Cass Business School offers a wide range of electives, I was spoilt for choice and extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to take multiple. After much deliberation, the electives that I chose ranged in themes and locations; Silicon Valley focused on Digital Transformation, the London Symposium was themed “London is Open” and Cuba was on Sustainability. However, the one I attended and reflected upon most recently was Innovation & Technology in Israel and Palestine.

In my opinion, the Israel-Palestine elective was most thought provoking, and it discredited everything I ever knew about the region; Israel using its ‘obsession’ for security to secure itself from its Arab neighbour nations, to Palestine coming to terms with their current realities, both resolving their issues by use of innovation and entrepreneurship to better their future.

The elective started with me arriving on Friday in the “start-up nation”, a term I would hear tirelessly in Tel-Aviv, only to realise that the airline had left my bag in Berlin. I immediately took to Twitter, and a few tweets later, the bag was delivered to our hotel reception early the following morning. The majority of the cohort arrived on Saturday, and following the meet and greet, most of us had relocated to the beach, where you could easily forget we were on a study trip.

 

First thing on Sunday morning (the start of the week in Tel-Aviv), we visited the Peres Centre for Peace, followed by back-to-back visits to a host of other organisations such as The Bridge (Coca-Cola’s answer to an accelerator program) and 83 North (a venture capital firm). Another exciting part was the panel discussions, where we met a group of female entrepreneurs, angel investors, and different co-founders who were are at various stages of their start-up journey. These were very enlightening and educational experiences.

Fast forward three days later; our male Israeli tour guide left us, and swapped with a female Arab Palestinian tour guide. We didn’t need anyone to tell us, it was clear that Israelis were not allowed in Palestine. We were proceeding to the West Bank border crossing, a stark difference from Tel-Aviv. Heightened presence of Israeli military forces, high concrete fences and long queues at the check point. In less than an hour everything had changed. We were in Ramallah where there was no 3G mobile internet. We could see overhead tanks on roof tops and the subtle colour change of car number plates gave us a sense that we had gone back in time. However, we were arguably at the closest point where politics, religion, and economics meet.

In Palestine, we met with various stakeholders of the innovation and technology ecosystem, but this time in Palestine. This ranged from co-working accelerator spaces, entrepreneurs, politicians, and of course the financial institution, the Bank of Palestine. The highlight of Palestine was visiting Rawabi city, and meeting with the man behind the vision, Bashar Masri, who didn’t hesitate to give us his thoughts on how Ramallah is doing business, his quest to bring development to the people of Palestine, and his thoughts on Israel.

I am really hopeful, that one day both sides would come to an amicable solution, simply because they both need each other.

The elective ended with us visiting the holocaust museum, and then the old Jerusalem city. However, the experience of these two different states is bound to leave you with mixed feelings. To me, it is impressive how both sides have accepted the current status quo and decided to use innovation and technological advancements to better their lives.

In Vestates, which is my real estate business, we are about to commence a new development. We are working on how to utilise “waste” and excavated rocks and use these in the project, where previously we would have had them disposed. This idea came after Bashar Masri spoke on how the Israeli military did not allow them to dispose excavated stones, and so instead they used these stones to build the theatre in Rawabi city.

We have asked some of the Israeli and Palestinian software engineers, whom we met at the Bridge and Leaders organisation, to assist us in working on our mobile application for Jetseta, my startup. We hope to outsource some of our IT requirements to them.

One of the main take aways from the elective, is how optimism and innovation have acted as catalyst to the development of both Israel and Palestine (especially in the case of Rawabi city). In the words of the late President Peres “Optimists and Pessimists die the same way, but live differently”.

Harold Okwa
Modular Executive MBA (2017)