Published originally in Medium.com

For individuals living with mental illness, finding and keeping jobs can be an arduous struggle. Many employers hesitate to hire people with psychological challenges due to the stigma of mental illness.[1] And, when people living with these challenges do find work, they are often underemployed at jobs that do not take advantage of their skills and talents.

Al-Ze is a digital service provider in Tel Aviv, Israel, that employs people with mental illness. Founded in 2015, Al-Ze empowers those with psychological challenges by creating a safe work environment, providing tools to deal with mental illness, and helping individuals to achieve their full potential.

Business Idea Captures Social Entrepreneur’s Passion

After studying social work and becoming a leader in his university’s youth movement, Ouriah Braunschvig knew he wanted his work to combine his leadership abilities with his social interest. He had been working for Minga, a Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Network Partner, for about a year when one of the Minga leaders proposed starting a media service enterprise that employed people with mental illness.

When asked if he would spearhead this project, Ouriah jumped at the chance to combine his passion for social media, website design, and social justice. The result was Al-Ze, a social enterprise headed by Ouriah.

Ouriah presents his business model at Miller Center’s GSBI Boost. Photo credit: Chen Galili

Charting a Course Toward Business Success

In July 2015, Ouriah participated in the Minga GSBI Boost program, adapted from GSBI curriculum developed at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and made possible through the support of eBay Foundation.

The GSBI Boost program provided tools that helped Ouriah clarify his mission and business model, articulate Al-Ze’s story in a coherent and professional way, understand the importance of differentiating Al-Ze from competitors in the digital service market, and strengthen the quality of its services.

The program also taught Ouriah that Al-Ze needed to support itself based on the quality of the services it provides, not just the aspirations of its social mission. Collaborating with GSBI mentors, Ouriah established a plan to implement a training program that would allow each employee to specialize in a different computer-based service.

Ouriah and his classmates. Photo credit: Chen Galili

Following the GSBI Boost program, Ouriah has helped each of the four original Al-Ze employees to develop a specific skill, such as website building, graphic design, or social network management. In addition, all employees are learning about customer service and project management. This specialization has allowed Al-Ze to refine its marketing strategy to target potential customers for the specific services it offers.

The next step for Al-Ze is to enlarge and diversify its customer base, from exclusively small businesses with limited resources to also include bigger companies. Ouriah continues to expand the range of services offered without compromising quality. Building on what he learned from the GSBI Boost program, and with support from Minga through quarterly board meetings, Ouriah is working toward a goal for Al-Ze to break even later in 2016.

[1] Naomi Struch, Yechiel Schereshevsky, Alona Baidani-Auerbach, Max Lachman, Tali Zehavi and Noga Sagiv. Stigma, Discrimination and Mental Health in Israel: Stigma Against People with Psychiatric Illnesses and Against Mental Health Care. Ministry of Health, Mental Health Services, 2007.