Inspiration found in Israel and Jordan

When 2010 started, Israel and Jordan were not on my radar. I was bebopping along, running my freelance design business and had just started teaching visual communications classes at ITT Tech. I found that teaching caused me to refresh my knowledge in my field, which in turn improved my work and ultimately was good for my clients. And it was incredible to see the growth in the students as we moved through the quarter. Earlier, I had started working on “The Artists Way” which called for writing and introspection. During this time I wrote about the desire to travel, and visited places of inspiration like the John Michael Kohler Arts Museum and the Green Bay Botanical Garden to bring more creativity and visual stimulation to my work. Then came the communication that sparked the most amazing experience.

Dinner in Israel

Christina Trombley, who is the Director at the UW-Green Bay Small Business Development Center, sent me an email, asking whether I’d be interested in becoming a mentor in the Young Entrepreneur’s Program (YEP). Jay Harris, International Projects Coordinator, was instrumental in making this entrepreneur program possible. It was an opportunity for 10 young entrepreneurs from Israel and Jordan to come to – yes – Green Bay, Wisconsin and learn about operating a small business. Along with classes ranging from marketing, to business planning, to finances, each woman was to be matched with an entrepreneur, serving as a mentor, in her field. The mentors would meet with the mentees while they were in Green Bay, discussing business, sharing experiences, guiding and introducing them to other business experts. Then, for two weeks in the summer, a group of educators and business people, including the mentors, were to travel from Green Bay to Israel and Jordan to meet once again with the young entrepreneurs.

Inspiration. I don’t know what answered that quest more strongly — the small business classes presented by our University of Wisconsin – Green Bay guides, visits to the small business centers, educational facilities, and museums in both Israel and Jordan, or entering and touring the sites of ancient civilizations in both countries.

Maribeth at Masada
Jerusalem Mosaic

At Avni Institute of Art and Design in Jaffa, Nirit Vulfson, the Israeli graphic designer who I am mentoring, and I saw many amazing ideas in the gallery by the students to improve the design of  the three-dimensional and two-dimensional environments we live in. Our group from Green Bay met members of the small business centers in cities like Be’er Shiva and learned how they are nurturing the growth of businesses, and how important small business is to their economy, as it is here in the United States. We walked on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jaffa, where old and lovely buildings meet new and architecturally stunning. And in the streets of Jerusalem, we were enveloped by the spirits and spirituality of  descendents of three of the major religions of the world whose feet have touched those cobblestones from thousands of years ago to today.

Near the Wadi Rum
The Treasury at Petra

The trip that touched me most in Jordan was the one to the women’s small business initiative, where the director and staff helped women expand their home industries — like cheese making, olive preserving, sewing — into small businesses that would bring extra income into their homes and help their families. And in contrast, in the city of Amman, we attended Rotary and Chamber events that included owners and employees of larger existing businesses. The angular exteriors of the city’s buildings held lavish and lovely interiors of chandeliers and marble, or modern, metropolitan-style designs. In Jerash, we were able to walk in the ruts in cobblestone roads that were made by Roman carts long ago. Columns lining the roads were a proud mix of Greek and Roman styles, showing some of the different civilizations who lived in this city. At Petra, we walked through canyons of intensely colored rock, with hints of civilization, that opened almost suddenly onto the stunning Treasury of Petra carved into an entire wall of rock in front of us. We saw and touched ancient symbols carved into rocks in the Wadi Rum. And a night in that desert revealed a vast array of stars overhead, that were dimmed only by the brilliant light of the moon.

The marvel of the cities and the countryside in Israel and Jordan don’t even touch the inspiration and wonder gained from the people we met, and most of all from the ten young women we mentor. In our conversations, in what we taught each other, in what we shared from the heart, cultural walls were removed and we became friends and family. And we realized that we all want the same things in this world. Peace. Prosperity. Freedom to live, work and use our talents, help to support our families, each in our own manner.

What does this mean for you my friend?  It means I am refreshed. I am seeing the world with new eyes and have returned to my artistic roots, led there by the young entrepreneurs. The sights and knowledge gained from my travels have entered into my work. And this paves the way to making new connections for you and your business. I look forward to working with you.

I am grateful for the nine other mentors I met, worked with, and shared so much with during this experience, for the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay educators and professionals who taught us, traveled with us, laughed with us, and for the 10 Israeli and Jordanian entrepreneurs who opened their professional, personal and cultural lives to us. They have changed my life and outlook and I carry them with me always. 2010 was so full of new growth and adventure, it just makes me wonder — what will 2011 bring?

– Maribeth

Wishing you prosperity and good connections in 2011 and — Shalom, Salam, Peace.

To learn more about the young entrepreneurs program, see the links on the right.