Gaza Sky Geeks is a program of Mercy Corps established in 2011 in collaboration with Google. Having undergone a journey starting out as a startup bootcamp, Gaza Sky Geeks now has the status of tech hub housing tech upskilling, coworking spaces and a startup accelerator, making it the number one destination for Palestine’s top tech talent.
Mercy Corps recognizing the need for a tech ecosystem
Mercy Corps secured their first USAID-funded tech education program in the West Bank. Programs of this period mark the beginning of Mercy Corps’ consideration going beyond humanitarian programs by redirecting the spotlight to opportunities in tech and entrepreneurship in Gaza. Acknowledging the urgent need to create more sustainable opportunities for Palestinian youth became the starting point of Gaza Sky Geeks. A seed had been planted with the aspiration that soon Palestine would benefit from having a flourishing tech ecosystem.
Launching the Arab Developer Network Initiative
In 2011, the Arab Developer Network Initiative (ADNI) was launched through generous funding from Google. Mercy Corps arranged multiple visits for the Google team to get familiarized with the community, and together they worked on creating mobile apps. Based on this success Mercy Corps and Google solidified their partnership by establishing Google-funded Acceleration program run by Mercy Corps.
Gaza Sky Geeks: the Acceleration Program
The Gaza Sky Geeks which today is a well-known tech ecosystem player in Palestine had its modest beginnings in 2011. The original team consisted of just three core team members joined by the three winning teams from Startup Weekend, and operated out of a small flat in Gaza City.
Addressing the need for women inclusivity
In 2014, the GSG team started designing and implementing a series of small events dedicated to women’s empowerment in the ICT sector. By inviting local and regional experts to help strategize around the university and community outreach efforts to secure a higher female participation and program engagement, the Big Sister, Little Sister initiative was born.
PowerUpGazaGeeks Crowdfunding Campaign
Due to lack of funding and the electricity crisis in 2016, the Gaza Sky Geeks was not able to open the co-working space on weekends or evenings. In response to this the team decided to launch the PowerUpGazaGeeks crowdfunding campaign to raise $95k to buy a dedicated generators for the co-working space.
Launching the Freelance Academy
Established in 2016 in response to a debilitated local job market and to increase online job opportunities, which spoke powerfully to the GSG vision to help Palestinians build a stronger economy and gain meaningful income online. The unprecedented demand and need for supporting and strengthening digital upskilling, paved the way for the creation of a new program: The Freelance Academy.
Launching the Code Academy
In an effort to branch out and increase the impact of the organisation, Gaza Sky Geeks launched the Code Academy in 2017. The program was designed to quickly and effectively expose a wide range of participants with little to no previous technical knowledge to career opportunities using coding fundamentals. Embracing the mantra of self learning and continuous growth, the Gaza Sky Geeks coders are resilient, remote-first and ready to take on any challenge!
Roadshow and Expansion to the West Bank
In 2018 an expansion in the West Bank followed after the Gaza Sky Geeks team members went on a roadshow to raise awareness of their work, and the role Gaza Sky Geeks plays in the Palestinian tech ecosystem. The initial expansion consisted of a series of tech and entrepreneurship events all under the umbrella Geeks Labs.
Expansion to Khan Yunis
As the interest in the Freelance Academy grew, the logistical challenges of moving around the Gaza Strip paired with the difficulties of assessing marginalized communities meant caused Gaza Sky Geeks to expand further. This was done by piloting a technical training in collaboration with local universities in southern Gaza.
Big steps and quality partnerships
Another milestone of 2018 was the Rise Up On Upwork bootcamp carried out in partnership with Upwork. The focus of the bootcamp was to encouraging budding freelancers contemplating joining the Upwork platform to join the event in order to learn more. More than 100 freelancers completed the bootcamp making it the biggest of its kind in Palestine.
Scaling up and strategic growth
2019 was a year of exponential growth and a breadth of activities being added to the Gaza Sky Geeks portfolio:
- – A new soft skills initiative focus on professional development was added.
- – A second Rise Up On Upwork event was held, which became the catalyst for the official partnership between Gaza Sky Geeks and UpWork.
- – The Startup Accelerator went on its first roadshow taking two startup teams on a trip around the MENA region visiting the most prestigious events for investors and entrepreneurs.
Resilience in the time of Covid-19
Despite the challenges and hardships that came with Covid-19 around the world, Gaza Sky Geeks managed to stay in touch with the community, launch new courses and cohorts, and record new achievements. Amongst these were the Code Academy introduced new courses and upskilling pathways to the Palestinian community during the Covid-19 epidemic. The Startup Accelerator, too, started an upskilling program for founders and entrepreneurs in Palestine to bridge the knowledge gap in the market.
The learnings and key take aways from the Covid-10 pandemic were many. As the world transitioned and adjusted to the new normal of working remotely, Gaza Sky Geeks started exploring remote activities as a way to increase the number of participants in events and workshops.
Thanks to this, Gaza Sky Geeks was able to extend its impact to a lot more people, and one of the perhaps most impressive achievements has been the Freelance Academy’s ability increase cohort sizes from 30+ to 300+ participants.
From Gaza, Palestine to Iraq
Covid-19 brought new challenges and opportunities for Gaza Sky Geeks. In cooperation with Mercy Corps Iraq, Gaza Sky Geeks implemented the first virtual freelancing cohort in Iraq – and it was a success! This collaboration was the embodiment of Gaza Sky Geeks’s vision of being a leader of not just the Palestinian tech ecosystem, but across the MENA region – challenging the narrative of Gaza being an aid-consumer.