A few weeks ago, Ambar Renova accepted an award for her organization’s efforts during Global Entrepreneurship Week 2013. Palestine for a New Beginning (PNB) has served as the host for GEW Palestine since 2012 and was singled out by its fellow hosts from 140 countries for running an inspirational campaign that helped more than 2,400 people take the next step in their entrepreneurial journey. It also enjoyed the support of Deputy Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa and three cabinet-level ministers (Labor, IT and the National Economy).
Renova, a program manager for PNB, is an MBA graduate with expertise in economic and political development as well as a keen interest women’s rights issues. She had earlier shared her story of the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in Gaza, a self-governing entity claimed by Palestine, and the hope that they offer for the future.
My First Trip to Gaza
My first night in Gaza, I had dinner with an old friend, an important businessman in the area. As I sat with him, discussing the worsening economic, political and societal situation, I realized that this would be one of those trips that would change my life forever.
Yes, I saw a lot of men who wouldn't shake my hand and sometimes wouldn’t even look at me. No one can deny that religion plays a major role in the region and that the population is hostage to an unfortunate political situation. However, there is more to Gaza than its political landscape.
I want to focus on Gaza’s humanity.
The purpose of my trip was to train, mentor, coach and motivate young entrepreneurs. I left inspired by their resilience, their hard work, their eagerness to learn and their positive energy. They had great ideas, crafted from the many needs of their community, and the small amount of interaction with the outside world—often operating with only a limited internet connection. Imagine what would happen if they were given access to the resources we often take for granted?
Gazan entrepreneurs face many challenges as the region is pretty much completely closed off. While some foreigners, such as myself, can apply for permits through an NGO, Palestinians from the West Bank can barely get permits (even big businessmen often struggle to obtain permits).
There is little hope of the average person leaving Gaza. In fact, many lose scholarships at universities in the U.S. and Europe because they can't obtain permits to leave. This significantly complicates connecting entrepreneurs to experts, mentors and coaches, and makes connecting them to outside markets, partners and others nearly impossible. Gaza isn't only closed off for its people, but also for goods. Any business that requires inputs is very difficult to run, especially now that the tunnels through which they obtained goods from Egypt have been destroyed.
Even web- and mobile-based entrepreneurs struggle. Electricity is cut off for 16 hours a day, so imagine trying to run a computer-based business that way. Generators and fuel are extremely expensive so most can't afford them.
I stayed in a five-star hotel, right on the beach in Gaza, that is hemorrhaging money. I was one of two guests in the hotel that had more than 200 rooms. Its restaurants were empty. Talking with the manager, he told me of how they are basically running from the small income coming in from weddings. In addition, he often spends the day chasing after fuel for his generators to keep the lights on.
I know we often feel overwhelmed by the huge amount of need in this world, but right now, we all have the opportunity to positively impact people's lives. Gazans need expertise. They need mentors who can help them address their daily business challenges. They need people who can connect them to networks. They need partners in the West Bank or other countries in the Arab world. Perhaps most of all, they need people to tell their story.