“If I stop and think about the different obstacles that exist because of the occupation [of Palestine], I can’t sleep at night,” says Derrar Ghanem, the entrepreneur crowdsourcing solutions for the nation’s conundrums through his platform Build Palestine. “But I try not to look at these challenges. I think all entrepreneurs in Palestine are looking beyond the occupation; that’s the only way that we can change anything on the ground - by changing our perspectives and changing our motivation,” he says.

According to the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA)’s Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl, “as we approach 50 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the situation of Palestinian refugees is as critical as it has ever been,” he says in the organisation’s 2017 Emergency Appeal, pointing out the "insecurity and enforced poverty" the Palestinian population are suffering from.

But for entrepreneurs like Ghanem, many of the solutions to these pressing problems can be found within the community itself - by linking the nearly 12 million Palestinians that are separated by walls, checkpoints, and historical wars. “We are offering a platform for people to come channel their opinions, so you can find a page on the website where there is both a problem and a proposed solution to it. People can come propose either challenges, solutions, or both.”

I think all entrepreneurs in Palestine are looking beyond the occupation; that’s the only way that we can change anything on the ground - by changing our perspectives and changing our motivation.

Together with co-founders Odeh Quraan and Besan Abou-Joudeh, the entrepreneurs set off to empower grassroot problem-solving through their crowdfunding platform, allowing non-profits and social businesses to raise funds and network, no matter where they are. “You can basically vote for the project you think should come through, so that we can find an organisation that could adopt this project. Basically, it’s a platform made by the people, for the people, with donations coming from them, too.”

Hailing from Ramallah - Palestine’s most buzzing entrepreneurial city - the entrepreneurs launched the non-profit in November 2016 and closed the first round of campaigns one month later. One of their first successful campaigns hailed from Gaza, where a network of volunteers pitched a project to tackle the city’s lack of efficient first-aid emergency response when accidents happened. In order to address the lack of ambulances reaching the points where accidents happened, the group of volunteers came up with a network of first-aid medical responders, who are distributed across different areas where ambulances can't usually reach. “They had a really clear problem, a very simple innovative solution, and measurable impact,” says Ghanem, who helped them develop content and video material so they could crowdfund.

A meeting point for the nation's fragmented land

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, six of the nation's 12.7 million Palestinians are living in exile; the majority of them are spread across in 31 UN-installed refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Of those living in Gaza and the West Bank, 41.9 percent are refugees.

“In the Gaza Strip, the impact of the 10-year illegal blockade, destruction caused by three major conflicts during this period, and the devastation of infrastructure and basic service provision have resulted in the denial of basic rights and a human standard of living,” says the UNRWA report, which also points out the grim situation in the West Bank, where “violence, military operations, access restrictions, forced displacement, and demolitions have increased significantly since October 2015.”

“We have the challenges that everyone else does; we have challenges in transportation, challenges in getting funds, or in having money transferred. But we also have the challenges of the occupation,” Ghanem says while stressing, however, the importance of connecting people as a powerful tool for change. “We are using technology to connect people, building a trust line between donors and the initiatives that people suggest. There are plenty of problems out there, but there are countless amounts of possibilities and solutions that could be found,” he says.

The entrepreneur, who is half-Palestinian, half-Greek, studied political science and philosophy in Palestine, and met co-founder Besan Abou-Joudeh in a co-working space in Ramallah. A 26-year-old Palestinian woman raised in diaspora in the USA, Abou-Joudeh had always wanted to return to Palestine and make a change, and found in Ghanem the right partner to inspire people to make a difference.  

We have the challenges that everyone else does. But we also have the challenges of the occupation.

“We are not trying to reinvent the wheel while other projects are already there," says Ghanem. "We are looking for social enterprises and projects that can spin off and turn into something that can grow,” he explains. “We are also using social media as also a tool for monitoring and basically holding these organizations accountable through social media.”

The non-profit charges campaigners eight percent of each campaign – which can raise a maximum of $ 5,000 - to run the organisation; they also resort to grants and CSR packages to assist campaigners with communicational tools to promote their projects. “These groups of volunteers often don’t have connections to the outside world, so we are helping push their initiative. We work on the content, we work on the stories; and we have connections,” he says.

Staying away from religion and politics, the entrepreneur stresses on the apolitical nature of the organisation. “This is a human cause; it’s much bigger than nationality. We really just want to help people find solutions for their problems. Basically, we are looking for a better tomorrow; that’s something that anybody could relate to. We want to have a sharing knowledge experience. We want our solutions to be part of everyone’s solutions."

Check out their project and upcoming campaigns, here.

Phoography by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.

Photographer: Peter Adel Wadea.

Videographer: Federico Corno.