APPROACH AND METHODOLOGY
Two initiatives are working to catalyze the ICT industry in Palestine territories. One program will incubate a network of Arabic-language application developers in Gaza. The second, the Sadara Venture Fund, is working to help develop, and make profitable investments in entrepreneurial, export-oriented companies built around the substantial community of software and telecom engineers and other entrepreneurs in Ramallah and other West Bank locales.
Mercy Corps and Google will employ their respective strengths in starting the Arab developer network. As a leading global web company that is pushing industry limits through open access tools and cloud-based business solutions, Google will focus on many technical and business aspects of the program, including remote and in-person technical trainings and mentoring support. Mercy Corps, with its extensive experience leading multi-stakeholder projects in the developing world, will drive the overall implementation of the program, and work closely with the international donor community and investors in Europe and North America to solicit ongoing support necessary to scale and expand the program.
Through a combination of in-person and web-based training in technical and business essentials, peer-to-peer learning, mentorship, and seed funding for high potential startups, the network will build a critical mass of Palestinian youth who are competent in multiple programming platforms and able to create and run successful web-based businesses. The commercial launch of the first fifty financially viable web or mobile applications will also have access to seed funding from the network. Members of the investment committee will be drawn from Mercy Corps, Google's venture investment team, senior officials from the Bank of Palestine and other donors and investment advisors.
Mercy Corps' MicroMentor platform, a free service used to link experienced business professionals with entrepreneurs looking for mentors, will be launched in Arabic as part of the network. Making use of Google's allowance of 20% time for employees to work on projects of their choice, members of Google's global development workforce will be invited to serve as mentors for leading members of the Arab developer network, with the expectation that successful members of the Network will, in turn, become mentors for the next generation of Arab entrepreneurs.
To support the growth and scale of the ICT industry, Mercy Corps, Google.org, and Source of Hope Foundation will also support start-ups with early stage risk capital. This will focus on promising young tech companies located in the West Bank and the Gaza strip.
The Sadara Venture Capital Fund will make investments primarily in export-oriented, high-growth Palestinian companies in the software, media, and telecom sectors. The fund will be managed by Yadin Kaufman, a founder of Israel's first venture fund and co-founder of Veritas Venture Partners; and Saed Nashef, a seasoned technologist and entrepreneur with significant experience in the West Bank. The fund will invest in 2-3 companies in its first year, a target not previously announced. The fund received support from Soros Economic Development Fund, Skoll Foundation, the European investment Bank, Mercy Corps, and an affiliate of Google Corporation, raising $28.7 million in the first closing of the fund.
IMPLEMENTATION, TIMELINE, AND DELIVERABLES
The first year of this five year initiative aims to jump start ICT innovation and income generating opportunities for 1,000 Palestinian youth in the West Bank and Gaza. After testing and refinement of the model over the first year, Mercy Corps will determine how to expand and extend the initiative to new geographies and contexts. Other multinational companies, investors and investment advisors will also be invited to participate.
Sadara will aim to make initial investments in 2-3 promising ventures over the next year.
In the West Bank and Gaza nearly 50% of the population is under the age of 18. A large percentage of these youth (over 65% in Gaza and 29% in the West Bank) are without work. This high number of unemployed young people in the Palestinian territories adds to overall instability and disillusionment in the region (Mercy Corps West Bank/ Gaza report and UNSCO Gaza socioeconomic report 2011).
Economic development is needed to provide youth alternatives to extremism. There are a high number of skilled professionals in the West Bank and Gaza, but movement restrictions constrain the growth of most industries. ICT represents an alternative that can produce jobs, promote stability, and become a pillar of the Palestinian economy. Growth in this space still requires training, capital, and access to markets.
Mercy Corps is seeking $1.5 million in funding to run Gaza's startup accelerator for the next three years. it has successfully created the beginning of a startup movement in Gaza, with teams receiving investment from private investors. It created these teams in an environment where almost nobody has heard of a startup or seen a successful tech company, by inspiring Gazans to launch startups and providing them with the resources (co-working space, mentorship, networks, and knowledge) to do so. During the next three years, the goal is to bring about approximately 15 more investments and one Series A investment, in order to create jobs in Gaza in the long-term by harnessing Gaza's strong education and internet infrastructure.