Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

Founders, web designers and larger organizations like monday.com, Guesty and Hatzalah are using tech tools to coordinate and rally volunteers and relief efforts as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues.

By Alex Konrad, Forbes Staff

Five years ago, around the time he sold his email startup Rebel to Salesforce, entrepreneur Joe Teplow first volunteered with United Hatzalah, a non-profit organization that manages about 7,000 volunteer medics in Israel. In the years since, Teplow, a senior vice president at Salesforce Labs, has continued that work in New York, volunteering with its U.S. group. Each time he visited Israel, he’d squeeze in a shift or two.

Nearby, volunteer dispatchers connected doctors, nurses and EMTs to emergency callers via software that uses algorithms to match emergency callers with available volunteers, factoring in their proximity, skill level and equipment and vehicles on-hand to ping them in widening concentric circles until the request is accepted. Hatzalah then directed the medics to the emergency via a custom-made Android device loaded with apps for communicating with the caller and finding them.

“They have the most advanced location-based dispatching that I’ve ever seen,” Teplow said later, en route back to New York. “It’s just been remarkable to watch from the inside.” (There was professional synergy, too, it turns out: Hatzalah’s matching software runs partly on Salesforce, his employer, on the back-end; CEO Marc Benioff has been a vocal supporter of the organization.)

“It’s about leveraging technology to create the Uber of life-saving.”

Dov Maisel

The latest version of Hatzalah’s app had only just undergone an 18-month proof-of-concept, said Dov Maisel, the organization’s cofounder and director of operations. On the day of the attacks, the app helped dispatchers direct civilians fleeing by car across open fields to safety, and to show by video chat how to apply dozens of potentially life-saving tourniquets. Hatzalah’s medics used the system to field about 10,000 emergency calls in each of those first days, up 400% from a typical day.

Joe Teplow volunteering for Hatzalah just after the October 7 Hamas attacks.

Joe Teplow

“It’s about leveraging technology to create the Uber of life-saving,” Maisel said by phone on Thursday, just after leaving an air raid shelter following more attempted missile strikes. “I’ve been in emergency medical services for 30-plus years, and looking at the power these tech tools provide us, it’s doing that dramatically.”

In the wake of the attacks, Israel’s tech scene has struggled to maintain business operations amid the loss of loved ones, the displacement of families and key employees being called to serve in Israel’s armed forces reserves. (Palestinian founders, a source of economic hope for their communities, have faced major recent challenges of their own as the death toll in Gaza has reportedly topped 5,000.)

At the same time, Israeli tech workers have scrambled to translate their energy and skills into volunteer and relief efforts. Some projects, like one to protect the online identities of evacuees who lost electronic devices to Hamas, or another using facial recognition to identify missing persons, are technically complex. But others, like Hatzalah’s software and solutions from local tech companies such as monday.com and Guesty, are more straightforward — and no less valuable.

“The tech ecosystem is stepping up, overcompensating and continuing to kick ass,” said Israeli tech blogger and adviser Hillel Fuld. “It’s been a really beautiful thing to see, especially given the lack of unity that we had just before in this country.”

In the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attacks, Israeli tech CEOs and staff exchanged many thousands of messages sharing best practices, volunteer pages and other resource links via WhatsApp group chats. Others set up volunteer databases and intake sites. Web designer Ariel Levi, who goes by the business name Arielos, is a member of Dreamliner, a group of 17 digital professionals who share the same mentor. The day after the attacks, Dreamliner met over Zoom and resolved to build a master site for tracking volunteering opportunities and connecting volunteers automatically to openings. They published the site, called Ironclad Home Front (a pun in Hebrew), within 25 hours of that chat, Levi said over WhatsApp.

Ariel Levi and his Dreamliner peers set up a volunteer matching site in 25 hours.

Ariel Levi

More than 20 major relief organizations registered on the site, alongside over 1,300 volunteers in the first week, according to Levi; that number has since crossed 2,300. Dreamliner’s own volunteers, meanwhile, have been busy in the weeks since updating the site with more links to similar systems developed by other peers. “We all joined together and made it happen,” Levi said, “for the people of Israel.”

So much activity has also inevitably meant overlapping efforts. “I like to call it organized chaos on a macro basis,” venture capitalist Avi Eyal of Entrée Capital said of the flurry of activity earlier this month. Several CEOs pointed to software from monday.com, the productivity software maker that went public in 2021, as a key tool for coordinating the mess. “Monday was amazing managing all those operations, doing it for free,” said Dan Adika, CEO of fellow publicly-traded Israeli tech company WalkMe.

