Business Leaders See Silver Lining in Pandemic Cloud for Palestinian Tech
At virtual meeting, leading entrepreneurs and investors discuss gender equality, digital internships and mentorship
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has driven the world increasingly toward remote work and digital solutions, could also accelerate the development of Palestinian high-tech and provide a much-needed boost to the Palestinian economy.
COVID-19 is accelerating digital transformation across the whole world
“COVID-19 is accelerating digital transformation across the whole world” and could speed up the tech revolution in Palestinian areas, especially as more companies adopt permanent work-from-home models, said David Tennenhouse, chief research officer of VMware, a California-based software company.
“If work can be done anywhere in the world, why not have it done in Palestine?” asked Tennenhouse, who was speaking at the annual DLD Tel Aviv Live high-tech conference, held online because of the pandemic.
Palestinian entrepreneur and telecommunications tycoon Hani Alami is the founder and chairman of JEST (Jerusalem Entrepreneurs for Society and Technology), an entrepreneurship center that aims to transform East Jerusalem into a tech hub.
The Palestinian tech industry is still in its infancy but has already had an enormous impact on the local economy, according to Alami. Nevertheless, a number of issues remain.
“The first challenge is to convince other parties that yes, here we have the talent,” Alami told The Media Line. “Big companies have said [to us]: ‘No, you are in conflict areas, so there is no sustainability.’”
Another issue facing budding Palestinian techies living in the West Bank and Gaza is their isolation from the wider global industry, as multinational companies generally operate from within Israel rather than in the Palestinian Authority territories.
For this reason, Alami said, he believed that “internships are very, very important. That will give [Palestinians] a lot of soft skills, communication and networking so that their success will be much higher.”
At the moment, he said, the tech ecosystem can grow by outsourcing and collaborating with international companies, and by sending young Palestinians to complete internships in major companies.
“Any internship help is needed as well as mentors [who] can help donate any of their time in mentoring our startups,” he stressed.
We are working hard to make [the tech ecosystem] succeed and to bring more and more people, especially women, to be part of this era of creating new positions and improving our economic situation
Alami spoke to The Media Line on the sidelines of the conference. The four-day get-together kicked off on Monday with an event titled “Get to Know the Palestinian Hi-Tech Community,” which featured speakers from startups, venture-capital firms and international companies. It was held in cooperation with Breaking the Impasse, an advocacy group of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders who push for the Israeli government and the PA to reach a peace agreement based on a two-state solution.
“We are working hard to make [the tech ecosystem] succeed and to bring more and more people, especially women, to be part of this era of creating new positions and improving our economic situation,” Alami told virtual attendees of the session.
Also speaking at the DLD event was Jafar Shunnar, co-founder and technology head of Kiitos Technologies, a software engineering company. With offices in the West Bank city of Nablus, Gaza and Amsterdam, the company, which was established a couple of years ago, has already expanded to 20 employees. Its software developers are Palestinian, while its commercial and strategy teams are Dutch.
The company’s ultimate goal, according to Shunnar, is to foster and empower Palestinian talent and provide jobs for Palestinians.
“Our dream is to transform overlooked areas just like Palestine into technology hubs,” he told listeners on Monday. “We cannot do this alone. We believe in an ecosystem approach to solving our problems and the problems of our community. We’re still far away from achieving our ultimate goals, but the groundwork has been laid out.
“Today we’re in Palestine, but we aim to be a global organization,” he said, noting that Kiitos’ staff is equally divided between men and women.
We are a millennial organization ourselves and have progressive values, two of which are equality and inclusion: gender, racial, religious, you name it. Women are great software developers, focused on details, great communicators and great in teams
Kiitos co-founder Christian Vezjak told The Media Line that gender equality is one of the company’s credos.
“We are a millennial organization ourselves and have progressive values, two of which are equality and inclusion: gender, racial, religious, you name it,” Vezjak explained. “Women are great software developers, focused on details, great communicators and great in teams.”
Breaking The Impasse, he added, has been instrumental not only in helping the firm grow but also in helping develop the Palestinian tech ecosystem as a whole.
“Software is by definition a cross-border product, and it’s easy to export out of anywhere,” he said.