There are numerous industries in the MENA region barely touched by technology
which will soon become reliant on it. There is no doubt that we will need seasoned
entrepreneurs to lead that transformation, and emerging Palestinian entreprenuers must
become a critical part of this yet unwritten story. For this to happen action needs to be
Tech start-ups offer a unique path forward for our economy and society. Nowadays, a
savvy entrepreneur can launch a software application from a small incubator and market it
online to thousands of potential customers with massive space for growth and profit.
Palestine already has these entrepreneurs, and many of them created and scaled unique tech
start-ups regionally and internationally. Now, we need more of these. A lot more.
We must work (really work) across private, public and academic sectors to prioritise the development of a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. This will require open-cooperation amongst stakeholders, a major cultural shift that normalizes strategic risk-taking, and a lot of investments instead of donations.
We need to establish a supervisory board to monitor technology/business-related university teaching, sync stakeholders’ efforts, and push the tech-entrepreneurship ecosystem forward.
We owe it to our students to provide them with the needed skill-sets to find jobs, create companies, and develop themselves further. Starting with technology/business-related education, major stakeholders (academia, students, tech-startups ecosystem, and government) should establish a supervisory board that calibrates high standards at Palestinain educational institutions. Put simply, our students are not being challenged enough in their university classrooms, and this needs to change for the private sector to receive the talent suited for its needs and potential growth.
As part of a collaborative process that is based on data, the board can challenge universities to create and execute-on adapted curriculums addressing the developments of our age, for example, cryptocurrency or big data. From the other side, the board can push the entrepreneurial ecosystem to make use of these frequent educational developments. Moreover, as part of its capacity, the supervisory board can help to foster a more interconnected Palestinian entreprenurial ecosystem where parts of the puzzle start complementing each other.
What is needed to start this? A governmental decree that passes the board, its independence, and authority into official policy, and then the democratic assembly of a diverse board encompassing all major stakeholders. The board’s decision making/reporting/accounting/research processes will need to be strategized at the board’s initial meetings in line with its sanctioned authority.
International donors should phase-out non-essential donations, and start facilitating investments in locally-based startups and investment funds.
In numbers, between 1994 and 2017, foreign aid provided to Palestinians stood at around USD 36.5 billion, most of which were grants. For the next 10 years and beyond, we ought to convert a decent percentage of that foreign aid into investments so that we develop the sustainability required to not need foreign aid.
The Palestinian economy must sustain itself, and grants will never get us there. By providing unique startups/investment funds with capital - while expecting/requiring a return on that investment - the incentives shift and so will the outcomes for all of us.
We need a cultural shift that starts with each of us.
For the Palestinian entrepreneurial ecosystem to be successful it ought to be inclusive while maintaining high effectiveness at creating/growing amazing tech-startups. Starting a tech-startup is not and will never be an easy task, hence why those who take this path should be willing to own it completely with all its ups and downs; ecosystem enablers should communicate this clearly to upcoming/current entrepreneurs. While maintaining clear communication on the complexity of starting a startup, we should simultaneously work to expand the pool of those who take this unique road by empowering more Palestinian youth/women to join, and by spreading the geographical zones where tech-entrepreneurship activity takes place. At the core, the message to our youth should be that it’s okay to innovate, it’s okay to challenge the status-quo, it’s okay to try really hard and yet fail. Palestine has so much to offer, and very little of its potential is utilized. This doesn’t have to be the case.
The aforementioned points are by no means a full list of the steps we must implement in our local ecosystem. My aim in this article is to start a serious conversation amongst stakeholders to drive our entrepreneurial ecosystem to the next level, and take-part in leading the MENA region’s technological revolution. If this excites you, and you want/can assist, please, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s talk!