Could a crowdfunding platform help build Palestine?

Could a crowdfunding platform help build Palestine?

Could a crowdfunding platform help build Palestine?
The BuildPalestine team / Photo courtesy of BuildPalestine

For many Palestinians, it’s all about rebuilding piece by piece. An estimated 90 percent of startups fail, but imagine how difficult it is to run one in Palestine, a country that faces multiple additional barriers, including occupation, limited finance and lack of control over market infrastructure.

Despite these challenges, BuildPalestine, a Ramallah-based crowdfunding platform for social impact projects, is determined to make a difference.

Besan Abou-Joudeh, a 26-year-old American with Palestinian roots, always wanted to connect the corners of the world. With very limited funds and knowledge, the economics major connected with now co-founder Derrar Ghanem, a political science graduate, to discuss the idea of creating a crowdfunding platform that would help rebuild Palestine, one campaign at a time.

“It took us and our [third] co-founder Mahran Ismail seven months to launch a pool crowdfunding campaign composed of five different projects, including BuildPalestine. We were only able to raise $20,000, which covered three-fifths of the projects we wanted to support,” Derrar told My Salaam.

BuildPalestine_Co-founder Derrar Ghanem
BuildPalestine Co-founder, Derrar Ghanem / Photo courtesy of BuildPalestine


But despite challenges, a year on, the team is now beginning to see a difference. Derrar recalls a particularly memorable campaign launched in Gaza by an ambulance worker, Hanan Qassem, who noticed that it took ambulances a long time to reach certain locations, especially during war, which led to the loss of several lives.

“In 2014, a seven-year-old boy named Bader from Khuza’a was wounded by shrapnel and died after ambulances took four hours to reach him,” he said. “When there is a medical emergency, every second counts: it’s the difference between life and death.”

With the help of BuildPalestine, Hanan was able to source the funds required to develop a network where volunteers from each neighbourhood received professional paramedic training that will allow them to efficiently help victims until an ambulance arrives.

The campaign raised $5409, which it used to equip every street with its own first aid kit and turn 35 volunteers into paramedics ready to act when needed.

BuildPalestine_First Aid Kit
Photo courtesy of BuildPalestine


Meanwhile, having also raised $9,000 to fully launch BuildPalestine as well as pilot crowdfunding in Palestine (a form of aid still considered relatively new here), Derrar said that their aim now is to “build a platform supported by a trusted community that discovers and funds small/low-budget projects with high social impact.”

The platform can now reinforce grassroots problem-solving, whereby individuals can proactively tackle problems in their local community. However, it wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies for the entrepreneurs.

“We were faced with a lot of challenges after the campaigns, especially in transferring money in and out of Palestine, because payment gateways don’t operate in the West Bank or Gaza. It took us four months to find a way around this; we’re currently using Generosity, a non-profit Indiegogo fundraising platform, to solve our most recent challenges.”

Derrar adds that BuildPalestine faces all the challenges that any entrepreneur has in any part of the world in addition to the occupation, but the founders try not to think about that. Instead, they focus on building hope and connecting with other social entrepreneurs. “Having a platform like BuildPalestine means going through a journey of obstacles that you always have to find creative ways to overcome. From challenges come new directions.”

BuildPalestine_team at workPhoto courtesy of BuildPalestine


Mohamad Rabah is the 31-year-old director of Bait Byout, a live-action role-playing (LARP) tool for participatory storytelling. One of the ventures to have benefitted from BuildPalestine, it uses role-playing to promote dialogue and learning in Palestinian civil society.

When Bait Byout was established this year in Palestine, Mohamad wanted to institutionalise the efforts of their community in a transparent, accountable governance structure. However, according to the entrepreneur, it is not easy in Palestine to establish a voluntary organisation with a new concept like LARPing.

“Many civil society organisations in Palestine are driven by the international donors’ agendas,” Mohamad told MySalaam. “This limits the freedom of these organisations to reflect the real needs of the people and limits organic and creative community development efforts.”

He went on to explain that BuildPalestine provided them with a solution for these challenges: “You don’t have to be a well-established organisation to defend your cause. Whether you are an individual, a group of people, or an organisation, the platform will put you face to face with your supporters, and your story will convince them with your cause.”

BuildPalestine_team at work
Photo courtesy of BuildPalestine


BuildPalestine is currently partnered with Egyptian startup Yomken, which is introducing crowd-solving to region. As a result, BuildPalestine plans on taking on 20 new crowdfunding and crowd-solving projects by the end of 2018.

“We’re teaming up with Yomken to build a directory for social entrepreneurs or organisations working in different fields and looking to aid Palestine,” Derrar concluded. “The directory will contain everything from contacts to projects and will connect project owners with funders.”

BuildPalestine_logoPhoto courtesy of BuildPalestine

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