to the politics of let’s let me reframe it, there’s world politics, things happen?
We’re not exactly sure on the outside what’s going on there. You get in there and then suddenly, you’re on the ground, and you’re meeting with people who are directly affected, and you take these experiences and they of course affect you. They affect your team as you’re trying to help. How How does cynicism play a part in in what it is that you see and experience? Is there any kind of I guess? can these things be prevented? Who is calling the shots here? When these decisions around the world are being made that that, you know, displaced people, peoples in their millions? Does does that? Are you Are you hopeful? Are you despondent? I know, it’s a big question.
Yotam Polizer 35:30
Your question, it’s very technical. It’s very typical. Look, it’s cuz you’re on the ground. Yeah. I mean, you hear from the people from the refugees directly. You know, again, I was sharing with you earlier in this call how, for us, it’s kind of a coping mechanism, right, because we were feel so helpless in this big political game that that’s playing out here. And, you know, being able to do a little bit, something to alleviate some of the suffering is, is a relief for us. And it helps us cope with the helplessness of this crazy cynical game.
Yes. You, you feel you’re part of it, look, I mean, who would have thought, It’s so fucking insane that we’re in 2022. And there’s tanks in Europe, and, like, you know, and the world is struggling to cope with that, and, or that, you know, an extreme Islamist regime is taking over a country after 20 years of, of US presence there. It’s, it’s, it’s cynical, it’s very, very, very concerning, I think, you know, from the global political perspective. You know, it’s just shows, again, how, how we all live in a bubble, in the West, and I consider Israel part of the West, in a way at least. Not exactly right, because we do feel conflict and tension here and there, but but our life is comfortable here. And, and we are peaceful people, and we want to live our life, and we want to raise our children.
And then you know, you see that other people in other parts of the world are a complete different, you know, set of values and interests. And so it’s a big wake up call to big, big wake up call for all of us on so many levels. And I’m not even mentioning what happens on other fronts, where we’re dealing with whether it’s climate change. And in the country, the pandemic, which, you know, is also a wake up call on many other levels.
Eitan Chitayat 37:59
I know I’m asking you tough questions, but like, how do you stay hopeful? Because your organization and you know, if we think about what your tagline is about building futures, which we can talk about what that actually means, which will be interesting to hear from you. But it’s about, it’s about hope.
Yotam Polizer 38:16
It’s completely about hope.
I mean, it may sound like a cliche, but really, you know, if the worst situation of all you see, you really see the best of humanity. And, yes, you feel like there’s leaders and there’s terrible political gain going up there. But then on the ground, at the border crossing the refugee camp, or you see humanity at its best. You see people to people connection, you see how everyone’s helping each other, you see how bridges are being built, barriers are being broken. It’s it’s, it doesn’t mean that we want this crisis to happen, right? But I gave a TED talk in Tokyo a few years ago, and it’s called disasters as opportunities.
And I do really believe that every disaster is an opportunity.
And we wish and we pray, that would never happen, but they are and they will continue to happen, whether it’s crazy leaders or pandemics, or climate or all the above. But each one of these disasters bring us a lot of opportunity. And I call this thing Post Traumatic Growth PTG. So we speak a lot about resilience, you know, at work and, and for us resiliency is not just being go but being able to go back to what life was pre crisis.
But how we can leverage this crisis to build back better and it’s on every level. It’s on the infrastructure level. You can build a better water system than what you had before. If we can happen, or a better housing, that will be who we can prove, you can build people well being, and help them be much more resilient, and support their their mental health, so they can cope with future crisis.
So that’s why for us, for us, it’s not just about the immediate relief. It’s, it’s helping communities, individuals and countries to be able to cope with this continuous wave of disasters on all fronts. And it makes me really hopeful because I really see it happening on so many places. And every time I see it happens, it gives me energy and motivation for the next 10 years. So it’s really, you know, I feel really blessed to be part of this team and to lead it and being able to witness and to take part in this post traumatic growth process.
Eitan Chitayat 41:04
I’m smiling, because my next question was, what makes you get up in the morning, what drives you? And where do you see yourself in 10 years time, and you kind of just answered that.
Yotam Polizer 41:15
I’m not going anywhere. I mean, I’m going everywhere, but I’m not going anywhere. I love what I do. I I love I love all aspects of it, right? I love I love the people, I love the team members. I love the communities that we work with, I learned so much, you know, I get to mix so many worlds in it, right? I’m interested in politics. I’m interested in languages I’m interested in, in education and in technology, and in finance, and I get to mix all of this in this work. I’m interested in impact. So as long as I continue to learn so much every day of my work, I I even love fundraising. I mean, people think fundraising is probably the most difficult part.
