BUILDx Social Entrepreneurship Series is a monthly event run by BuildPalestine. It provides a platform for our community to learn about social entrepreneurship, exchange knowledge, and collaborate with each other to build a better future. With 29 speakers and 300+ attendees in 2018, we experienced community interaction, community building, and had a lot to exchange and learn.

Check out the top 12 lessons we learned from BUILDx 2018:

1: Organizations shouldn’t rely on one revenue stream

Our very first BUILDx event addressed Diversifying Sustainable Revenue Streams for NGOs. We hosted Aisha Mansour from Dalia Association, Fidaa Abu Turkey from Irada, and Jihad Shojaeha from Isnad. We heard about the experience of the different Palestinian non-profits who have successfully diversified their revenue streams with the aim of finding alternative sources for funding to ensure sustainability. Dalia Association shared one awesome example – Dukkan. Dukkan is a second-hand shop that relies on community donations to raise money for scholarship funds that Dalia Association offers.

2: Do what you’re passionate about, not what the crowd wants

On January 13th, we had the pleasure of conversing with the Palestinian icon, music entrepreneur, DJ, and producer, Sama Abdulhadi.

Sama is the human representation of the quote: “Do whatever you want and don’t worry about what everyone else is into” by Rachel Kramer Bussel. During BuildPalestine’s talk with Sama, she recounts times when the crowd would ask her to play mainstream songs while she was DJing parties. Sama would explain why she couldn’t and would request to give her music a chance. She continued to play music that she created, and soon enough, people’s appreciation of Sama and her music grew. Today, if you go to one of Sama’s gigs, it would be nothing short of packed, with people truly reveling in her music.

Sama brought techno to Palestine, and at the same time put Palestine on the map in the electronic/techno scene, all while bringing her career aspirations to her life.

Read: SAMA ABDULHADI; Putting the Words “DJ” and “Palestine” in the Same Sentence

3: There aren’t many angel investors in Palestine…

so entrepreneurs rely on the 3Fs.

In our second BUILDx session, Ambar Amleh from Ibtikar Fund helped explain what Angel investors are, and how they differ from VCs. According to Ambar, Angel investors look for “people who cannot control their excitement about their ideas” and people who know what they’re doing, especially in today’s competitive market.

The main take from the session was that in reality, few Angel investors exist in Palestine’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, so most people rely on the 3Fs – friends, family, and fools. We had Daoud Ghannam from uMake, and Joseph Shomali from Play 3arabi to share how they reached out to the 3Fs to support their startups.

One question arises here: is there something to be done to prompt angel investors, or should entrepreneurs continue to rely on the 3Fs?

4: Registering non-profit companies is a challenge in Palestine

Our first legal session was very interesting and engaging. We were joined by Anton Hallak of Ecotech, Mahmoud Kitann of Kitanna Law Firm, and Tareq Touqan from Equity Legal Group to talk about policy and regulations to best support social enterprises. Because of the current challenges, social entrepreneurs should be working side by side to create a better environment and a better legal system for social entrepreneurs in Palestine.

5: Failure is only a predecessor to success

For this BUILDx event, we were joined by Nael Ramadan from Social Dice, Peter Abualzolof from Mashvisor, and Hussein Naser Eddin from Red Crow. The discussion demonstrated that even the founders of some of the most successful startups in town have experienced their own fair share of failure. After our speakers were done, we asked our BUILDx attendees to go up and talk about their own failures.

6: You can invest your Zakat in social impact projects

Zakat, a charity giving conviction in Islam, is a very common concept in our society. The most common way to give out Zakat is to donate money to the less fortunate.

Our 3 speakers of the day helped us learn alternative ways in which we can invest our Zakat. Jamal AlKalani from the Arab Islamic Bank suggested that one should consider investing in projects that will create employment opportunities for the poor. Mabroor Mahmoud from the Islamic Bank for Development in Jeddah, on the other hand, argued that one can invest their Zakat in Islamic banks which will, in turn, help people in debt pay off their debts. Meanwhile, Amani Killawi co-founder of our partners, Launchgood, talked about the platform’s 30 day Ramadan challenge – 30 days, 30 different campaigns that one can invest in the communal spirit of giving that crowdfunding.

