Gaza Strip – With economic conditions continuing to deteriorate in the Gaza Strip, more Palestinians living in the coastal enclave are resorting to crowd-funding websites to fulfil their dreams.
A growing number of young people have successfully raised the money needed to study abroad or to launch their own projects in Gaza, which Israel and Egypt have blockaded since 2007.
Today, more than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza graduate from university each year, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, while unemployment has risen.
Given the huge number of graduates and unemployed youths in the Gaza Strip, many students apply to join master’s programmes abroad.
But not everyone receives a scholarship – or a big enough scholarship – to pay for these programmes. Some enterprising young Palestinians have turned to the internet to present their stories to the world, and ask for assistance in achieving their goal.
Our main mission, in addition to launching real successful businesses from within Gaza, is to change the world's perception of Gaza.
Nader al-Khozundar, 28, was the first student known to run a crowd-funding campaign in Gaza, which he used to finish his MA studies in business intelligence and analytics in London.
He launched his campaign, Higher Opportunity for Palestinian Education (HOPE), in February 2013 with the goal of raising $9,000 to cover part of his tuition.
“The idea came to my mind when I was reading articles in the field of information technology. When you do a start-up and present the idea for funding from the backers, I thought about doing the same thing,” said Khozundar.
“What happened is that I started arranging for this campaign two months before it started. I’ve contacted people with lots of influence [and more followers] on social media … to help me publish my campaign’s link.”
Once criticised by some in Gaza as a way of “begging” for money, crowd-funding is now being used more and more by young people.
“I was criticised for raising the campaign. Some people would say that it’s not the good way. They just criticised me without giving me solutions or alternatives,” said Zaid Ahmed, 24, a graduate from al-Azhar University. He started his own campaign recently but did not reach his goal.
Ahmed, an English literature graduate wanting to study journalism, is still waiting for a scholarship opportunity in Gaza. “We get more help from the Western countries than the Arab ones,” he said.
Dalia al-Najjar, 21, used the internet to raise funds to help her sister, Sara, who was born with a visual disability. “I don’t want my only sister to go completely blind. I still need to show her things. I created the campaign to collect $3,100 to buy my sister telescopic glasses,” Najjar said.
She explained that Sara suffers from bilateral macular toxoplasmosis, and that her sight gradually fades the more she uses her eyes. Najjar published her sister’s story using social media, and asked people to support her.
She garnered supporters from all over the world and raised more than $3,100. “My overseas friends were really supportive and helpful. After I wrote about the campaign in my blog, a British friend reached me and told me she’s going to make an event there. She sold some cupcakes for donation at her church,” Najjar said.
Meanwhile, Gaza Sky Geeks, an accelerator founded by Mercy Corps in Gaza, ran one of the biggest crowd-funding campaigns in the Arab world, which helped them to create a huge community of supporters around the world. They turned to crowd-funding after their initial funding from Google was coming to an end, even as their funding needs grew larger.
“It was the first time that we were aware of Palestinians in Gaza donating directly to an international organisation. We had someone in Gaza donating $1,000, and we had other entrepreneurs donating whatever they could,” said Iliana Montauk, the manager of Gaza Sky Geeks.
“Our main mission, in addition to launching real successful businesses from within Gaza, is to change the world’s perception of Gaza,” Montauk added. “When I first arrived in Gaza, I was shocked by how it reminded me of Silicon Valley. It’s a place full of vibrant people interested in technology and working on business, and so one of the things that GSG tries to do in order to make sure that the right kinds of resources and business opportunities are coming to Gaza is share with the world what Gaza is really like.”
Mohammad Abu al-Qumboz, 30, a social media specialist, told Al Jazeera that although there are no statistics on the number of Palestinians in Gaza who have started crowd-sourcing campaigns, many of the ones he is aware of have succeeded.
“There are students who wished to study abroad and got scholarships, but these scholarships were not enough to cover their travel and living expenses … so they started building campaigns online on websites such as Indiegogo and Zomal [an Arabic language crowdfunding site], and we’ve seen this becoming more like a phenomenon recently,” said Abu al-Qumboz.
However, he noted that there have been instances of impersonation, or cases in which people have used the cause of Gaza and its people in fake campaigns to collect money.
“I really refuse to use ‘living in Gaza’ as a way to get funds or support,” said Dalia al-Najjar. “The crowd-funding tools are available for everyone, and they should be utilised by youth when needed, and for noble purposes and for supporting innovation. There are a lot of people who want to help others and don’t know how. So these crowd-funding platforms help them get connected.”