Microsoft, Cisco, HP, Nokia, to name a few of the tech giants, but also smaller companies such as Cadence, Quicargo, and AerData have successfully worked with Palestinian Information Technology (IT) companies. Not only that, but they have shown great appreciation for the expertise and motivation of the IT professionals in Palestine. Excellent communication skills, innovative mindsets, and a deep work motivation make Palestinians stand out compared to talents in other places with competitive prices.
During my PhD research on the development of the Palestinian IT ecosystem, I commonly heard that clear communication is crucial when work is organized internationally. For example, one informant, who is team leader R&D and responsible for engagements in Palestine at a leading tech company that is developing software for the semiconductor industry, stressed:
“If you have teams spread globally, it’s very important that you have excellent communication channels. You need to be open and able to speak things real time. We were looking for those skills and they were better in that. We originally thought we would hire only one team leader and two employees. But after we saw the talent, we doubled the team. And within a few months, three more R&D teams followed us. Now, we have four teams and 18 employees there. And we are hiring two more employees, so we will be with 20 in total. This is a very nice growth over the last two years.”
The satisfaction of working with Palestinians kept repeating in my interviews. Another informant, who is responsible for the investments in Europe, the Middle East, and emerging markets at one of the global tech giants told me:
“They continued with outsourcing and it was a success. I used to see the Palestinian developers participating in the development process here and also the Palestinian [company] leaders that we spoke with, they are amazing people. I always felt like, I wish we could replicate this a thousand times.”
Microsoft, Cisco, HP, Nokia, to name a few of the tech giants, but also smaller companies such as Cadence, Quicargo, and AerData have successfully worked with Palestinian Information Technology (IT) companies. Click To Tweet
The way in which Palestinian tech companies are increasingly cooperating with Western tech companies is mostly through outsourcing. As such, they are engaged in research and development, quality assurance, hardware, and customer support. The cooperation is done in augmented as well as truly separate teams. Daily work is digitally communicated, and physical visits are common (before, and probably after COVID). Flights between Palestine and Europe take about four hours and Palestine is only one hour ahead of central European time (often mentioned as an advantage compared to locations further away).
The Palestinian tech ecosystem is still relatively unknown in Europe. Maybe this has to do with the political items often dominating the news. However, underneath the political layer there is everyday life of people that try to better their situation. In other words, Palestine is open for business.
As I heard in one of the many interviews during my research, “the more limitations people are facing, the more innovative they will be”. This certainly applies to Palestinian IT professionals as they are facing different restrictions on physical trade as well as stereotypes about the region. Yet, for innovation and deals that provide both economic value and social value, Palestine is a good place to look at. The IT ecosystem in particular is fundamental to the Palestinian economy as unemployment was already relatively high before the pandemic.
So, what can Palestine offer? To make this article not too long, I focus on three core strengths of the growing pool of Palestinian tech talent.
First, Palestinians are highly educated. Annually, about 3.000 graduates of IT-related degrees enter the job market while the Palestinian tech ecosystem is not able to absorb all of these graduates (Palestinian IT association, 2019). From the tech entrepreneurs that received funding at the time of founding their startups, over 60 percent had a university degree, which is considered high (The World Bank, 2018). Additionally, most of the science and computer science courses are taught in English, so the Palestinian talent pool is equipped with strong language skills in English next to Arabic and sometimes Hebrew.
Second, Palestinian IT professionals have gained important experience over the years. Palestinian companies have successfully worked on IT with the world’s leading multinationals for over ten years now. Most importantly, Palestinians continue to provide software testing as well as software design activities (the easier and more difficult phases of R&D), often with complete access to source codes. What is also interesting is that more than 20 percent of entrepreneurs is female, making Palestine one of the highest-ranking tech ecosystems in female participation according to the World Bank (2018). Further, Palestinian tech companies are led by senior professionals who have often more than ten or twenty years of experience in the Silicon Valley and came back to make a positive impact in Palestinian society, so they brought not only the technical skills but also the management skills that are common in the world’s leading tech companies.
What is also interesting is that more than 20 percent of entrepreneurs is female, making Palestine one of the highest-ranking tech ecosystems in female participation according to the World Bank (2018). Click To Tweet
The third strength of Palestinian IT professionals is their motivation. They are strongly motivated to prove themselves and to make careers. Beyond that, they want to prove the rest of the world that Palestine compares to international standards regarding technology development. They are showing that Palestine is a place of ambition, creativity, and most of all a place where people keep delivering despite challenges. This combination of education, experience, and motivation makes them skilled and hard-working professionals.
To get a better overview of the Palestinian tech ecosystem, it consists of more than 250 IT companies and more than 400 entrepreneurs working in startups (Palestinian IT Association, 2019; The World Bank, 2018). The contribution of the IT ecosystem to Palestinian GDP has increased from 0.8 to 7 percent between 2008 and 2019 (Palestinian IT Association, 2019; The Portland Trust, 2012). Some key events include the 15 million USD investment of Cisco in 2009, the acquisition of Mellanox by Nvidia (their Palestinian engineers increased from 25 to 140 between 2015 and 2020 which are now directly hired by the American tech-giant), and the recent announcement of the World Bank (2020) to invest 15 million USD in the Palestinian tech ecosystem.
The third strength of Palestinian IT professionals is their motivation. They are strongly motivated to prove themselves and to make careers. Beyond that, they want to prove the rest of the world that Palestine compares to international standards… Click To Tweet
So, despite political developments in the region, the global financial crisis after 2008, and COVID-19, the IT ecosystem proved to be successful in circumventing those societal challenges and contributed an important share to the Palestinian economy.
The motivated Palestinian tech professionals have managed to get a foot in the door regarding their work with the world’s leading tech companies. To fully open this door, they are searching for more cooperation opportunities, for instance in Europe. At the same time, Europeans are realizing that there is great potential in Palestine, which is in fact right across the Mediterranean Sea. In other words, it looks like the time is ripe to tap the pool of Palestinian tech talent.*
despite political developments in the region, the global financial crisis after 2008, and COVID-19, the IT ecosystem proved to be successful in circumventing those societal challenges and contributed an important share to the Palestinian economy. Click To Tweet
Pieter de Wit is an independent researcher at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and receives no gain from publishing this article other than the satisfaction of putting Palestinians in a positive light. He can provide further information, advice, and contacts free of charge (firstname.lastname@example.org).