Is the Palestinian diaspora key to enabling local startups?

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Diyala Abdlrasul and Ghassan Taha Amayra are the co-founders of MENACatalyst

The Palestinian plight is not a foreign notion, but one that has witnessed hardships, setbacks, and attacks against its very foundation. Most recently, the Palestinian cause has gained more recognition and support from around the world. It may be that more media coverage has brought the issue into the limelight, or quite possibly that the Palestinian diaspora community abroad has become more willing and less refrained to speak the truth, coupled with the rise of social media, which has undoubtedly played a huge role in allowing for a new generation of advocates to freely express issues they deem close to the heart.

Still, today, while progress has been made, Palestinians still have a long journey ahead. Today, Palestinians continue to fight for their basic rights and freedom, hindered from realising any real change on the ground due to the ruthless prolongation of the occupation. And while Palestinians around the world are making strides on the political front, a continuation of the occupation will never allow for real change on the ground - which begs the questions - how can we make real and effective change until then?

Palestinians on the ground have been thwarted time and time again. Unemployment in Palestine is nearly 32 per cent, and in Gaza unemployment reached 53.7 per cent compared to 19.1 per cent in the West Bank according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. These numbers are indicative of the difficulties and with joblessness on the rise, Palestinians are struggling to make ends meet. But while Palestine boasts one of the highest rates of education in the region (and by global standards), one would expect the numbers to speak differently. Further, the unemployment phenomenon has taken a toll on the youth.

Fresh graduates are finding it more difficult to make their way into the job market and in Gaza, the circumstances are even worse. With Palestinians forced to look elsewhere for employment opportunities, a new rise in social and tech entrepreneurship has made its way on the doorstep of our frontiers.

Banking in on this new wave of entrepreneurship, MENACatalyst, an organisation dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship in Palestine, has managed to dive into the diaspora community’s talent to match them with local entrepreneurs seeking mentorship, networks and investment opportunities, with the intent to build a global ‘Palestinian Virtual Economy’ model, which would feature a range of local and international startups and act as an archive of diaspora investors and mentors alike.

Moreover, with the emergence of new technologies fueling the path towards job creation, Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza, are gearing their focus towards entrepreneurial ventures. Further, the diaspora’s intent to help people back home has attracted more interest in the newly emerging startup scene in Palestine and has rapidly attracted international investment and outsourcing opportunities for local entrepreneurs.

By way of illustration, Mashvisor, a startup based out of Ramallah, has managed to use the resurgence of the US real estate market to help real-estate agents find high-return property investments in cities around the US.  Now, one of the leading real estate platforms in the US, employing roughly 35 people, Mashvisor has offered a glimpse into the future of technology for young and striving entrepreneurs in the region seeking international markets.

Understanding the importance of exposure, networking and investment opportunities for these young entrepreneurs, MENACatalyst has devoted its work to ensuring that Palestinian entrepreneurs are given optimal opportunities, by offering them the chance to participate in their host of ‘Pitch Challenge’ events spanning the West Bank and Gaza Strip, for coveted spots to travel to international destinations for an array of meetings with business enablers, mentors, and investors from around the world. Thus far, MENACatalyst has flown its winning startups to Santiago, Chile - which boasts a large Palestinian diaspora population eager to support local startups and the UAE, where startups met with a community of entrepreneurs and investors from the diaspora and Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. Meetings with critical players in the realm of entrepreneurship such as Wamda, MBC Ventures and MBC Al Amal, Middle East Venture Partners, in5, Dtech, and diaspora-run startups Bayzat and Bayt.com - opened the doors to a new reality for participating entrepreneurs, and offered a new outlet of potential areas of support for the Palestinian diaspora keen on helping these entrepreneurial ventures succeed.

Ultimately, this new model is intended to bring to the table innovative ideas, increased and more focused support in the scope of mentorship and investment, but also give way to a more powerful and connected diaspora which can help increase awareness of the Palestinian cause and help shine a light on the talent that Palestinian entrepreneurs hold. With this we can build a resilient Palestinian economy and create thousands of sustainable jobs for women and youth in Palestine, building an economy that closely resembles those around the world, with free movement of people and goods. That is the hope, but with the current status quo, it is critical that we continue to explore smart alternatives to create opportunities and foster resilience.

 

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