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Chavy Erenfeld

Israel

“There was a need in the Haredi community, especially for women with many children. I wanted to give them hope and help them break away from their traditional paths without alienating them from their families and their community.”

Chevy Erenfeld grew up in the ultra-orthodox Haredi Jewish community in Israel.

There, gender roles are quite old-fashioned, in many Haredi families men devote their lives to religious practice, so women are often left with the responsibility of not only having the family but providing for them as well. An additional problem is that women are often denied the chance to get an education beyond high school. For Haredi women who aspire to work, the options are low-paying jobs within their community, mostly as teachers.

From a young age, Chavy showed an entrepreneurial spark and wanted to help women. At 16she applied for a subsidy from her municipality to organise a field trip for young women in the community to do something new. She recalls:

“I remember the immense feeling of achievement when I received the cheque. I could not believe they had actually listened to me and accepted my idea. It was my first meaningful experience of entrepreneurship.”

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 organisation for victims of terror. She then become the municipal official charged with monitoring school attendance.

As well as a busy professional life, in her spare time, she organized parent groups, community events for women, and even a Berlitz English course. Her entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well but Chavy worried that without a safety net of her job she could not afford to start her own business. At least this was her perception. However she soon had an idea. “I approached the college I worked for and shared my idea of hosting graduate studies for religious women, after hours. I organised and marketed the project. I worked in the evenings at home, after completing 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, she decided it was time to establish her business ‘Chavy Erenfeld’. This was when she approached Youth Business International member in Israel, Keren-Shemesh Foundation, who provided her with coaching and mentoring support. She recalls:

“Starting a business came with a lot of new issues, especially in the early phases. I really wanted “something like a big brother”. Keren-Shemesh Foundation were amazing, I was paired with a mentor who helped and guided me through planning, pricing, cash flow and time management."

Today, Chavy runs five programmes: B. Ed., MA in Educational Counselling, MA in Organisational Development, MA in Main Management and Organisation 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. “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 in case they are fired on the spot. It takes a lot of courage but they persist because it is so important to them.”

What gives Chavy the most satisfaction is seeing her students go out better than they came in, she’s helped hundreds of middle-aged Haredi women, often the sole providers for very large families: “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.”

Chavy has no plans to slow down and is continually establishing new programs and growing the number of students. She says no one should let fear stop them from setting up a business and there is always a way to overcome the issues. In 2016 the entrepreneur was recognised for her achievements when she was awarded Women of the Year 2016 by Youth Business International.

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