A Future Start-Up Nation

Empowering Palestinian youth through job opportunities.

“I have reached this point, I’m ready to work but there are no opportunities” said Mohammad Al-Hroub during a phone interview.

A motivated 23 year-old, Al-Hroub studied Environmental Studies at Al-Quds University for four years and lives in Bethlehem. He was part of a program called New Story Leadership, in which Israelis and Palestinians spend a summer together in the US, tell their stories and try to create a dialogue.

Like many Palestinian graduates, he is now looking for a job and trying to avoid his last resort: to work as an illegal construction worker in Israel, one of the only alternatives unemployed Palestinians have.

According to the Palestine Bureau of Statistics (PBS) online, in 2016, 30.3% of the population in the West Bank are 15–29 year olds and 29.7% in Gaza; a percentage seen mostly in underdeveloped and/or Muslim countries where birth rates are high.

The unemployment of 15 year-olds and older in the West Bank is 15% for males and 26.7% for females; while in Gaza it’s 35.9% for males and 59.6% for females. The average net daily wage of employees working in the West Bank in US dollars is $27.80 for males and $21.10 for females. For reference, the minimum wage in California is around 10$/hour.

The most common jobs in Palestinian Territories are (in order): services and other branches, commerce and tourism, restaurants and hotels, construction, mining, agriculture, transportation and telecommunication. However, 16.5% of Palestinians work in Israel and the Settlements, mostly on illegal construction.

These numbers indicate the harsh labour reality in the Palestinian Territories, a lack of opportunities. Sadly, this number will keep rising, as more students graduate every year and enter the restricted Palestinian labour market.

Checkpoints, access restrictions and politics make it hard for Palestinians to look for better opportunities outside of their hometown. Until the political situation changes and allows them more freedom, they need outlets to release their full potential and use their knowledge and skills to ensure a better future.

Empowering Palestinian youth by providing them with the means to grow their economy, will allow individuals like Muhammad to pursue their careers and have a positive impact in their communities.

Young Palestinians use Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platform to communicate. The PBS shows that in 2016, 97.8% Palestinians have a mobile line, 63.1% own a computer and 48.3% have Internet access. With internet access, devices and time, Palestinians can have access to work on freelance projects for foreign companies.

There are many initiatives and organizations taking advantage of social media to initiate online dialogue between the two nations which is beneficial and needed. However, peacebuilding should focus on fulfilling human needs as well. Frustration and desperation from inefficient leadership and Israeli occupation bear major consequences. Basic needs are not covered and there is no political or social outlet for Palestinians’ hopelessness, so oftentimes violence seems their only way.

Within this vicious cycle, dialogue and interaction with Israelis provides a different perspective and hope but it doesn’t really change the living reality. For this reason, I decided to work in an initiative with recently graduated and unemployed Palestinian students using the information I have and the tools needed.

According to Ashraf Akram, a Palestinian Economics Major from Hebron, there is no “freelance culture” in Palestine. This initiative would introduce the idea of working from home in a field of interest as opposed to having to work on “any job” that can pay the bills.

The idea to create a space for Palestinians to grow professionally and connect to companies overseas is in a process of transformation. It was conceived at Jeremy Caplan’s entrepreneurial class during the “Startup Sprint” section, a five-week hands-on course to conceive, develop and launch our own product.

During this short time, we laid the foundations of our ventures by first interviewing, doing research on our targeted community and figuring out what are the needs we want to fulfill. With the help of lean canvas, value prop, user story, landscape, stakeholders and how might we questions maps we came up with a prototype of our service/product.

How might we questions brainstorm.

In Social Journalism we focus on giving a service to our communities, dedicating our work and efforts to help them fulfill their needs and raise their voice through our reporting. In entrepreneurial journalism we create strategies to sell, make profit and business models looking at our communities as “clients” or “customers”. At first, it felt strange, almost wrong that we had to think of how to make profit: “I want to help! Don’t care about the money!” I thought. But then it clicked: we can create a service or product that can help considerably fill a void and bring a tangible benefit to some members of our community but to the whole of it at large.

We were introduced to design thinking in previous semesters as a model to better serve our communities, and now we applied it when building our own start-up. Though we like to see ourselves as social rights’ fighters contrary to money-hungry business people; we learned this semester, that we can still be social journalists if we create start-ups that accelerate our efforts to serve our communities.

As I shared my idea with people in the West Bank, I was lucky to meet Akram, who had a very similar idea to mine and has experienced unemployment firsthand. For the past months, we have been working on the project that will hopefully help hard working people like him.

Through this exercise, I discovered the great benefits of combining social journalism and business to tackle a very specific issue in the Palestinian society, that will bring a long lasting impact.