Monday.com’s dedicated emergency response team has developed a playbook for such chaotic scenarios — deployed in recent years for everything from a Covid-19 vaccination push in Africa to managing European refugee centers for Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion last year. But in an interview last week interrupted by air raid sirens, the company’s chief people and legal officer Shiran Nawi said she hadn’t expected to need the software so close to home.

Around 200 local employees volunteered from monday.com’s Israel office in the first week after the attacks, Nawi said. They helped organize the purchase of floral wreaths for funerals, coordinated donations of supplies and supported other groups running their projects using monday.com’s software in conjunction with monday.com’s non-profit arm, Digital Lift. More than 8,000 new active users have worked in dozens of projects in the past several weeks, the company said, spanning over 300 live projects and engaging with 16,000 “actions” (the company’s term for the completion of one task) around medical equipment or food donations. As one example, the Red Cross of Israel used the software to match blood donors to centers that are actively collecting.

Members of monday.com’s Emergency Response team have shifted from supporting displaced Ukrainian civilians to displaced Israeli ones.

monday.com

Since that first week, monday.com has shifted to a “handover” approach to train individuals at other organizations to use the tools themselves; about 40 employees are still volunteering full-time alongside 150 external volunteers from other organizations. Monday.com is working to ship new templates based on current demands, Nawi added, such as a form it created to allow employees to sign up to volunteer part-time. “We’ll do much, much more,” she said. “We are learning from these days of crisis and improving ourselves.”

The first form set up on monday.com during the current crisis, by noon local time on the first day of the attacks, was one to match displaced people with places to stay: more than 14,000 families worldwide registered on monday.com forms to host displaced families as of Thursday. That remains a challenge as a reported 200,000 Israelis have been displaced in recent weeks, filling hotels. (A similar and much larger-scale crisis has developed in Gaza, where Israel’s armed forces ordered the evacuation of at least 1.1 million people from the territory’s northern part.)

One company uniquely positioned to help in Israel was Guesty, a Tel Aviv-founded startup now co-headquartered in Nashville in the U.S., and which raised $170 million in 2022. Guesty provides property managers with software to manage their listings across sites like Airbnb, Expedia and Vrbo, spanning hundreds of thousands of properties across 80 countries. In the aftermath of the attacks, president and COO Vered Raviv-Schwarz was one of several employees to take a displaced family into her own home, she said. Early in that first week, Abi Rod, a senior global events manager on Guesty’s marketing team, pinged Raviv-Schwarz to suggest Guesty invite its customers to open up their own vacant properties for use.

In the past two weeks, Guesty customers have hosted hundreds of displaced people, Raviv-Schwarz said. One Tel Aviv-based manager of furnished rentals, HolyGuest, has hosted more than 600 people since the attack, with capacity to take on hundreds more. Two other vacation rental managers, Herzliya-based Carmelo and Tel Aviv- and Jerusalem-based Trust Inn, have each hosted dozens, and continue to do so. Guesty has assisted by matching supply and demand, and by listing available properties centrally on its platform. “The resources are more from our customers, and that is really something to commend them for,” Raviv-Schwarz said. “The great thing about the Israeli tech community as a whole is that everybody jumped to help. A lot of our employees just got up in the morning and said, ‘okay, I have to do something.’”

Startup CEO Danny Brickman is setting up cybersecurity courses for students out of school.

Dima Brickman

With some schools in Israel only just reopening for in-person classes and others on hold or partially disrupted, companies like monday.com and others have also managed temporary daycare centers and made arrangements to help employees with at-home children. At stealth startup Oasis Security, CEO Danny Brickman has also turned to technology to try to help. While serving in the Israeli Defense Forces for 11 years, Brickman led a training program for teaching teenagers cyber skills; at the encouragement of an employee who spent 15 hours in a bunker during the weekend of the attacks, Brickman more recently turned his attention to establishing volunteer virtual instruction for students currently unable to attend school.

At the time of publication on Friday, Brickman and his collaborators were hosting a cybersecurity workshop for high school students; more than 100 students have participated in such workshops so far, he said. Next week, they expect to launch a two-month program and network for students from affected southern Israel school districts. In collaboration with Israel’s education ministry, he hopes to prep students for final exams in computer science, despite a shortage of in-person teachers and studies.

“Some students are indeed gradually returning to school, but ongoing alarms and teachers being called to reserve duty create uncertainty,” Brickman wrote in an emailed update on Thursday. “Nonetheless, our initiatives are progressing and are being enthusiastically received by the students.”

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