7: When crowdfunding, involve your audience as much as you can

We were fortunate to host 4 organizations who ran successful crowdfunding campaigns. Our speakers were Mohammed Rabah from Bait Byout, Shadan Nassar from Shadana Yoga, Jack Rabah from Taawon Association, and Sameer Khraishi from Amoro Farm.

Crowdfunding is not just a way to raise money, it’s also a free marketing campaign for your project. It can be a way to increase reach and visibility. In doing so, our four speakers focused on transparency. Letting your audience know where and how the money they’re donating is being spent is one way to do this. Another takeaway is to encourage feedback and to use that feedback to improve your product and campaign. Amoro used a cool way to connect with the audience: explaining the social and political dimension of their offering, the white mushroom and its relation to the economic independence of Palestine.

Read: 9 Steps to a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign

8: We need to get out of Ramallah

Our August BUILDx event took place, for the first time, in Nablus. We introduced social entrepreneurship in Nablus, and highlighted social innovators in the area.

As usual, we had three speakers. Jalaa Abuarab from Dooz, one of very few social publishing platforms in Palestine, Omar Barkawi from Receet, and Maroof Rabba’ from Perichor Aquaponics all talked about their entrepreneurial projects.

BUILDx turnout was truly impressive with around 60 attendees out of 700+ overall responses, which was an indicator to us that we should be moving outside of Ramallah for future events.

This will be our focus in 2019 – bursting through the Ramallah bubble.

9: The best volunteer models are ones that match the interests of volunteers with the needs of an organization

In this BUILDx session, we wanted to explore the different volunteering models that exist in Palestine. And volunteering is no strange concept to our society. It’s a practice that’s beneficial to both organizations and volunteers; where organizations could use help with the minimal cost, and where volunteers gain experience. The challenge lies in building a model that benefits the organization and matches the interests of the volunteer. A great example is the Museum of Natural History, an entirely volunteer-based organization, which works hand in hand to ensure the volunteer benefits from working with them.

We were also joined by Maysa Al Shaer from Shaghaf Foundation. Maysa worked with our audience that day to devise a good volunteering model for Shaghaf.

10:  We (as Palestinians) are not branding and promoting our heritage well enough

November taught us that we can contribute to preserving Palestinian identity through entrepreneurial projects. We had Alison Carmel join us from 7amleh. Alison tied the organization’s work of campaigning for Palestinian freedom of expression, human rights, and digital rights, with preserving heritage. Essentially, one fosters the other. We also had Wesam Alqaraja, founder of the first Palestinian Manga join us to talk about an innovative project that presents Palestinian identity.

Our third speaker was Khaleel Abu Khadijeh from PalVision. PalVision works on different programs and projects that ultimately, in his words, “complete the picture in the puzzle that is our identity.” Khaleel suggested combining entrepreneurial projects with Palestinian identity – to think of products like za’atar and summaq and the Palestinian thobe as products we can better brand as our own, and spread our heritage through an entrepreneurial process.

11: Social entrepreneurship ya3ni…

Ahmad Al Ashkar, Palestinian-American entrepreneur, founder and CEO of Hult Prize joined us to answer the question “What is social entrepreneurship?”. His definition of social entrepreneurship changed over the years from “a business which profitably solves a social or economic problem” to “any business that can sustainably generate profit.” Ashkar explained that if one doesn’t sustainably generate profit, one will no longer have a customer base because consumer DNA is changing as they become more socially conscious. Ashkar believes that in the future, the concept of social entrepreneurship will be just that: entrepreneurship.

Ashkar said something that struck with us: “Every aspect of our culture and heritage can be part of a billion-dollar business.” Not only that, but that billion dollar business can help tell our story as Palestinians. He combined everything together by creating a social impact business and preserving Palestinian heritage, ultimately creating Falafel Inc., a DC-based street food restaurant that donates a portion of its proceeds to charitable causes.

12: There’s a lot of room for improvement

2018 was BUILDx’s first year. And while it was very successful, we realize that we could do things better. And with your help, attendance, support, we can. Thank you for a great year, we hope you learned as much as we did. Here’s to 2019 and to the community we’re building together!

Do you have feedback? Let us know how we could do better in 2019 in the comments below.