YES Alumnus Dawoud Zahran is the founder and director of MISSION Startups Center, the upcoming curator of the Global Shapers Community in Ramallah, and an Oxford University alumnus. He published a recent article on a new path for Palestinian entrepreneurship, where he, “aims to start a serious conversation amongst stakeholders to drive the entrepreneurial ecosystem to the next level, and take-part in leading the MENA region’s technological revolution.” West Bank’s YES Alumni Coordinator, Sara Alqobbaj, interviewed Dawoud to talk about his new article and his take on entrepreneurship in the Palestinian territories:
Sara: Can you tell us more about what you do at MISSION?
Dawoud: At MISSION we believe that the MENA region’s technological revolution has just started, and that Palestinian entrepreneurs must become a critical part of it through their tech-startups. All our work serves this purpose by providing capable Palestinian entrepreneurs with the support they need to create and grow successful tech-startups with a MENA-wide target market.
Nowadays, my role is split amongst various tasks. Most startups work like that when they start; everyone is doing a mix of everything. To summarize, a decent portion of my time is used to pinpoint Palestine’s top startups and entrepreneurs who MISSION can be of help to serve. The remainder of my time is dedicated for fundraising and advocacy efforts.
Sara: What is the status of the Palestinian startup ecosystem, and where is it heading?
Dawoud: To say it simply — it’s “developing.” However, its direction depends on all us to play our part whether we are Palestinian entrepreneurs, in government, or part of the public sphere.
One thing I always say is that less than 45 years ago, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the founders of Apple, were still explaining computers to people. 45 years, on the scale of historic innovations that changed our world, is not that long. Shaping this movement is still possible, and many countries have proven this. It will take time until we take our startups ecosystem to regional and international performance levels but, simultaneously, our goal should be to shift from accommodation to innovation.
Sara: What is the role of Palestinian youth in crafting Palestine’s entrepreneurial/technological path? What is your advice?
Dawoud: My advice is to invest in their own growth. Frankly, if you only rely on local educational systems, that’s not going to get you far. Take time to develop your skills in your desired field. If you are studying for a computer science degree, for example, get online, and see what the global software developers’ community is up to these days. With the knowledge the internet provides, there’s really no limit to what you can learn.
Now, with this type of mentality, a third option, next to being employed or unemployed, presents itself: to create your own unique path forward, such as a startup that solves a problem or adds value to people’s lives.
By the way, if you’re an Arabic speaker who wants to learn how to develop your idea into a startup, we will be distributing an online course in Arabic specifically on tech-entrepreneurship in the Palestinian territories. Check our website and social media for its launch in August.
Sara: Did your experience at the YES program have any effects on your ideas — in what ways do you think the YES program helped you to become the person you are today?
Dawoud: The YES program had a great role in shaping who I am today. There is a certain level of confidence and experience one receives when they go to a different country at 15 years old, and this really sticks with you after the program.
Sara: Is there anything you would like to add and put out there for, firstly, the Palestinian YES Alumni, and secondly for the global YES Alumni network to read that will help with starting conversations about this topic?
Dawoud: I believe YES alumni are well positioned for a path in entrepreneurship given their unique experiences. It would be interesting to create a “YES Alumni Ideas Incubator” specifically in relation to tech-startups. MISSION can certainly help with that.
Dawoud Zahran (YES 2011–2012, West Bank, hosted by AFS in Brodhead, WI)
Sara Alqobbaj (YES 2016 – 2017, West Bank, hosted by PAX in Worthington, OH)
Read more about Dawoud’s success after the YES Program here and here!