Some 21% of Israelis, 1.8 million citizens, are Arabs, Druze and Circassians. The Riyan program was launched in 2007 and has been operating in its current format since 2013. The program was designed to help these communities find sustainable employment and lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Riyan centers are one-stop shops providing personalized counseling and pathways to professional advancement and higher education.
Each center is staffed by Arab Israelis, one of whose central tasks is community outreach. They speak in public forums about the program, arrange for local religious and other community leaders to speak to working-age Israeli Arabs about the importance of employment and self-sufficiency. The community outreach component is particularly important for changing societal attitudes toward women’s work and education.
When people enter a Riyan Arab Employment Center, they are first interviewed to determine their goals and which services they’ll need. Some clients are already working but need guidance in order to advance. For others, employment is a new and scary concept. The centers run job readiness workshops to teach interview skills, resume writing skills, basic computer skills and conversational Hebrew. Clients are trained to understand the cultural norms of predominantly Jewish workplaces.
They receive personal counseling and learn how to conduct a basic job search. Some are aided to complete basic education, while others dream of higher education and Riyan staff explain their options. Staff accompany them to meet with employers, and the centers’ small business support programs enable clients to formulate and launch new employment opportunities within their own communities.
Just as many Israeli Arabs are unaccustomed to predominantly Jewish workplaces, many employers are also unaccustomed to working with Arabs. Riyan staff cultivate relationships with local employers and national companies to clear the way for their clients’ employment.
What’s Special about the Program?
Riyan is a broad-based infrastructure program designed to bring about comprehensive social change within the Arab, Druze and Circassian societies through interventions at individual, community and employer levels. Riyan was developed with a community focus in mind. It is operated and run by members of the Arab community and accessible to participants in their hometowns. The centers are geographically placed in a way that enables links with major employers and the most advanced vocational training programs.
Riyan centers are operated by an Arab nonprofit organization "Alfanar." This organization was founded when the employment centers were conceived as there were no Arab organizations specializing in employment that could run the Riyan centers. JDC-Tevet has trained all the management and employment staff in the centers and has also helped Alfanar develop its own training programs.
The Story of Safinaz
Safinaz Jawamis, 23, from the Galilee Bedouin community of Beit Zarzir, could not understand how a talented young woman such as herself, known for her leadership abilities, an entrepreneur and volunteer who had founded an organization of academics in her home village, was unable to find work.
After graduating high school, she worked and volunteered in teaching and counseling and then began studying behavioral science. She sent out resumes, but never heard back. “I waited a day, another day, a week, another week. I started feeling frustrated and desperate for the first time in my life,” she says.
Safinaz turned to the Riyan Center in her village and started employment counseling sessions. “I was very surprised to learn that I was unaware of many aspects of the world of work – the whole issue of writing resumes, job interview readiness, and where to look for jobs,” Safinaz says. “I realized that I had been writing my resume incorrectly, which meant I wasn’t presenting my abilities in a way that would make an employer want to get back to me.”
She was soon hired by Tikshuv, a leading call center provider. Today, along with her college studies, she is working and developing new abilities. “The job helped me find out new things about myself, which gave me energy and motivation,” she says.
Safinaz has also become a role model. “A few days ago I met with a group of girls to talk about education and employment, and I heard one of the girls say, ‘Safinaz, you’re a role model for me’. I felt great pride.”
She attributes much of her progress to Riyan. “The mere fact that someone is interested in you, guides and mentors you, is very empowering and makes you feel you’re not alone and that you can dream. Today I’m dreaming of becoming an entrepreneur,” she says.
The program consists of personalized guidance and counseling before and after job placement, work with employers and the community, service for people with disabilities, professional advancement for underemployed workers and tailored advancement for academics. Each center has an employment guidance counselor, an employers’ coordinator, a vocational training coordinator, a higher education coordinator and a community employment liaison.
The Program in Numbers
Since its founding, the program has served 53,000 people. Over 26,000 participants have been placed in jobs. Over 6,000 participants have undergone vocational training. Almost 70% of participants are women.