Authority Magazine: Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Global CEO Of Israel Tennis and Education Centers Erez Vider Is Helping To Change Our World

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Posted on: 01/13/2023

When you speak about leadership, you speak about change. Leadership is about personal example because you show that you are willing to change. Leadership is about persuading people to embrace changes that are often difficult.

Aspart of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erez Vider.

Erez Vider is the Global Chief Executive Officer at Israel Tennis Education Centers based in Ramat Hasharon.

By: Yitzi Weiner, Authority Magazine

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Before I became CEO of Israel Tennis & Education Centers (ITEC) in 2019, I worked in banking. Before that, I served nine years in the Israeli army. The opportunity to serve my country opened my eyes to what it means to be part of a cause that is greater than yourself. Even while I was in banking, I knew I wanted to get back to that.

For two years, I searched for a position that would help me fulfill that desire to give back. Eventually, I lost hope and started my Ph.D. in social psychology. About a year and a half into it, an offer came from a headhunter for a position that centered around helping the children of Israel. After several interviews, and competing against many other qualified candidates, I was fortunate to be offered the position as CEO of ITEC.

After I started with ITEC, I had to stop working on the Ph.D. Recently, however, I’ve been able to start on it again, which is very fulfilling. The study of emotions, and how people perceive the emotions of others, is very connected to management and is a big part of my job.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Recently, we went to Bahrain to meet with a delegation of top government officials and dignitaries. We were there to discuss tennis diplomacy, a big step toward breaking the ice, building bridges and bringing people from our two countries together. Our outreach to Arab communities, both within Israel’s borders and across the Middle East, is an initiative we call Abraham’s Bridge. As I entered the room where the meeting was to be held, I saw our hosts dressed in white galabeyas. I felt the wings of history envelop me. It was a very wow moment, an amazing experience and very emotional. I saw how we have the power to change the lives of children throughout the Middle East. Tennis is a part of it, but it’s only the first step. It goes much deeper than that. We connected with our counterparts in Bahrain on a personal level. We have continued this dialogue since that meeting and we already have plans to return soon.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

First of all, I must say, I make mistakes every day. I try not to do the same mistakes more than once. Mistakes are our best teachers if we are willing to learn from them. Now talking about funny mistakes, I went to a meeting with the mayor of an Arab town we were looking to partner with. I made the mistake of not recognizing him and I started giving my speech to his secretary, as if he was the mayor. After I was about a minute into my speech, he and I both realized that I was speaking to the wrong guy. It was embarrassing but it was also a very funny mistake and his secretary was very nice about it.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

We are looking to make an impact with all children of Israel — regardless of religion, culture or socioeconomic status. We are particularly invested in reaching children in the most underserved places in Israel, where kids sometimes don’t have the luxury of dreams or expectations.

Our organization impacts about 7,000 kids. Some of them come from broken families, some come from lower economic situations, and some come from at-risk homes. The impact we make on them goes from the bottom up, from the kids to their families and their community. If we’re able to impact enough communities, we believe we will have an impact on the Israeli society.

What I’ve learned in life is that in order to succeed you need to fail a lot. You never fail until you stop trying. Tennis is a great example of that. But the kids we are working with in these underserved communities often haven’t been taught that. Our coaches are also educators. Our coaching philosophy, what we call values based tennis, includes the message to our children that every time you go onto the court, all that is expected is that you do your best. It doesn’t matter if you fail. It matters that you try to do better the next time than you did before.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

There was a boy in one of the most remote towns in Israel. His mother was a single mother — his father was absent. This boy was a little overweight and had ADD which led to many problems in school. He was in a class that didn’t require a final test for completing school, which meant he didn’t have a future.

When he came to us, he was put into our Embrace program. In the Embrace program, kids get social skills help from our coordinators as they learn tennis. We have close to 1,000 kids in that program from all over the country

Fast forward five years later. This boy now is one of our best tennis players. He’s very fit and has largely overcome his problems at school. When I went to visit, his coach happily came to me and said “You cannot imagine — he is going to miss his tennis lesson because he’s studying for the final exam of the 10th grade.” I went to speak with the boy and he said he has two dreams — the first dream is that he wants to win Wimbledon and his plan B is that he’s going to use the skills he’s learned to earn a college degree at a good college and become successful in business.

He now has the skills and he is educating himself through this program. Most importantly, perhaps, he has dreams. This impact on one child tells the whole story of our organization.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

The root of the problem is a lack of education, a lack of trust, and deep suspicions in Israel between different peoples and different societies. Through tennis, we are building the bridge from ignorance to knowledge and understanding. We are connecting different religions and cultures. Children are children. It is natural for them to play together without prejudice. When they get older, they will have made different friends from different societies. It is the only way to help build understanding across cultures.

Politicians can help us by doing the right thing and investing more money in education and in bridging the divides between different people in society.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

When you speak about leadership, you speak about change. Leadership is about personal example because you show that you are willing to change. Leadership is about persuading people to embrace changes that are often difficult.

Not everybody believes in what you’re doing but if you want to make those changes you need to embrace what you believe in and ignore the noise that surrounds you..

Not everyone is happy when we talk about Abraham’s Bridge and some people think that this is not a solution and that our problems cannot be solved. But we know children are the future. If we are able to change the way children perceive life and the way they perceive other people, they will be better prepared to effect change as the leaders of the next generation..

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

ITEC! A society is only as strong as its weakest link. By helping children who are most in need, we are building for a better future. I think we are doing something extremely important.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“We are not the biggest organization so we know we can’t change the whole world at one time. But we can change the world for one child. ”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would like to have breakfast with the minister of education or the King of Saudi Arabia. I believe that if we sat down together face to face, great things could happen between us.