Palestinian entrepreneurs turn to crowdfunding
After finishing his degree in architecture from Birzeit University in Ramallah, 27-year-old Mohammed Nassar faced a challenge many fresh graduates share: that of finding a job. During 18 months, he applied to several companies and sent hundreds of emails in hopes of landing a job offer. His efforts were in vain, but the experience forced him to think outside the box.
“I believe that there is always a way to make your dreams come true. In other words, if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. But sometimes you need a little help,” he says.
One of Nassar’s dreams is to establish the first school of design in Palestine. But to pursue his dream, he needed to get a master degree in design to broaden his knowledge. That’s when crowdfunding came into the picture.
With the lack of state support and limited opportunities for funding, many Palestinian artists, filmmakers and innovators are turning to crowdfunding platforms to raise money for their projects. Crowdfunding, which aims at pooling individuals' money for a cause, is now being used to fund everything from movies and arts to businesses and inventions. According to various reports, more than $5.1 billion have been raised on crowdfunding sites in 2013 alone, nearly twice as much as in 2012.
Nassar chose Indiegogo, the largest global crowdfunding platform, to raise money for his master degree by selling his uniquely designed t-shirts and posters which showed a range of mathematical shapes with various colours and inspiring quotes in both Arabic and English. He also organised two exhibitions in Jaffa and Ramallah to promote his creations.
“I see crowdfunding as a democratic tool as it gives individuals the power to determine what creative projects should be actualised,” he says, adding that anyone can initiate a crowdfunding campaign. All that is needed is a budget outline, a description for the project, and a social media marketing campaign.
“I spent more than six months working on my crowdfunding campaign ‘Run Catalony Run’(Nassar’s nickname is Catalony). I believe that the success of your campaign depends on how good you are in selling your idea to the audience,” he stresses.
Englishpal.ps, a free community website for English speakers living in Palestine, also launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for site development.
“We turned to Indiegogo to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise $3,500 to improve the quality of the website and its services,” explains Elias Aloussi, one of the two volunteers running the platform. “We believe in the value of Englishpal.ps for local and international community in Palestine. Through crowdfunding, users who are interested in our website and its continuity can take part in our campaign and help us make a difference.”
While crowdfunding in Palestine is still in its infancy, more Palestinian startups that need money are turning to crowdfunding as an alternative approach to venture capital. Nevertheless, crowdfunding as a funding model still faces many challenges in Palestine.
Low credit card penetration, lack of trust when doing online transactions, and shortage of international payment gateways are among the top barriers both individuals and startups need to keep in mind when considering crowdfunding.
Despite the challenges, Aloussi says that the website team is still thinking about launching another online campaign in the near future.
As for Nassar, although he managed to raise only 5% of the required $34,000, his crowdfunding venture opened new doors.
“After the launch of my campaign, I’ve started receiving job offers,” Nassar concludes. “Crowdfunding is cool.”