Beyond the blockades: How a tech hub in Gaza is building the next generation of entrepreneurs
by Meina Takayasu
“When we talk about Gaza, people usually think about something negative. But today, I want to talk about something positive.”
Sara Alafifi, Mentorship & Communications Manager of Gaza Sky Geeks, visited Tokyo all the way from Gaza, a 30-hour journey which was preceded by a 6-month process to obtain a visa.
On November 15th, Social Innovation Japan organised ‘From Gaza to Japan: Building Entrepreneurs for Social Change’ at Code Chrysalis, inviting Sara from Gaza Sky Geeks — the first tech hub in Gaza, and the first combined co-working space, start-up accelerator, and code academy in Palestine.
How Gaza Sky Geeks is Unlocking Palestinians’ Potential
Gaza Sky Geeks is a disrupter that empowers Palestinians by leveraging the resources they do have to build capacity and earn an income.
Gaza is a place with many restrictions that could hold people back from achieving their full potential. They have had 3 wars since 2007. They experience power cuts every 12 hours. Despite the high level of education — it is common for people to hold a Master’s Degree or PhD — 70% of new graduates are unemployed. 80% of the Gaza population are dependent on aid.
Whilst we talk about 5G networks here in Japan, in Gaza mobile internet is still on 2G (though wifi is prevalent). And that is just to mention a few of the challenges they face.
Gaza Sky Geeks provides a safe place for Palestinians to unlock their potential. Providing a co-working space for people to come and use, where they don’t have to worry about power cuts or their internet connection, seems to have a big impact on the Palestinians’ situation.
But Gaza Sky Geeks does more than that. They provide four programs:
- Full-Stack Code Academy
- Pre-Seed Startup Acceleration
- Freelance Academy for people who are looking for jobs online
- Digital agency to help professional programmers and designers to find freelance jobs
Half of the Participants are Women
Women Empowerment and Inclusivity is another thing Gaza Sky Geeks are passionate about. Sara mentioned that Gaza Sky Geeks truly believes in the power of women in Gaza. In fact, women outperform men in STEM at school.
However, as in so many other places in the world, women in Gaza need more support to overcome social barriers that might prevent them from pursuing a career in tech; from concerns from family members to worrying that they should get married at an early age.
In order to support women, Gaza Sky Geek invites “techy” women to come and share their stories to students, empowering them and reassuring them that it is okay to stand out. Moreover, they reserve 50% of their program seats for women, and as a result, women make up 42% of their whole community.
Partnerships with Stakeholders Worldwide
Partnerships and Engaging People worldwide are what makes the Gaza Sky Geeks strong and unique. They have partnered with and received funding from Google for Startups, the international NGO Mercy Corps and have a multitude of other partners such as Techstars Foundation. Sara explained that investors sometimes express reservations about investing in a Gazan startup, but they have also found a way around this, helping startups to incorporate in Delaware in the US.
One outstanding project from the Gaza Sky Geeks program is MomyHelper.com. Momyhelper is a mobile app to support Arab mothers through one-on-one wellness and parenting consultations, content and community. They won first prize in GSG’s program, and after that, Gaza Sky Geeks worked with Stripe and Silicon Valley Bank to establish MomyHelper.com in Delaware.
Nour, the founder of Momyhelper was able to get funds from an angel investor in Dubai by pitching her idea through Skype to investors across Middle East and Europe. She also won 2nd prize in Startup Istanbul 2017 among over 100 startups.
Gaza Sky Geeks is a great example of how the internet has unlocked the potential of people living in difficult and restricted situations.
How can you Help?
They are always looking for:
- Companies seeking Gazan tech talents
- Mentors for their Gazan students (both remotely and in-person)
- Companies that can host Gazan interns
Even these seemingly small actions can have a huge impact.
Contact email@example.com if you want to join their movement.
About Social Innovation Japan
Social Innovation Japan is an incubator for social change. We organise events, workshops, and programs for people to learn, connect and take action on some of today’s most pressing challenges. Together, we are building a movement for social good from Japan, with the rest of the world. Find out more here.