Winner, Woman Entrepreneur of the Year 2016
“There is an unanswered need in the Haredi community, especially for mid-life women with many children. I am giving these women hope and helping them break away from their destinies without alienating them from their families and their community.”
For Haredi women, those belonging to the ultra-orthodox community in Israel, the opportunities for personal and professional development are limited. Chavy Erenfeld wanted to change that. Through education.
In the Haredi community, there is profound devotion to religion, mostly practiced and upheld by men. However there is also poverty, traditional gender roles and a poor education system. As a Haredi woman, Chavy simply didn’t get the same opportunities as the males in the community, let alone other women in Israel.
Like many Haredi women, Chavy comes from a big family. She is the third of 12 siblings. Like most Haredi families, her father worked, while her mother was tasked with raising the family. In many Haredi families men devote their lives to religious practice, which implies women having the responsibility of generating some income and nurturing the family. This makes it very difficult for most women to get an education beyond high school. For Haredi women who aspire to work, the alternatives are low-paying jobs within their community, mostly as teachers.
Yet from a young age Chavy showed signs of entrepreneurial spirit. It all started when as a young girl she organized summer camps for other children in order to be able to afford clothes or a pair of shoes. Later, at the age of 16, she has another entrepreneurial spark when she requested a subsidy from the municipality to organize a field trip for young women in the community.
“I remember the immense feeling of achievement when I received the subsidy check from the municipality. I did not believe anyone would listen to me. This was my first meaningful experience with entrepreneurship.”
However Chavy was brought up to believe that job stability is not something to gamble with. She completed the Haredi school system and went on to be a teacher, working with children with special needs. She took on this role while also juggling a position as project director in a support organization for victims of terror. This then led her to become the municipal official charged with monitoring school attendance.
But Chavy also lived a parallel life. In her spare time, she organized parent groups, community events for women, and even a Berlitz English course. Yet without a safety net she knew she couldn’t afford giving up her formal job to start her own business. At least this was her perception.
When Chavy graduated from her B.A. something changed. She approached a college and she shared with them the idea of hosting graduate studies for religious women, after hours.
“I organised and marketed the project I had initiated within this college as their employee. I worked in the evenings out of my home, after having completed a full workday at my day job. I reached out to my email contacts and my main marketing platform was my cell phone. When I reached two parallel groups of 80 women each, I took the leap and established my business.”
Seeing how real it had all become, Chavy decided it was time to establish her business ‘Chavy Erenfeld’. Starting a business came with a lot of new issues she had to face, especially in the early phases. She recalls looking for “something like a big brother”. This is when she approached Youth Business International member in Israel, Keren-Shemesh Foundation, who provided her with coaching and mentoring support. In particular, Chavy’s mentor was able to guide her through planning, pricing, cash flow management and time management.
“We provide an alternative route to academic studies, while respecting religious and social constraints. The ultra-orthodox rabbinical leadership opposes this and many of my students conceal the fact that they are studying from their current employers lest they be fired on the spot. It takes a lot of courage but they persist because it is so important to them.”
Today, Chavy runs five programs: B. Ed., MA in Educational Counselling, MA in Organizational Development, MA in Main Management and Organization of Educational Institutions, and MA in Primary Education. She runs the programs in leading colleges throughout the country. In five short years, the cohort of students has increased from an original 35 in 2010, to 410 in 2015.
“After graduating, my students enjoy many more career opportunities and consequentially higher wages. […] Some of the women who started out in the first groups are already working on their PhDs. I am continually establishing new programs and growing the number of students.”
What gives Chavy the most satisfaction? Seeing her students go out better than they came in. As such, she’s helped hundreds of middle-aged Haredi women, often the sole providers for very large families, improve conditions for themselves and their families.
It should come as no surprise that Chavy has been awarded the title Women of the Year 2016 by Youth Business International.