Leadership and innovation in a war zone

As I am crossing at the Qalandya check point between Israel and the West Bank, the huge red sign shocks me: “The entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden, dangerous to your lives and is against the Israeli law”.

It looks like something from a movie scene and you are not quite sure what to expect on the other side. We cross, and all I see is unfortunate reality of the region and conflict between these two territories, thoroughly reminded of my childhood in Yugoslavia.

On the Israeli side we saw the prosperous modern society, full of life and colours that are reflected in almost everything from streets, to people and food. On the Palestinian side our first impressions are the ruins, wall murals of past leaders, abandoned cars and chaos.

Israel and Palestine were my choice for the Cass MBA international electives. The focus of the elective was on Innovation and Technology, which comes as no surprise with Israel being known as the start-up nation. The first month into my Cass MBA, I learned that one of the international options for study will be Israel. I knew in that moment that this will be my choice of an elective – working in technology and financial crime, my interests spans across cyber security and regtech and fintech world.

International electives are intense. You go on a trip abroad and visit numerous locations and companies daily, whilst meeting and learning from founders, owners and investors. You travel from city to city and you cross borders, or in our case – check points.

Many won’t know that a large number of successful businesses materialised from Israel, such as Viber, Waze and Mobileye. The country prides itself as the start-up nation mostly driven by the uncertainty that seems to run through their DNA due to political and economic factors surrounding them. Success on the Israeli side, but what is going on behind the literal wall on the Palestinian Territory?

The western world often can’t understand why there are conflicts between people ‘somewhere far away from us’, and don’t really want to engage in that conversation. Most of my cohort was also confused as to why these two nations can’t be one. It just seemed logical that working in unity would be beneficial for both sides. The Palestinian side suffers a lack of infrastructure, lack of water and many other resources, yet they are as resourceful as Israel is!

The streets may look empty, but don’t let that fool you. Palestinian residents know how to live. On our first night we enter a restaurant and it is buzzing inside, the whole restaurant is packed with families and young couples dining and smoking shishas.

Our night ends in a famous bar packed with kids of American expats living in Palestine. Bizarre, you think? So did we. They are young, happy, dancing, and invite us to join them. We were not that cool to wear bandannas and lose ourselves to the sound of music, but nevertheless we did enjoy our night – we were useless at playing darts, but we proceeded to do so until late at night.

 

We met many successful entrepreneurs during the two days in Palestine. The Palestinian society is a lot more progressive than we are lead to believe. For example, the CEO of Bank of Palestine has fully eliminated the gender pay gap within the bank, insisting on this change himself.

There are in fact a number of factors working in favour of Palestinians. The Palestinian society has a high number of highly educated individuals, and it seems that its diaspora can fuel the culture of innovation and finance it. Of course, the circumstances of country’s occupation are also helping to kindle the creativity of Palestinians.

Speaking to a young entrepreneur at one of the events in Palestine, he mentioned the collaborations between Israelis and Palestinians. Whilst the countries are in conflict, the people seem to be less so. ‘We work together with our friends from Israel’, he said, ‘and our business is thriving.’ Of course, software has the unique ability to flow through wires and borders, but perhaps even more surprising was that he was talking about a medical business, moving people across borders and offering them medical help when needed.

I got home two days before the American embassy moved to Jerusalem. The news were full of horror stories coming from the region, and I was thinking – could successful cross border businesses help build peace in the region? Is it the organised chaos that is prevalent in the region that we need in order to innovate successfully?  Perhaps.

I wouldn’t want to attempt to predict the future of the region, but I hope that these two nations find a common language in innovation – after all making innovation happen is a collaborative process on many levels, from nations to countries, to companies, to military and teams.

Nina Kerkez
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

1 Comment

  1. Love the wall pic We were all once refugees xxx

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