Yes, it’s difficult. And yes, it’s sometimes frustrating. But it’s also, you know, the way I see it is that we provide people the opportunity to do something really meaningful and impactful. And I see that with many of our donors and funders, they end up thanking us. And we thank them, obviously, and we couldn’t do our work without them. But they end up thanking us, you know, for, for also being able to cope with the helplessness.
Eitan Chitayat 42:31
Let me ask you as an opportunity now to just for the average person for the listener, if they want to try and help IsraAID, what’s the best way? How can they how can they support this, right.
Yotam Polizer 42:42
So I know a lot of people when they see the work is right is doing would like to jump on a plane, roll up their sleeves, and and it’s great. And sometimes we need that. But honestly, the two most tangible and practical and easiest in a way ways to help but also the most important ways to help our one is to support our work financially. So we can continue doing this work and cost a lot of money, not because our salaries are high, but because the needs are so high. And and. And we know that we’re only scratching the surface. But you know, we were trying to raise a little a little bit over $20 million every year. And it takes a lot of work. The second way, which is also very, very important, and I wouldn’t underestimate it is to really spread the word. And by spreading the word I mean, become an ambassador for Israel. And you can do it on social media. You can organize events. For Israel, you can organize fundraisers, online, offline, whatever. We really need more people to spread the word a because it leads to more exposure and which leads to more financial support. And be because we want people to know that Israel and Israelis are doing this work. And because we really believe it helped build bridges.
Eitan Chitayat 44:11
I’m going to do a little plug now, which I don’t usually do. But I think anyone who’s listening should go to Israaid.org/donate/. The headline is very simple. ‘With your help, we can do more’ and you can give a one time donation, a monthly donation, you can dedicate a gift. It’s a very easy process. I mean, we we built the website we know. ‘
But I really think that it’s important to just go to that website and see what you can do. I want to I want to I know that your time is precious, and you have a gazillion phone calls to respond to you. And again, I appreciate the time that you’re taking but your time to the people who are listening, who are younger if they want to try and get into the kind of work that you do. What advice would you give them because when people approach me about branding and they just want to make ads are they want to do shiny glitzy stuff -it’s not simple to do what we do. And I can’t imagine, on your side, you know, the appeal to do what it is that you do. But I’m sure it’s not simple. And it’s not easy. What’s the best way to get into it? How can you advise someone who this really might not be for them?
Yotam Polizer 45:27
Yeah. I think actually, it’s the opposite. I mean, a lot of people I think, may want to join this field, but feel that they’re not ready to leave everything and jump on a plane, or they don’t have the medical skills, or they’re scared to go, you know, to the border of Ukraine, which all of these reasons are obviously legit. I’m actually saying the opposite. I think there’s a lot of opportunities to join this field in ways that people wouldn’t expect, you know, we have an amazing finance team or a legal team, or, or HR people, and we always look for professionals in this field. So, you know, I think, whether with Israel or with other great organizations in this field, you know, if you, if you’re really interested in passionate about this work, you should definitely explore that.
Practically speaking, you know, there for not for example, in Israel, we have wonderful partnerships with two academic programs that I highly recommend younger people who think about their studies, one is the master’s in public health in four and disaster management in television, university, and another one is Glocal, which is a master’s in community development in Hebrew University. And these two programs, we have long term partnership with them, we take a lot of the interns from these programs to, to our to join us whether it’s in the headquarter in Tel Aviv, or in the field, and many, many graduates actually became our most our long, longest term serving staff members.
So these are two really great programs if you’re in Israel, there’s a there’s also similar programs in the states in Columbia or Harvard or Stanford, and, and these are good starting points. I would say that with all the respect to academics, the key is to actually get hands on experience with organizations both in the field and in headquarter. And we had Israeli are always looking for interns and always looking for stuff and really, you know, you can look on our beautiful website, which was part of the amazing process we had with Natie Branding Agency and you can get all the information there.
Eitan Chitayat 48:07
Yotam Polizer, I want to thank you for your time. I really appreciate you spending this valuable hour with us. Just keep keep inspiring. Please, for everybody, keep doing what you’re doing. You are an incredible organization. And we’re just very proud of you and and you do put a lot of hope in the world. Thank you so much.
Yotam Polizer 48:32
Thank you. Thank you very much.