Eli Willner’s office is in Fort Lee, but his employees are halfway around the globe. As a partner in Green Point Technology, Willner oversees a growing overseas business enterprise that capitalizes on the professional resources and lower wage scales in India and Israel.
"Green Point started about seven years ago as a traditional Indian outsourcing company for publishing," explained Willner, a Brooklyn resident whose background is in software development. "When I came aboard about four years ago, my task was to take it from data entry to a broad, commoditized service offering everything a publisher would want to do even content creation, indices, summarizing material from legal cases, and things like that."
After expanding the Indian branch from 30 people to more than ’00, Willner ran into an obstacle as he signed on higher-end clients, particularly American law firms.
"We could not find anyone [in India] to do anything that required a very literate American English or an understanding of American cultural subtleties, and especially if American credentials were required, such as a law degree," said Willner. "So it occurred to me to offer that in Israel, where there is large pool of ?migr?s with many professional skills, including lawyers who have a hard time making a living in Israel. We felt that would supply the missing link. And that’s been the model of the two-year-old Israel operation."
Outsourcing is a natural outgrowth of the technological advances of the last 10 years, said Daniella Slasky, director of employment for Nefesh B’Nefesh, a five-year-old organization that assists North American immigrants before and after their move to Israel.
"The growth of the Internet, e-mail, and videoconferencing, as well as an increase in international travel, all make it easy for professionals in a wide range of fields to work successfully with overseas clients or employers, despite physical distances," Slasky said. "It is an obvious option for many new olim who have the experience and language skills to work with international clients."
Slasky said she could not quantify the number of immigrants doing outsourced work but said that "it seems to be increasing all the time. We have received many telesales/marketing jobs over the past few weeks, some from olim who are starting branches of U.S. businesses here [in Israel]."
Willner said Green Point’s Israeli branch is growing "by the minute," and has already outgrown its new offices in Jerusalem’s Technology Park. The Indian operation also recently moved to larger quarters in Bombay.
"A lot of projects require a mix of services, some of which can be done in India and some by qualified Americans in Israel," he said. "The ability to parse out a project on the basis of the skill sets needed allows us to maximize the savings our clients can enjoy."
IDT, the Newark-based telecommunications giant, was the first American firm to set up a large-scale outsourcing operation in Israel, in ’00’. Its Jerusalem-based Call Center became one of the city’s largest employers, with more than 1,000 workers in a four-floor office dubbed "Little America."
This year, IDT Global started offering business process outsourcing services in Israel, including finance and accounting, information technology, graphic arts, legal support, architecture. and human resources.
The company did not respond to numerous requests for interviews, but according to its Website, a "majority of our agents are college-educated, business-experienced Americans, Canadians, and Europeans."
Similarly, Green Point offers professional services of editors and attorneys such as Debbie Buckman, formerly of Fair Lawn. Buckman does legal research and writing for a New York publisher and, at Green Point, is working on a pilot for an Internet-based legal research program.
"We are a better choice than India because we are American-trained attorneys and work for a lot less money [than in America] because we live here," Buckman said.
How much less?
Most employees at Green Point, from transcribers to editors to lawyers, earn less than a third of what they did in the United States.
And yet many new olim are more than willing to accept low pay or work multiple jobs in return for a comfortable work environment.
Attorney Jon Wellish, who lived in Passaic from 199′ to ‘000 and made aliyah in ‘005 from West Orange, found a position at Green Point through Nefesh B’Nefesh and freelances for other Israeli law firms that need his English-language expertise.
"Doing outsourced work offers flexibility and the ability to work in my native tongue," said Wellish, a new member of the Israeli bar. "A mature [English-speaking] adult is not going to perfect Hebrew to the extent that he has perfected English."
Wellish added, however, that there is a down side to this: "We’re living in Israel and Hebrew is the official language. In order to prove ourselves in the long term, it’s important to master Hebrew."
Green Point also employs about two dozen temporary residents who do not need to master Hebrew. Some work at home for a California-based client that puts American newspaper advertisements into searchable, clickable, indexed form online.
"The actual labor of digitizing the ads is something that lends itself to be done offshore," Willner said. "But this couldn’t be done well in India because the workers didn’t always understand what the ad was about. If it’s for a restaurant, for example, do you classify ‘buffalo wings’ as meat or poultry? You need a familiarity with the vernacular."
Miriam Nadborny Pitterman, who came here last year from Passaic as a newlywed, got a job at Green Point as assistant office manager through the recommendation of a friend’s sister. Because she is a not an Israeli citizen, her employment possibilities were meager and she didn’t have the help of organizations such as Nefesh B’Nefesh.
"I walk into work and feel like I’m in America," Pitterman said. "My Hebrew is not so amazing. In most offices you can’t go too far without Hebrew skills, but here you can."
As for renumeration, she said: "We get paid a [typical] Israeli rate but that’s harder for Americans, who are used to a higher standard."
Still, the availability of outsourced jobs helps account for Nefesh B’Nefesh’s most recent rosy employment figures based on a survey of its members: 94 percent of new immigrant households have at least one employed member.