At-risk youth in Israel get tech training, courtesy of local CEOs

Friday, October 3, 2008 | by amanda pazornik

Marc Benioff believes in the power of technology and the Internet as a great equalizer.

As the founder, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com, headquartered in San Francisco, those two notions inspired Benioff to become the founding supporter of Net@, a program that provides at-risk high school students in Israel access to technology so they can attain leadership roles in the high-tech market.

Benioff and John Morgridge, chairman emeritus of San Jose- based Cisco Systems and a fellow founding Net@ supporter, were to be honored at a ceremonial dinner at Cisco headquarters Oct. 2 for their continued interest and financial contributions to Net@, which emphasizes education, democracy and entrepreneurship.

"I think it is great that this program helps prepare people to be self-sufficient in the long term," Benioff said. "The professional training, confidence building and leadership skills learned allow people to build a new future."

Through the collaborative efforts of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Hayesod, Cisco Systems and Tapuach, the Israeli Society for the Advancement of the Information Age, Net@ was founded in 2003 as a means of closing the gap between the elite and underprivileged in Israel.

Finding success in the high-tech industry was, at one time, attainable only for select groups, Benioff said. Net@ has opened doors for Israel's minority populations to collaborate, learn tolerance and develop new skills.

Through training in computers and communication, Net@ participants learn from Cisco's academic curriculum, which has been implemented in 140 countries worldwide. Professional instructors serve as mentors for the students and teach a combination of English, math, and PC and communications network technologies.

"Net@ is the only program in Israel with this kind of comprehensive program that reaches kids from underserved communities," Benioff said. "It also connects the Jewish and Arabic communities, religious and secular, new immigrants and native Israelis, bringing them all together and teaching them tolerance and democratic values."

During the school year, Net@ students attend four-hour study sessions twice a week. Classes of 20-25 students receive hands-on training to become certified computer network technicians.

In their second and third years, participants perform 60 hours of community service, using their expertise to service computers in various public institutions and for citizens who cannot afford to have their computers repaired or upgraded.

At the end of the fourth year, students earn Cisco Certified Network Associate certification as advanced network technicians with international Cisco certificates.

"The innovation of this program comes largely from the leaders on the ground who are both exceptional youth workers and highly committed to seeing a new way of life for young people in the region," Benioff said. "Working to foster both cross-cultural understanding, education and employment is a very progressive and practical way to get the job done."

Benioff said he plans to visit students in the Net@ program the next time he travels to Israel. He added that employees from the Salesforce.com Foundation have witnessed the students' success first-hand and were thrilled to be a part of it.

Since its formation in 2000, the Salesforce.com Foundation has created more than 60 technology centers with schools and nongovernmental organizations in 12 countries, including Kenya, Japan, Ireland and Singapore. Benioff estimates his organization has reached more than 100,000 people through its efforts.

"While recognition is always nice, the biggest reward for me is hearing the success stories of individuals," he said. "It is amazing to receive e-mails or phone calls from individuals whose lives have been positively impacted. Having the ability to better the lives of others is what it is all about."