Anam Raheem is talent matching manager at Gaza Sky Geeks.
Imagine a business opportunity that accelerates innovation and profit for a startup, while directly contributing to Palestinian progress. There is an inner force in Palestine - both in the West Bank and Gaza - that has steadily gained momentum in spite of perpetual political gridlock, a protracted economic crisis, and chronic outbursts of violence. This force is Palestine’s tech ecosystem - the growing community of tech talent, startups, network builders, and growing base of private, public, local, and international funders.
Established in 2011, Gaza Sky Geeks is a Google-backed tech hub headquartered in Gaza City that provides training, infrastructure, mentorship, and financing for entrepreneurs, software developers, and online freelancers to compete in the global tech industry. Gaza Sky Geeks’ many initiatives work toward one overarching goal: putting Palestine on the map as an internationally competitive tech ecosystem. Over the past decade, Gaza Sky Geeks and several other local and international organisations, enterprises, and funders have laid a sustainable foundation in support of Palestinian tech talent. The call to action now points towards the regional tech community to support the only industry in Palestine whose potential is uninhibited by politics and an enduring military occupation.
One of the few positives of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the global acceptance and even embrace of remote work. Previously, being born in the wrong place or an inability to travel was assumed by most to be an impediment to employment. No longer.
By offering high-quality remote employment opportunities for Palestinians in particular, the regional tech community can play an active role in reducing brain drain and cultivating a workforce that’s skilled in critical thinking, problem-solving, empathy, and innovation -- qualities that are key in fuelling locally-driven solutions that enable Palestinian progress. Hiring Palestinian talent also offers a lucrative business opportunity for the region’s tech community to augment their workforces with skilled, diverse, and cost-effective individuals.
Diverse teams perform better
It is well documented that diverse teams perform better and accelerate profits. Palestinian talent and the unique life experience they bring are an under-tapped source of diverse human capital. The lived experience of everyday Palestinians demands a consistent, daily level of resolve and stubbornness in the face of rampant discrimination.
Let’s take a young woman in Gaza, for example, who can successfully master English, earn a university degree in computer science, polish her skills in a full-time coding bootcamp, all the while enduring a lifetime of a crippling blockade, ongoing war, a chronic electricity shortage, and extremely harsh political constraints. Individuals such as her certainly have tenacity, resolve, and an aptitude for everyday problem-solving -- skills that are highly transferable and in demand in a startup environment. Individuals such as her are also not an anomaly in Palestine: female representation among computer science graduates and coding bootcamps alike hovers around 50 per cent, yet 69 per cent of female developers remain unemployed. Palestinian talent is driven, ambitious, and above all, ready to contribute to the tech world.
The Palestinian ecosystem has matured significantly in the past decade with the rise of internationally-backed incubators and accelerators, world-class coding bootcamps, and an influx of funds from local and international investors and donors. With this foundation in place, it’s critical that its stakeholders increase and diversify. Connections outside of Palestine with foreign or diaspora founders that provide knowledge, networks, and investment are critical for the long-term maturation of a thriving tech ecosystem. One of the biggest impediments to startup success in Palestine is a lack of professional and managerial experience among founders in addition to a lack of mid-level to senior developer talent. This is an obstacle the regional tech community can support Palestine in overcoming by creating avenues for early-stage Palestinian entrepreneurs and developers to benefit from the knowledge, skills, and traction of more mature ecosystems that can eventually be applied locally.
The on-the-ground support systems for Palestinian tech talent have never been stronger, making it an opportune time for the regional community to take advantage of the reduced barriers to entry in Palestine. Organisations like Gaza Sky Geeks’ Code Academy do the heavy lifting of identifying, training, and graduating developer talent who are benchmarked to global standards, and actively enable foreign employers to access this talent through recruiting services and infrastructural solutions like cross-border payments.
Cultivate the builders of a future Palestinian state
The chain reaction of employing, mentoring, and growing Palestinian tech talent does not only enable a local startup ecosystem to thrive -- it sows the seeds for Palestine’s future. Currently the biggest employer in Palestine is bureaucracy. Suffering from the world’s highest youth unemployment rate, Palestine - Gaza in particular - is at risk of serious brain drain, where the most talented youth have every incentive to move abroad to meet their potential. Given the harsh realities of the status quo, who can blame them?
There is no doubt that a driven, talented, and passionate diaspora - whose voice and agency are less stifled by the occupation - is critical in enabling progress in Palestine. However, there is also a need for driven, talented, and passionate counterparts who remain within the homeland and harness the power of global solidarity to build, lead, and drive institutions and movements that will accelerate change. The expansion of tech-enabled employment opportunities in Palestine can set roots for highly talented youth to grow into an active, impactful part of Palestine’s social fabric. By building experience in technology and entrepreneurship, Palestinian developers gain the networks, perspective, and leadership skills to quite literally build solutions to everyday challenges unique to the Palestinian context. These innovations alone can’t solve the question of Palestinian statehood, but a proliferation of a highly curious, highly skilled, and highly empathetic workforce of problem-solvers can surely only help in progressing past the status quo. It is they who will be instrumental in building Palestine and setting its future political and economic course.
What can I do?
Supporters of the Palestinian cause often ask what they can do to enable progress in a part of the world that’s so mired in one-step-forward-ten-steps-back political gridlock. The maturing tech ecosystem in Palestine has laid the foundation for the international community to support Palestine in a way that doesn’t get tangled in complex political narratives surrounding advocacy or the band-aid solutions of humanitarian aid. The primary and most impactful means for the regional tech community to support Palestine is by hiring junior Palestinian talent with the intention to mentor and grow skills that can eventually be re-invested locally. This step drives company diversity and profits, while giving talented youth a reason to remain in Palestine, meet their potential, and contribute to a brighter future.