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For the first time ever, one of Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG)’s entrepreneurs just traveled to Africa! Sponsored by the US Consulate in Jerusalem, Dalia Shurrab attended the sixth annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi, Kenya focused on entrepreneurship as a tool for sustainable development.

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How Dalia Became an Entrepreneur

Dalia joined GSG in late 2013 as a member of Wasselni, one of Gaza’s first four startups to receive investment. She had never heard of startups back then, but she was eager to travel. She met the founder of Wasselni on social media and was recruited to the team with that incentive: “If you work on my startup, I’ll do everything I can to help you travel.” (Because Gaza’s borders are generally closed, travel is only possible for specific purposes.)

Although her background was in not immediately relevant to the startups she worked on (she had studied physics), Dalia was incredibly hard working, enthusiastic, curious, and eager to help. She quickly became the person at GSG best known for helping everyone else. By volunteering for startup teams that needed extra help, she quickly picked up new skills.

After working on three startups with GSG (Wasselni, Tevy, and Haweya) and co-founding her own project (Arabic 4 Kids, an education venture that will launch in fall 2015 to help young Arabs in the diaspora improve their Arabic-language skills), she became one of the first members of our community to work for accomplished regional startups (Souq.com and Yamsafer) seeking talent in Gaza.  It was for these accomplishments that Dalia was selected to represent Gaza Sky Geeks in Nairobi.

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Getting to Kenya

Like many trips originating from Gaza, Dalia’s adventure began with the time-consuming task of crossing borders. Gazans at GSG travel abroad by crossing Erez (the only open land border between Israel and Gaza), driving to Jerusalem and then through the West Bank to Allenby (a border between Palestine and Jordan), and flying out of Amman, the capital of Jordan. It is a journey of less than 100 miles and it took Dalia seven hours. Sometimes it takes even longer for our entrepreneurs! When asked about her first impression of Nairobi, Dalia responded that she was “so happy to finally arrive in Kenya” and that the people were “warm and welcoming” from the moment she stepped off the plane throughout the entire conference. She even had the opportunity to meet some friendly wildlife at the Nairobi Public Park and try some of the local Kenyan cuisine!

One part of the trip Dalia didn’t have to worry about was her family’s support. While not a sentiment shared by all Gazan families, Dalia’s parents and family are extremely supportive of her travels and endeavors as an entrepreneur.

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The Conference

Dalia arrived at the conference with three goals: to speak to the challenges and incredible accomplishments of entrepreneurs in Gaza, to highlight the lessons learned from GSG’s successful crowdfunding campaign, and to bring lessons back to Gaza from entrepreneurs around the world.

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As the only Palestinian at the conference, Dalia spoke in sessions about the difficulties of working across closed borders and in the midst of conflict. Many conference attendees had never met anyone from Gaza; they knew Gaza only from media outlets showing images of conflict. Many were surprised to learn about Gaza’s nascent startup movement and about Palestine’s other success stories such as Yamsafer which recently raised $3.5M in a Series B investment led by Global Founders Capital.

By the end of the conference, Dalia had met and forged connections with founders and investors from the US, Kuwait, India Pakistan, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Somalia, Egypt, Ireland, Scotland, Russia, Germany, Kenya, Ghana, and Ethiopia.  She even made some new friends from a visit to a Nairobi zoo where she met some of the local wildlife!

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Dalia hopes to travel to next year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit as well.  In fact, we’re always on the lookout for opportunities to send our entrepreneurs and GSG staff abroad. If you’re interested in sponsoring or hosting one of our entrepreneurs at your organization or conference, please let us know by emailing us at [email protected]!