Lama Amr was in her last year of University, majoring in Business and Administration, when she started volunteering with BuildPalestine, conducting events and some social media work. She soon fell in love with what the organization does and, sure enough, she became a crowdfunding Campaign Manager in December 2017. She now leads all the operations in Palestine.
BuildPalestine, a not for profit organization that connects supporters around the world with social impact projects in Palestine. They help them to get connected to resources, such as funding, expertise and volunteers from global communities who wish to make an impact in Palestine, creating connections between Palestinian grassroots organizations and supporters from around the world. Although she works hard, Lama could not imagine herself in any other career:
“I work 18 hours a day! I am not like my peers that work for the private sector. I have more possibilities in life and I really feel I have the means to help people and that’s what I really enjoy. This is what changed in my life”.
She considers Palestine as a “donor-dependent community”: most of the organizations here depend on international help to conduct the programs on the ground. However, without other funding alternatives, this forcibly influences their project design around the proposals and donor requirements instead of the real issues on the ground. BuildPalestine however is able to escape this logic mainly thanks to crowdfunding:
“Crowdfunding for us was a chance for alternative funding, freeing us from all the regulations and restrictions that come with aid receiving mechanisms. I really enjoy that I don’t feel restricted. Even with my work, or with any project I work with, we feel the freedom of actually solving what we want to solve and not what the donors want us to solve. This is because those are donations from individuals who just want to support impact and don’t want to impose any kind of agenda. This is why I work in Build Palestine”.
A missing SE ecosystem
Lama is well aware of the challenges of working in this sector since the social entrepreneurial ecosystem in Palestine is quite new. She stresses that there is no legal infrastructure for social enterprises in Palestine, the government is not supportive, access to funding is not easy and the whole economic-political situation is not very friendly to social enterprises, leaving as only options for SEs to survive to either respond to people’s basic human needs or to access international markets, which is also not very easy. Lama also thinks that Social Entrepreneurship should be introduced in universities and students should be encouraged to give it a try. Moreover, it is clear to her that certain cultural constraints hinder female participation in the economy, with a strong divide in terms of social acceptance of a working woman between the capital city and more rural areas of the country.
As much as she tries to encourage social entrepreneurs, Lama argues that an enabling social entrepreneurial ecosystem is simply not in place in Palestine:
“With no legal structure and no government to support them I feel like sometimes I push them to the edge, which makes me feel bad. But I know that if there were a better environment for social enterprises in Palestine, this would actually be the solution. Social enterprises do what the government is not doing, and they are playing the role of so many missing pieces in the community. So, this is why I think that the next stage in my life will be to work on strengthening the ecosystem and in building a better environment for these entrepreneurs”.
The impact of MedUp! and future perspectives
Build Palestine truly benefited from MedUp! support. This year they have launched the social innovation bootcamp, which is an online week program where people with ideas come in, go in this intensive bootcamp, and they come up with a ready business model for a social enterprise. All the materials were built on the tools that were provided by the MedUp! project. International exchanges with peers were also very valuable, as they opened up scenarios and perspectives for collaboration.
The innovative nature of the project was also helpful for BuildPalestine in terms of creating partnership opportunities for them:
“When the MedUp project came and put all the ecosystem players in one room, this was really powerful because it built relationships and partnerships. It gave perspective to everyone on what this is, why it is important, and why we should have enterprise support organizations specifically for social entrepreneurs, this made other organizations understand our work”.
For Lama is not easy to envisage one single future perspective for Build Palestine as they have many options in front of them. But one thing she is sure about: that they will still be using crowdfunding and other unconditioned financial means to remain free from international aid ties. Instead, they want to use what already exists on the ground: building partnerships and supply chains for social entrepreneurs and working with other organizations in Palestine to strengthen the ecosystem:
“I think the main role of Build Palestine is how we can use whatever we have and build whatever we don’t have. The second thing is that we want to keep providing social entrepreneurs with the resources they need to become successful. We will keep specializing in this space”.
Lama’s tips for young, aspiring entrepreneurs:
“Try and fail, it’s fine. You have to try in order to become better. This is a path that people are afraid of selecting actually because everyone wants to be stable, to get a good job, and be paid. It is not an easy path, but it is very rewarding on a personal level and on an emotional level too. I would encourage them to try, even starting with small initiatives here and there which will lead them to realize if they want to take it as a path or not. I would suggest everyone should try doing something and just explore it as an option”.
This piece was elaborated with Lama Amr from BuilPalestine and based on the materials collected as part of the MedUp! Mid-Term Evaluation process.