The joy and discomfort that comes with startup work in Gaza

When I joined Gaza Sky Geeks last year, I was constantly asked why a person who worked with human rights, charities and research organizations would make such a big change. They wanted to know why I would leave a secure career to enter one of the most challenging sectors. But I have never taken the easy positions in my life. It takes some courage to leave your comfort zone and head to another adventure.

I first joined Gaza Sky Geeks, Gaza’s first startup accelerator, after an invitation from my debate partner, Basel Al-Madhoun. He wanted me to help prepare for a debate on entrepreneurship in Palestine and its role in solving unemployment as a part of Hosting Davos event in Gaza. I was introduced to an environment in which I felt like I belonged. At GSG, people are creating things and turning those things into bigger realities that serve their lives, country and dreams. I was astonished. I kept on attending the office as a volunteer and worked a bit on content creation and mentorship while being constantly mentored by Mai Temraz, an awesome lady who officially brought me to GSG after four months.

Throughout my work with Gaza Sky Geeks, I found myself spending weekends listening to Sam Altman and Paul Graham’s online courses instead of my usual readings and activities. I learned that I can enjoy fiction the most when I understand how to create a better reality. Startups have been more than just businesses to me, they have been a lesson in life and dedication.

Moreover, I was introduced to a community where women are able to stand out and speak, which is not likely to be found in other places in Gaza. A remarkable woman at Gaza Sky Geeks and a great colleague of mine, Rana Al-Qrenawi, is currently running our Women’s Inclusivity Program and is an excellent role model. She’s working on nurturing a community where all-female teams are leading tech startups, taking the longest ride in the cold mornings of Gaza to spend more than twelve hours a day working on providing, facilitating, learning, and creating new things.

Along with my day- to-day work and interaction with startups on mentorship related issues, I’m now mentoring some of the most successful Girls in Tech projects in Gaza including Technovation Challenge and BanaTech program, which is funded by the U.S Consulate, allowing this community to expand more and welcome people from all genders and ages. Through technology, this small world, bounded by siege and lacking resources and infrastructure, is liberating itself and transforming into a community that is radiating with energy and talent.

My commitment to work with startups has brought me to the American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford University board, where I participated in a conference in April of 2016. I’m currently serving as the Regional Coordinator and Startup Group Chair. Getting to know startups in Silicon Valley and across the world has contributed to shaping a wider vision on how to be a leader in this environment. I’ve been able to witness similar challenges for startups in the US and Gaza. I’m also learning ways to enhance conversations between two different, yet similar worlds that are capturing the true essence of what it means to be a risk-taker, innovator and individual willing to carve their own path through life.

Gaza Sky Geeks is now paving the way for the current generation to grow and develop its own way of solving some of the most pressing issues we’re facing in Gaza, including unemployment, gender-based discrimination, lack of resources, and lack of access to the outside world. It is bringing international expertise to challenge what stands between us and our ability to maximize the effort toward the best of the best enterprises internationally. To me, this is a labor of love, guts and hard work. It’s not easy. It makes me think and work and fail enough to create a better world one day.