Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of speaking to representatives at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation on behalf of CTech for a piece I was working on. I had heard about one of their initiatives called ‘Starting Up Together’ from a colleague and I was inspired by its mission to help young Middle Eastern tech entrepreneurs from countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, The Palestinian Authority (Gaza), Syria, and Israel.
The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation and the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation (Israel) are largely responsible for Starting Up Together, which last year launched in collaboration with eBay’s Development Center in Israel and the Center for Smart Cities at Bar Ilan University. The three-month course helps participants join weekly Zoom calls where they share ideas, network with industry experts, and level the playing field in a tech ecosystem that can sometimes be criticized for its density of white, Ashkenazi men who all served in the Israeli Defense Forces.
One of the best parts about being a journalist is how there is never a shortage of people to speak to – especially when we’ve all spent the better part of a year locked indoors due to COVID-19. So when I was offered a chance to meet some of the participants in the program, I was happy to click on the Zoom chat.
I was joined by seven participants from the program who each shared their experiences with me about what it was like to work with people across borders, cultures, and regions. Any interview can be daunting – and yet here I was trying to balance seven different subjects, each with their own story to tell!
It was the first time I have ever shared a screen with individuals from Israel, Palestine (West Bank), Gaza, and Morroco – all at the same time. On paper, these nations have been fraught with conflict. Until fairly recently, history has shown most of them to be intolerant or unforgiving in their relationships with one another. At least on a diplomatic level. On this personal level, we were all gathering just as friends, family, and colleagues have been doing for months on end.
At the time, I reported how someone said to me: “I’ve turned my camera off so my connection is better,” which I still believe is one of the most universal sentiments of the current era, transcending any and all political feelings that individuals may have. Who can focus on policy or politics when we are all just trying to hear each other speak from different countries? Her ideas of expanding education to all ages and regions made much more sense to me than the policies that were once designed to keep us from ever meeting or traveling to see each other’s communities. All of which are now deemed irrelevant in today’s world of lockdowns, easily replaced with Zoom as a means to share our thoughts and ideas instead.
In December 2020, it was announced that Israel and Morroco would agree on diplomatic ties following neighboring countries in the region like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. When I asked about how this impacted the countries I was speaking with, it was met with another grounded response from an individual on the call.
“Of course, Israel and Morroco are like-minded and would want to be friends and visit each other,” the person told me, practically dismissing all the recent geopolitical achievements aside. “We’ve known it for 10 years.”
I learned all about how these participants, who sometimes have to tune in each week from internet cafes due to a lack of infrastructure in their communities, intend to start their own companies and change the world. Israel earned its name as a Startup Nation, and now with the help of Starting Up Together, these nations can share their own innovations – regardless of color, creed, faith, or region. After an hour, we hung up on our call and I got to work on telling their stories in an honest and fair way. I have linked my final story at the bottom of this piece.
As a new generation grows up in the world of Zoom calls and normalization ties between countries once in conflict, it was amazing to see the ‘New Normal’ (a term I despise and yet fall on frequently) take its shape and form in front of me. It is a world that transcends geopolitical conflicts; it is somewhere that brings tech-savvy minds and entrepreneurial spirits together with the right to privacy and without the concern of risking physical safety. It is an era where normalization between neighbors is normal.
Former President Shimon Peres founded the Center for Peace and Innovation in 1996 with the hope to overcome political and technological differences for a prosperous future. It looks like it is well on its way.
You can read my final article, “Young Middle Eastern techies overcome borders by collaborating in virtual space”, on CTech here.