Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Nurturing entrepreneurs in Gaza

Doaa Mohaisen | 22-10-2015

Mayada in front of her "Friends Market"

On her wedding day, 21-year-old Mayada El-Awawda received a message from Ken Imrie, chairman and founder of FundingLab; his Scottish charity was going to start raising money for her business project, a minimarket.

Mayada, who lives in block 8 of the Burij refugee camp, had recognized her neighborhood's dire need for a minimarket. A walk of 15-20 minutes was required to buy the most basic of necessities, and few of the residents own cars. So, she decided to open her own.

"It was his wedding present to me," Mayada says with a big smile and glowing eyes. Mayada was primarily raised by her mother, Um Abdullah, along with six other siblings. Her father is deaf and mute, and lost his job in Israel 10 years ago along with 2,000 other Palestinian workers who were dismissed  for “security” reasons. Nonetheless, with the help of a Qatar-sponsored scholarship, Mayada has been able to earn a diploma in business and enroll in a bachelor’s degree program in English education at Islamic University of Gaza.

"I was invited to Mayada's wedding, which was unfortunately postponed as a result of the 2014 war and I have been unable to return to Gaza since," says Ken.

FundingLab, which launched last April, helps young people overcome barriers, develop confidence and belief in their own abilities, and achieve their potential by raising money for their promising projects.

"I met Ken in April 2013 when he led a delegation to Gaza. After meeting Ken, I emailed him expressing my interest in volunteering with YouthSchool [a FundingLab partner] Later on, I asked him if he could help me start my own project."

FundingLab is based on a crowdfunding model. In this scheme, young entrepreneurs who have been vetted and approved by FundingLab advertise and promote their business idea on the organization’s website. The budding entrepreneurs often offer rewards to backers to encourage them to give more money. Money is transferred directly to Palestine (or Pakistan, where FundingLab also operates) and there is no need to have a foreign bank account, unlike some crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

The beauty of crowdfunding is that it enables many people to get involved in projects regardless of their own personal wealth/income, so it helps to popularize the act of giving money to help transform lives through the creation of sustainable livelihoods.

After reviewing Mayada’s business idea, Ken agreed to promote her business on FundingLab and the campaign was a success, raising $4,040.

Mayada turned a room in her house into a minimarket, buying shelves and a stock of basic groceries. Abdullah, Mayada's older brother, had studied medical records administration but—like the majority of youths in Gaza, where their rate of unemployment is more than 70 percent—he couldn't find a job. Instead, he helped Mayada manage the minimarket when she later moved to Gaza City with her new husband.

Mayada said the biggest challenge she has faced is credit. People, especially relatives, often promise to pay later when they buy goods, but then don’t, which puts the market in crisis. Fortunately, however, the business has managed to survive.

Jasmin and her dairy farm

FundingLab also has helped Jasmin El-Awawda, Mayada's cousin, start her own project, a dairy farm. During the 2012 Israeli assault on Gaza, Jasmin's father lost his farm and with it his five cows. FundingLab helped Jasmin buy her first cow. "Her name is Moza [banana]," Jasmin says.

With Moza's milk, Jasmin now earns the equivalent of about US$50 a week. She plans to grow her project by buying another cow and from the earnings buy chickens and goats and "perhaps start selling our milk to milk factories," she says.


"Ultimately, I supported both girls because I felt they were passionate about their business ideas and they had the necessary skills, talent and determination to succeed," Ken explains. In fact, FundingLab is interested in supporting more projects in Gaza, where the economy has been crippled by regular attacks and the eight-year Israeli blockade. For the next year or so, its focus will remain on youth entrepreneurship.

"Our approach is one of creating a family of FundingLab businesses that can share their success and experience, both with each other and of course the people who had faith and backed them in the first place,” Ken explains.

He adds that his organization also is developing ways to follow projects after they’ve been funded. “We are keen to exploit ways to do this using mobile/video technology,” he says. “For the donor, being able to receive feedback directly from the man/woman who benefited from his or her donation will be a powerful experience."

In fact, with the help of FundingLab and other enterprises, many Gazan youth have started their own businesses, and thus challenging the siege and occupation. But Ken hasn’t just helped Mayada and Jasmin start their businesses; he’s also built strong personal relationships with both of them. “I’m so close to the two girls,” he says.

In Gaza, youth living in this ravaged, war-torn zone are opening their arms wide to those willing to finance their first small baby steps toward independence, while also forming relationships that provide a glimpse of the “warm” side of the Strip, creative and vital.

Mentor: Juliana Farha
Posted October 22, 2015

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