Palestinian hi-tech sector seen as bellwether of change   

Four-day DLD Live Tel Aviv festival opens with session on getting to know the Palestinian hi-tech community, considered to have have significant potential  

Screenshot from the "Get to Know the Palestinian Hi-Tech Community" event at DLD Live Tel Aviv.

Although still at an early stage of development, the Palestinian hi-tech sector is playing a key role in the digital transformation underway in Palestinian society, including initiatives to encourage investment and attract international companies, participants in a global online conference said Monday. 

The event titled "Get to Know the Palestinian Hi-Tech Community" kicked off the 4-day DLD Live Tel Aviv festival.  It was held in cooperation with Breaking the Impasse (BTI), an NGO which advocates the message of a two-state solution. The session that brought together a range of figures from startups and global companies was hosted by Steffi Czerny, Founder and Managing Director of DLD. 

The speakers included Frank Muller, CEO, AXSOS; Yadin Kaufmann, Founding Partner, Sadara Ventures; Hani Alami, Founder, JEST Hub; David Tannenhouse, SVP, Chief Research Officer, Vmware; Anwar Awad, VP GM Engineering, Intel; Guy Shemesh, VP Applications Engineering, Nokia; Avishai Trabelsi, CEO, Quicargo; Zada Haj, CEO, Daifco, and Amer Abushamma, Digital Communications Practice Lead, ITG Software.  

The participants discussed such issues as attracting international companies, bringing more women into the hi-tech workforce, increasing outsourcing tasks, sending interns to gain experience at various ecosystems, transforming overlooked areas into tech hotspots, increasing the number of software developers, leveraging the Palestinian diaspora, and addressing the brain drain. 

Hani Alami, founder of Jerusalem's JEST Hub entrepreneurship center, pointed out that although Palestinian high-tech is a very young industry it has a lot of influence on the economy. He said there are two main challenges facing the sector: convincing other parties that Palestinians have talent, and empowering the ecosystem such as by mentoring startups. The entrepreneur also said it is necessary to convince companies to overcome their reluctance to do business in what they consider to be a conflict zone. "We are in a stable area," he said.    

Alami added that there are a number of initiatives underway to boost the hi-tech community, including ones to encourage more international companies to hire Palestinian talent for outsourcing tasks; a project to send interns to different ecosystems to gain experience; and a project in which hi-tech professionals work with universities. He said there are currently about 2,000 Palestinian engineers providing services and 850 developers working on outsourcing.  

Zada Haj, CEO of Daifco, said Palestinian hi-tech companies are expanding their workforces and providing new opportunities for women including remote work programs. A database of Palestinian startups seeking investments has been established to help them make pitches to venture capital firms and international companies, she said.    

The participants in the event emphasized that the Palestinian hi-tech sector has significant potential. "We're still in the exploratory stage of the journey," noted David Tannenhouse, SVP, Chief Research Officer, Vmware. Strategic leadership is needed to build niche expertise, he said. According to the executive, the COVID-19 situation is an opportunity for Palestinian hi-tech to expand its partnerships remotely, leveraging the Palestinian diaspora. He suggested that the hi-tech sector could serve as a link between the English and Arabic-speaking worlds.     

Anwar Awad, VP GM Engineering for Intel, said people sometimes ask him why companies should do business with Palestinian hi-tech. He described the sector as a "real gold mine" with a highly-motivated young workforce that has a strong work ethic and is highly exposed to the Western world. 

One of the major issues facing Palestinian hi-tech is a brain drain, with many young Palestinians leaving the sector or the region to seek better opportunities elsewhere, said Yadin Kaufmann, Founding Partner, Sadara Ventures. He said that his company is arranging internships for Palestinians at multinational companies so they can gain experience and later contribute to the local sector, while the companies benefit in terms of skills and diversity.  Bringing together Israelis and Palestinians in high-tech companies helps build relationships between the two sides, Kaufmann said.

Diversity is good for business, noted Guy Shemesh, VP Applications Engineering for Nokia. He said the company now employs about 80 Palestinians and is working to bring in more talent. The executive stressed that it is important to bring together people from different backgrounds to collaborate on a common business goal. The more a company is diversified, the better the business is, Shemesh said, adding that it is necessary to consider a wide variety of ideas so products will have global appeal.     

For more information, please visit the DLD Live Tel Aviv website at: https://www.dldlivetlv.com.