This article first appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of The Explorer, Aramex's thought-leadership magazine that investigates issues critical to businesses, communities and the planet.
Facilitating both job seeking and NGO communication through SMS, Souktel has managed to empower entire communities across the West Bank. The mission, says Mohammed al-Kilany, is “Changing lives. One text message at a time” by helping both those who need aid and those who deliver it.
What was your “Eureka” moment?
Mohammed al-Kilany: Jacob Korenblum and I met in 2007 when he was doing an internship with Ruwwad to empower youth in Palestine. During his Masters, he’d proposed harnessing the power of SMS and, when we applied that to the challenges of job seekers as well as the NGO community in Palestine, we thought about a tool to create connections and link communities. My IT background helped me to develop the software and Jacob’s business background helped in the strategic planning.
How long did it take to go from original idea to commercial project?
MK: It took us around 18 months to turn it in to a functioning business model.
What was the biggest challenge you were able to successfully overcome?
MK: We use new technology, so we have to employ a lot of effort to convince people to use it, and that requires building trust with the community, as well as conducting surveys and demonstrations. Trust was also important in pushing women to register for a service that needs their phone number. Thirdly, funding was a huge challenge and we had to pay from our own pockets to develop the software and launch the product. But we all believed we’d survive and achieve our dream.
What are the key barriers to entrepreneurial development in the Middle East right now?
MK: Fundraising! It’s not easy to find people to support your project, especially in Arab countries where investors and businessmen don’t trust youth’s ability. In Palestine, the political situation means that finding investors is difficult as it’s seen as unstable.
What key piece of advice would you give to other Middle Eastern entrepreneurs starting their journey?
MK: People should have faith in what they’re doing and expect challenges and failures along the way. Also, entrepreneurs should share their vision with their team since they’re all in the same boat and can each have a specific role to help it stay afloat!