The freelancer life: tips from Gaza's successes

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A freelancing workshop in Gaza, run by UAE-based outsourcing website Nabbesh. (Images via Nabbesh)

Outsourcing is a new trend on the rise in the MENA region, one that could be a new employment driver and resource for future economic growth.

Below the surface, there has been a staggering increase in the number of freelance and outsourced workers in MENA in a market was estimated at $5 billion in 2015 according to Paul Sommerin of EY, who said in his Outsourcing Outlook Forum keynote speech that the MENA Outsourcing Market is expected to reach $7 billion by 2018.

Palestinians are proving to be adept at making outsourcing work for them, and say there are four key issues that prospective outsourcing platforms and businesses need to follow in order to make it work.

1. Brush up on your soft skills

A Market Skill Gap report from Bayt last year showed that 61 percent of employers in MENA said there was a shortage of skills in their companies, with the gap between soft and hard skills widening.

Nabbesh, the Dubai-based online platform that links local freelancers with businesses in the region and around the world, holds a Gaza training program called Fursati to teach university graduates skills they’ll need as freelancers.

Fursati project manager Deyala Ali told Wamda that aspiring freelancers needed unique hard skills in their chosen profession - to distinguish them from the crowd - as well as be able to speak to, listen and deal with customers in a professional manner.

“We recruit graduates and check what they need in skill training, legal training and then educate them on how to become successful freelancers,” she said.

Fursati has held 15 workshops for over 200 freelancers in the Gaza Strip, generating around 90 jobs in four months as a result. The program has recently kicked-off similar training sessions in the West Bank in late March, according to Ali.


Fursati workshops attracted many aspiring female freelancers.

2. Persistence will pay off

Haweya is a Gaza-based design startup that is one of the notable local outsourcing stories, and is proof that success comes from finding ways around barriers.

“We face many hardships working in Gaza such as the ongoing blockade and difficulty of money transfer, not to mention the prolonged electricity cuts. These are some of the things that we aim to overcome every day at work,” said Haweya founder Mohammed Qudeih.

The startup started as an idea and within a few years grew into a 20-person firm working mostly on outsourcing design works for regional clients including Qatar Charity, Islamic Development Bank, Saudi Mail, Palestinian Ministry of Health, and Radadi Group. The startup is a graduated business from Mobaderoon project, which is a startup incubation program in the Gaza Strip that has graduated 60 businesses thus far and is supported by Taawon.

It’s been running now for just over six years, and while its team still faces travel restrictions which cause problems meet customers and investors outside Gaza, they are persisting by expanding their online outreach and portfolio.


Haweya’s office in Gaza: One of the notable local success stories. (Image via Haweya)

3. Market yourself

Marketing is one of the cornerstones of businesses today, and if you are running your own freelancing business you need to market yourself too.

Another Bayt study on fresh grads in MENA showed that 76 percent of graduates recognize that finding a job will be difficult, with “knowing how to approach the job effectively” being one of the main reasons for that.

“We provide training on marketing, and freelancers should apply what they learn and market themselves,” Ali said.

She said that Nabbesh matched skills and profiles with the most appropriate clients in IT-related fields such as web and application development, graphic and motion design, as well as other fields including translation, journalism and photography. From the multitudes of applications the site received, the ones selected were applications from candidates that were skilled and well presented.

4. Keep developing and learning

One of the critical mistakes many new entrepreneurs and freelancers make is getting too driven by their work and losing track of continued skill development.

This is a view shared by the Haweya team.

“All of our employees receive ongoing training and coaching as they join us in Haweya as we keep honing the skills of the team,” said Qudeih.

He insisted the team learn from every experience and spread the knowledge amongst themselves in formal and informal training sessions to maintain high service standards. This also spilled over into helping other startups gain new skills from the Haweya team.

It’s something that has proven very useful for the startup as while they’ve developed dedicated units for web design and programming in their expansion, they’ve had the skills to do it.

The outsourcing market in Palestine and the region is growing fast, as established platforms such as Nabbesh and success stories like Haweya proliferate. There are questions as to whether it will become the promised employment driver but for the aspiring freelancer, at least, it’s a great time to start learning the ropes to benefit from this promising sector.

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Rafat Abushaban, MSc, is a speaker and mentor, Director at Startup Grind Gaza, Coordinator of YEP at Welfare Association, Curator at Startup Digest, and writes for Wamda. Reach him via Twitter or Linkedin.

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