2020 has been a whirlwind of a year. As COVID-19 emerged and fast developed into a pandemic, global economies are now facing a widespread recession that may take years to recover from. Despite this, amidst these unprecedented times, Palestine's startup community remains resilient by working harder now more than ever to not only meet the needs of local markets but scale to regional and global ones to improve their viability.
At MENACatalyst, we are dedicated to supporting up and coming self-starters and fostering a vibrant and diverse startup ecosystem fueled by game-changing innovation, home-grown talent, and global collaborations.
As the new year fast approaches, we would like to share some of our most notable achievements of 2020.
MENACatalyst kicked off 2020 by hosting an exclusive meet and greet with a meeting to Prime Minister’s H.E Mohammad Shtayyeh office. The event brought together 40 early and growthstage startups, along with leading public sector officials, to examine the state of Palestinian entrepreneurship. Discussions explored how marketplace barriers, limited access to resources, and investment opportunities have come to define Palestine’s entrepreneurial landscape, forcing many startups to look towards regional and international market integrations to stay alive.
MENACatalyst’s entrepreneurial support program concluded its first cycle with a group of 20 marginalized women self-starters from Hebron. The enterprising women managed to establish 20 income-generating projects that ranged from handicrafts to photography, food preparation, and delivery applications to educational-digital platforms.
MENACatalyst launched its first crowdfunding campaign on Launchgood.com for Asma Basal, a participant of Hebron’s entrepreneurial support program. The campaign was a success, and at 12,161 USD, reached well over 150 percent of its 8,000 USD goal. The campaign showcased the diaspora’s overwhelming support for Palestinian entrepreneurship, ultimately making the case for continued engagement with Palestinians from around the world.
During this time, COVID-19 emerged in Palestine and caused nationwide lockdowns and social distancing measures. In response, MENACatalyst transitioned to remote project implementation in which workshops, mentorship sessions, events, and meetups were conducted over digital platforms such as Zoom and Skype. We are happy to say that this transition was seamless, and we managed to keep our entrepreneurial community connected to a support system that spans that globe.
Over the summer, MENACodes, our flagship coding program targeting middle and high school students, launched its firstever virtual kids hack day, the first of its kind in Palestine. The event brought together over 50 kids from all over Palestine and included the participation of 30 mentors from inside and outside the country. We also organized a 20-hour virtual python training for secondary students across Palestine and a digital coding training for MENA kids. Our coding efforts are in conjunction with our ongoing membership with UK based Code Club.
Throughout the past year, MENACatalyst continued its strategic partnership with the GIZ and launched two support programs designed to enhance the professional and digital capabilities of underrepresented youth in employment and selfemployment tracks. the projects target marginalized communities in the geographic areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank respectively.
On the diaspora front, MENACatalyst continues to engage a global community of professionals dedicated to supporting local Palestinian innovation and entrepreneurship. In addition, we are currently working closely with a Palestinian Investor in USA to establish one of the firstever innovation hubs in Nablus. The Hub will be fully equipped with the latest technology, hosted by an array of mentors, and feature intensive workshops to keep a new generation of innovators up-to-date with what it takes to change the future.
One of the highlights of the year for entrepreneurs was the annual International Conference on Entrepreneurship – Palestine, which brought together some of the country’s most gamechanging tech startups, national and international industry experts, and local policymakers, paving the way for a more viable ecosystem.
As 2021 fast approaches, we understand that the aftermath of COVID-19 will reach far beyond the upcoming new year. Along with our community of innovators, industry partners, business enablers, and policymakers, we will channel our collective resources to help Palestinian and MENA based communities recover from the pandemic's aftermath by building their resilience via strengthened support systems.
Our upcoming interventions will focus on women's self-employment measures and target innovative sectors that have tangible growth potential. We aim to support women cooperatives as they are essential for protecting worker rights and helping members access markets and transformational networks of support. We are also developing innovative digital solutions to help youth access the info, resources, and linkages they need to achieve professional success.
We hope that our community of supporters inside and outside Palestine will continue to join us in creating equitable opportunities for the country’s under-represented youth and building a more inclusive startup ecosystem driven by market demand and social impact. Ultimately, our goal is to foster a resilient virtual economy that is unrestricted by borders and instability yet reliant on the skills, perseverance, industry, and innovation of thousands of potential changemakers.