Another successful year for BUILDx. In 2019, we had 160 attendees, 33 speakers in 6 different cities – including Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nablus, Jenin, and Gaza.

#1 To inspire an international audience, use a “common denominator”

For our first session of the year, we welcomed Salem Barahmeh from PIPD, Dana Farraj from Right2Education, and Diala Isid from Right to Movement to talk to us about their experience in communicating with and inspiring international audiences.

One main learning from the session was to speak to international audiences with something they can relate to. Diala talked about a campaign they did where they used the story of Mary and Joseph, one that millions of people around the world relate to, to raise awareness about the restrictions of movement Palestinians face on a daily basis. Salem commented with a similar point; when speaking to audiences, choose a “common denominator”, something you can both relate to, and base off of that. In PIPD’s case, the common denominator are the basic human concepts like freedom, justice, and human rights. It’s quite difficult not to inspire when you speak to people in their language.

#2 Community support is vital for one’s work

This was our first event of the year outside of Ramallah. We hosted three panelists, Fatmeh Breijieh from Ma’sarah Village Council, Ala’ Hilu from Resign for Recycling Design, and Nadim Alyaseh from Shurouq Organization. One thing our three speakers agreed upon was the importance of community in elevating one’s work and impact. If they hadn’t had the support of their local communities, they wouldn’t have succeeded in the way they did. 

Read: BUILDx: Highlighting Bethlehem’s Social Entrepreneurs

#3 It’s no longer about design geniuses; it’s about empathy

We were joined by human design expert, Johannes Landstrofer,  for a one-on-one session to discuss user centricity, and its importance in today’s digital age. Johannes highlighted the importance of keeping the stakeholders at the heart of your design, and what he describes as “user empathy”. Johannes argues that you can bring a genius designer, but if they don’t think about the user, their work is irrelevant. According to him, it’s crucial to put yourself in the user’s shoes, to understand their needs, to include them in the process, and to design accordingly. “That’s where you create connections towards your future beneficiaries.”

#4 Rethinking our way of life

We were joined by three three panelists for our May session; Yara Dowani from Om Sleiman Farm, Raya Ziadeh from Manjala, and Sahar Qawasmi from Sakiya. We discussed issues pertaining to food sovereignty, food security, and general challenges in Palestine’s agricultural sector. The audience left with many learnings from this BUILDx session. But one that stuck with us personally is that we should rethink our way of life. Not only where are food comes from, but also our priorities, our relationships with others, and with the land. Something to think about…

Read: Could our Ramadan BUILDx have been about anything other than food?

#5 Data is important, especially in today’s digital age

We went digital in June. We learned about the basics of building a website from our web developer, Wajed Afaneh, and the basics of digital marketing from Hassan Jaddeh. One highlight from this session was the importance of data. The best way to market to online audiences is through targeted marketing efforts, and you do this by researching and acquiring data. Once you’ve done this, it’s easier to target your audience through digital marketing. Hassan commented that tools such as google trends and Facebook insights can give you access to data to better target audiences marketing efforts. 

#6 “We were all young at some point, and we have to remember how much support we needed.”

This is one of our favorite learnings from our July session, where we had a one-on-one chat with Lana Abu Hijleh, country director at Global Communities, and founder of Shiam – Youth Make the Future. We covered many topics, but youth empowerment was the focus of the discussion. According to Lana, empowerment is giving someone the ability to make decisions, and to lead. 

Lana’s work with Shiam further underscores that, and allows Palestinian youth to cultivate relationships and skills that, well, empower them.

#7 Preserving our cultural and societal narrative is a collective responsibility 

We had a full house at The Palestinian Art Court for our Jerusalem BUILDx session. Two social entrepreneurs joined from the Jerusalem area; Ashraf Bakri from Hantourism, and Alaa’ Qaq from Khazaaen. Hantourism is a collaborative community tourism booking platform which gives local tour guides the opportunity to talk about their towns and cities, and to share their authentic stories. This allows local Palestinian guides to share their own narrative. 

Khazaen, on the other hand, is a community archive which documents and preserves anything from festival fliers, concert tickets, restaurant menus, to stamps, postcards, wedding invitations, newspaper clips, you name it. Khazaen’s work relies on the community to contribute their social experiences.  Alaa shared that Khazaen would not exist without the people and their contributions. 

#8 Work on something you’re passionate about

If there’s one thing we learned from our Birzeit University speakers, it just that. 

We met with Alaa’ Sabbagh from PalModa, Eiba’ Abu Taha from Litaskono Elayha, and Miral Albandak, Hadeel Khader, and Raghad Abushamma from GiveLife. The session’s five speakers are leading initiatives while doing something they’re passionate about. In the case of Alaa’ – it was a fashion store, Eiba’ – a social initiative, and Miral Hadeel and Raghad – a blood-donation mobile application. 

Being among young spirited students energied us, and it was wonderful seeing young social leaders work with such passion!

#9 Gaza, What’s the lesson?

Last November, we hosted BUILDx in Gaza for the first time. The event highlighted social entrepreneurship in Gaza and how does it support the local community. Our speakers insisted on the vitality of social entrepreneurship and how it should be paramount in Gaza since there are many community challenges arising every day. How? By using problem-solving as a tool rise up with the community standards of living. 

#10 Most solutions come from personal problems

In Nablus, we headed to Al Najah University to hear about social enterprises and initiatives that students and graduates founded. We heard from Wala’ Abu Shalbak, Tala Qawasmi, Al Ghalee Shihab, and Mohammad Abu Rajab. The speakers came up with initiatives to solve a social problem that pertains to them personally. Walaa’, for example, started Run for Freedom to give space for more women to freely run in Nablus. Mohammad on the other hand, started the paramedic volunteering initiative because he noticed a lag in paramedic volunteer time. 

If we look at entrepreneurs generally, we see a similar trend. Most successful entrepreneurs create products and services that “solve” challenges that they themselves have faced. 

Read more: BUILDx: Meet the Social Entrepreneurs at Al Najah University

# 11 If you identify a gap in your community, bridge it

We took Jenin next, and had our event at Kafka Cafe, an amazing social space in the heart of the city. We had two speakers at the session; Manal Faza from Kafka Cafe, and Rawand Arqawi from Fragments Theatre. Both Manal and Rawand identified gaps in the cultural scene in Jenin, and started working towards bridging them. Rawan shared that “A lot of things happen in the center, but we wanted our people to have access to such cultural facilities and spaces to express themselves.” Manal shared her love Jenin drives her to continue working on making it the place they want it to be. 

#12 We need to adopt more ethical shopping practices

For our Christmas edition of BUILDx, we partnered with Handmade Palestine, a fair trade organization, and the artisans they work with – Natalie Najjar, Reem Makhoul, Doa’ Abu Ghraibeh, and Dalal Murrar. We had a table discussion about the work of local artisans, challenges they face, and their advice on how to produce and shop ethically. Our markets are saturated with non-sustainable, non-ethically produced items. So the next time you’re about to buy a product, think about where the items are coming from, what conditions they were produced under, and the people who made them.