Mercy Corps and Google.org are linking up to change the Gaza Strip and West Bank, one peaceful IT solution at a time.
Thanks to the Arab Developer Network Initiative (ADNI), young Palestinians will have the opportunity to develop web-based technological skills, sparking a new generation of capable, creative entrepreneurs. With the help of training sessions from Google and Mercy Corps’ seasoned experts, and additional funding from Source of Hope, ADNI is expected to open up a new professional field for Palestine’s motivated, young, job-seeking graduates.
The Challenge: For many Palestinian youth these days, unemployment is standard—the majority are jobless, despite relatively high educations. This youth bulge, created by a large baby boom in the 1980s, has ballooned during a global economic lull and left thousands of skilled 20- and 30-somethings without work. The unemployment rate for youth between 20-24 years is 66 percent in Gaza and 34 percent in the West Bank. It’s a terrible time to be young and in need of a job in the Middle East.
Palestine’s tech sector is so far not keeping up with forward-thinking tech innovations, such as cloud computing and app software. Currently, the sector represents a small niche, accounting for only five percent of the Palestinian economy. The lack of harmony between technological innovation and economic development is compounded by the alarming fact that about one percent of online content is available in Arabic.
The Opportunity: With a $900,000 grant provided by Google.org (the philanthropic branch of Google) for the first two years, and an additional $1 million provided by the Source of Hope Foundation, ADNI will have a healthy nest egg to start developing its program. The initiative includes three major components: technological and business-specific training, local and international mentorships, and seed capital investments.
What are they coming up with? Ideas already proposed by Palestinian ADNI participants include an app that turns off when entering a mosque, hand gesture recognition software, and Gaza Places, the Palestinian version of Google Maps. Mercy Corps and Google hope that investing in ambitious, fertile minds will, in turn, create dynamic innovations with social impact and the potential to produce income.
The Obstacles: Mobility and location flexibility is a well-known headache for the territorially-conscious region. However, an Internet connection allows people to work anywhere and cloud computing has changed the way we think about physical IT resources and traditional bumps in the road to developing apps. The initiative sets up a win-win situation: Palestinians receive the toolkit they need to supply an unfulfilled demand, while Google expands its interests in the Arabic-speaking market, which is ripe for paid online advertisements.
While the results of this project appear promising, ADNI still has many valleys to cross before reaching the promised land. No 3G network currently exists in the region for wireless devices. Commercial goods and materials cost a pretty penny, approximately 50 percent more than outside the borders. PayPal is not available to most. In Palestine, the platforms the global tech sector is built on simply aren't in place.
The Hope: In spite of these inconveniences, both Mercy Corps and Google are optimistic about their joint venture. “Palestinians have such a unique position," says Gisel Kordestani, Google's director of new business development. "They're well educated. They have strong English-language skills. With 88 million people in the [Middle East and North African] region getting online, they have the opportunity to build something for the Arab world."
And so Google.org, Mercy Corps and Source of Hope seem to be abiding by a proverb from one of the most notable male figures from Nazareth, who once preached: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
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