Susan Robertson of Oklahoma Israel Exchange on the organization’s mission in the Sooner State
Cementing the OKGIT’s ties with foreign countries, companies and peoples are organizations like the Oklahoma Israel Exchange, or OKIE, an Oklahoma-based non-profit focusing on developing exchanges between Oklahoma and Israel. OKGIT member and OKIE Executive Director Susan Robertson spoke with OKGIT.com about her organization’s mission, her role and their upcoming November 5 gala event.
What is OKIE’s history?
“The Oklahoma Israel Exchange was endorsed by Governor David Walters in 1992 and became an official non-profit organization during the administration of Governor Frank Keating in 1997. OKIE was a joint endeavor between the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Jewish communities to encourage opportunities for exchange between Oklahoma and Israel. After some refining and updating, today OKIE’s mission is to promote increased collaboration between the two states in agriculture, commerce, culture and education by coordinating activities, sponsoring projects, ensuring responsiveness to economic development opportunities and cultural exchanges, building networks through people-to-people exchanges and serving as an intermediary to further relations.”
How is OKIE funded?
“OKIE is supported mainly by memberships and a yearly fundraising event. We also receive funding from the Jewish Federations of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry and grants. The Oklahoma Department of Commerce Israel office is funded in partnership by OKIE and the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, serving the Middle East, and is one of three international offices maintained by the state.”
What is your role with the organization?
“I serve as the executive director of OKIE and I am responsible for carrying out the policies as set forth by the board of directors and achieving the goals and objectives of OKIE. I work with the Israeli Consul Generals’ and Economic Office in Houston, as well as state, private businesses, cultural organizations and individuals that have an interest in pursuing programs or partnerships with Israeli counterparts.”
How did you become involved with OKIE?
“I began to learn about Israel while living in Oklahoma in 1986 and made my first trip there in 1989. I was originally connected with a Christian organization, the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, and traveled to Israel every fall for a worldwide conference. During my visits I made many Israeli friends and began to learn more about the country and experience the many challenges they face every day. Each trip brought me closer to a desire to do more than just visit. I moved back to Oklahoma in 1998 and in 2004 the executive directors’ job for OKIE became available, I interviewed and was hired. Ten years later I still enjoy the job and look forward to new partners and programs between the two states.”
What does OKIE do on a day-to-day basis?
“We constantly look for opportunities for exchange or connection in agriculture, commerce, culture or education. Israel has so much high-tech coming out of it. Everyday there’s some new device or app for phones or cure for some disease. We look for a business in Oklahoma that’s interested in partnering with one of those Israeli companies either for research or marketing opportunity. Oklahoma has state-of-the-art medical facilities doing research, is a leader in the oil and gas industry and is also a leader in aerospace. There are definitely a lot of opportunities.
“An example is with the Riata Entrepreneurial Center at OSU. They are interested in partnering with a school in Israel. OKIE contacted the office in Jerusalem and after some preliminary conversations, a school was identified in Israel that was interested and a program is being formed. This is the way we approach all exchanges in any of the four pillars of our mission, like a matchmaker. It is then up to the partnering organizations to move forward with the process.”
Tell us a bit about the annual gala and guest of honor Robert Henry’s presence.
“For the last five years we’ve held what has become the Light, Leadership and Legacy Award gala where we honor distinguished members of the Oklahoma community who have demonstrated unwavering support of OKIE. Honorees recognize the ongoing importance of projects and programs that link Oklahoma and Israel.
“This year on November 5, 6:30PM, at the Skirvin Hotel, Robert Henry is being honored for his commitment to Oklahoma and the relationship with Israel. We try to make sure the program is not only informative about OKIE but also entertaining. Proceeds help to support new and ongoing opportunities between the two states. For more information or to purchase tickets they can call 405-848-3132 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.”