Gaza Sky Geeks is a charity program unlike any other. In a country where war is the reality, and the infrastructure is constantly threatened by bombs and destruction, the success of a startup accelerator wasn’t something many people would have predicted. However, GSG’s mission to educate Gazans about startups and help them find the funding to turn their technology ideas into reality turned out to be a perfect fit.
The group was started when Google.org, the branch of Google that handles charity and philanthropy, gave a large donation to Mercy Corps, a global aid agency. Mercy Corps usually concentrates on basic humanitarian aid such as food and water, but the donation from Google provided the organization the ability to turn its focus to the world of tech startups.
The first challenge for GSG was to educate people in Gaza about the concept of startups, so they devoted their annual “Startup Weekend” in 2011 to doing just that. Much of the population in Gaza is educated and aware of new technology, but their ability to get jobs is hindered by border restrictions and conflict. It became clear that startups are a viable solution to the high unemployment in Gaza, since they offer a chance for people to create jobs themselves, without much infrastructure.
GSG now has a co-working space in Gaza City, and the number of startups pitched at their last Startup Weekend grew to 600. Some of the established startups that work with GSG, such as Wasselni, an Uber-like app that is much needed because of Gaza’s lack of public transportation, have already received money from outside investors.
Despite this, the companies involved with GSG are not established enough to operate without philanthropic funding — and without funding, GSG cannot continue to operate. Finding funding can be difficult in Gaza, as corporations do not want to seem like they have a certain political stance on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. On top of that, Mercy Corps no longer has the funding to operate Gaza Sky Geeks. The #GazaStarts campaign on Indiegogo was launched to try to save the organization, and reached its initial goal of $70,000 in the first week, but much more money is needed to truly keep GSG operating in the years to come.
It is clear that just like young Americans, Gazans gravitate toward startups because they want to be their own bosses, make their ideas a reality, and achieve success even as their country is crumbling around them. GSG helps them make connections with the outside world amidst the isolation that comes from living within closed borders. It provides a place to work even when the electricity in their homes may be flickering off, and it provides a community that fosters new startup ideas.
Their Indiegogo campaign currently sits at $161,631, enough for them to keep half of their staff and continue to grow their startups. When that runs out, GSG will have to use their resourcefulness to come up with a solution to keep the startup initiative going in Gaza.
About the Writer
Rachel Wallace is a graduate of the University of South Carolina, where she studied psychology, journalism, and warm weather. She recently moved back to her home state of New York to attend the Columbia Publishing Course and pursue a career in writing and editing. Some of her interests include poetry, hip-hip, yoga, and YouTube. She is adventurous when it comes to food and passionate about traveling. Her favorite places to be include London and the New York Renaissance Faire.
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