ITC Shares

Bringing online jobs to Gaza’s youth

16 June 2020
Nour Elhayya and Evelyn Seltier, International Trade Centre

Hanan Abu Zaid’s eyes sparkle when she thinks back to her first sale as an online entrepreneur.

‘I will never forget the feeling I had’, she says. ‘Earning $5,000 is something that I could never have imagined, even in my wildest dreams.’

Hanan is one of hundreds of thousands of young women refugees having difficulties in finding a job that pays in the Gaza Strip. Unemployment is at an all-time high in a region that has seen three wars in the past few decades and faces poor socioeconomic conditions.

Education does not equal employment opportunities. Hanan studied chemistry and worked as an events coordinator in the United Arab Emirates before returning to Gaza to work for a non-governmental organization. Her company’s co-founder, Niveen Wadi, studied biology and worked as a teacher. However, soon the two young women had to deal with either underpayment or no salaries at all.

‘I was involved in random, low-paid and low-skills jobs since my return from the United Arab Emirates’, says Hanan. ‘But I wanted a job that meets my skills and my passion.’

A course in online freelancing was set to change the course of their destinies. The two young women met during vocational training offered at the Business and Technology Incubator (BTI), a leading not-for-profit business start-up incubator in Gaza. Part of the Islamic University of Gaza, BTI encourages entrepreneurial ideas and youth start-ups by offering incubation, training, development and networking services. It looks at creating sustainable jobs that bolster economic development while following transparency, equality and competency.

‘I joined the training thanks to my friend who knew my wish to become an entrepreneur and be self-employed,’ explains Hanan. She participated in the four-month programme, hoping she would grow and generate better income by changing her career.

Helping other young entrepreneurs to be successful

Eventually, Niveen and Hanan set up a digital marketing agency together to help youth and start-ups in Gaza with marketing advice.

‘The power of marketing is unpredictable and limitless. This is something we have learned during our training. And this is our agency’s name: Will Benefit,’ says Niveen.

Since creating Will Benefit, the two entrepreneurs have secured contracts worth thousands of US dollars. Even before founding the agency, they had won contracts as a team. Their first was with Jordan’s Al-Jawarneh training centre. The second was an annual contract worth $500 a month with a Saudi client.

‘This was our first official contract as a company that we earned with the help and guidance of the digital marketing training,’ said Hanan, 30. ‘And with this signature, we launched our company and Facebook page.’

‘We decided to have something bigger instead of working individually,’ Hanan said.

They continue to build up a steady clientele. Niveen recently signed an annual contract as digital marketing manager with Tashbeak that is worth about $400 a month, and Hanan won a similar contract with Bassma (Imprint) that carries the same value. Twenty-nine year-old Niveen says she aims to make Will Benefit the biggest digital marketing company in Gaza – and in the State of Palestine.

The story of Will Benefit is not an isolated incident.

Take Mohammed Abu Saqer for instance. The situation of the 26-year-old from Gaza was precarious before he found BTI’s advertisements online for the classes it offers to hundreds of youth.

‘I was ready to migrate to Jordan to find better working conditions’, he says. ‘The very same day I got my no-objection letter from the authorities to travel to Jordan, I decided to instead try the ‘work online’ project that BTI offered as I had studied information technology’.

Now Mohammed is happy he made that decision.

‘I joined the online-marketing branch of the programme. The trainers were great at instructing and guiding us. During the training, I was able to get online jobs. Three months later, my revenues were encouraging’, Mohammed says proudly.

He continues, ‘The satisfaction of my clients and the numerous incoming offers actually inspired me to gather a team and start an agency that offers professional digital marketing services and consultation, after I had provided consultations and workshops to some of my clients in Saudi Arabia.’

A project that could change the whole country

BTI works together with the International Trade Centre to unlock the potential of refugees, youth, local communities and small businesses in the Gaza Strip, thereby improving their livelihoods and economic conditions.

The project focuses on freelancing skills and self-employment, as investing in this sector is an effective way to boost the Gazan economy, considering the complicated political context and the de facto lack of Gazan control over the borders. By contributing to inclusive growth, the project can contribute to a positive spillover effect in fostering peace and stability. The project entered two phases so far with over 235 trained freelancers, whose income exceeded over $140,000.