Wafa Eben Beri intends to use skills gained in the MAIDP program to help dismantle inequality among Jewish and Arab communities in Israel.
Wafa Eben Beri, Headshot
Wafa Eben Beri

From her childhood in Tel Sheva, a Bedouin town in the south of Israel, to her recent position as head of the Government and Policy Department for the Israeli Ministry for Social Equality, Eben Beri has sought to improve life for minority women and other marginalized people around the world.

Growing up in a family of 14, Eben Beri said her parents—both of whom are illiterate— encouraged her and her siblings to follow a path of “social betterment” and pursue higher education. Eben Beri intended to study medicine. But while attending school for general health studies, she volunteered at a large hospital in the south of Israel and observed that while the Bedouin community constitutes only a third of that region’s population, more than 60 percent of the patients in some departments of the hospital were Bedouin.

“I couldn’t ignore those numbers. I started to do some research, and my research opened a window for me on the inequality between the Arab and Jewish communities in Israel.”

After this realization, Eben Beri decided to pursue a different path: creating opportunities for minority people and changing the systems—governmental and otherwise—that enforce inequality.

From 2008–17, she worked for the Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Operation at the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development (AJEEC-NISPED), including three years as the director of the Bedouin Volunteer Tent. Eben Beri said managing Jewish and Arab volunteers taught her that a “shared society” between these communities is not only possible, but vital. “The vision, attitude, and practice of AJEEC-NISPED resonated with me. We weren’t only discussing issues with the communities, but when members of those communities volunteered together, they recognized the reality of both sides for themselves.”

Eben Beri subsequently worked for the Israeli Ministry for Social Equality from 2017–19. As head of the Government and Policy Department, she worked with community, businesses, and different ministries on changing policies to be more inclusive and open for minorities.

It was during that time Eben Beri decided to apply for the Obama Foundation Scholars program to pursue a Master of Arts in International Development and Policy (MAIDP) at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. The Obama Foundation Scholars program provides rising young leaders, who are already making a difference in their communities around the world, with the opportunity to take their work to the next level through a newly designed curriculum that brings together academic, skills-based, and hands-on learning.

“I needed an international perspective on my work: I wanted to better understand how local issues impact—and are impacted by—the rest of the world. I joined Harris because I care a lot about what I want to improve in my reality—and the reality of the communities around me. And I believe that what’s happening in Israel is not only about Israel: it’s connected to the whole world.”

Eben Beri said her decision to study at Harris was also influenced by her desire to work with other leaders from all over the world as an Obama Foundation Scholar. She also wants to improve the performance of governments and how they serve their people and communities— which in turn improves “the trust of people in public policy.”

“The MAIDP coursework has helped me better understand not only the importance of data—the ways we produce and analyze it and how it’s presented (and by whom)—but also what you do with it. Harris has provided me with tools adapted to what’s happening in the world and taught me the importance of differing perspectives applied to data.”

After earning her MAIDP, Eben Beri aims to continue expanding the breadth of her work to create opportunities for minority women and other marginalized groups.

“I am in this world to make a difference: this is my reality, and I want to be in a position to help change it. I don’t want a future where inequality is its basis.”