MEET, the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow program, brings together young Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, using tech and innovation to form relationships
In the search for the ever elusive peace in the Middle East, one determined team is trying a slightly different approach, stepping away from the historical avenues aimed at resolving the conflict.
MEET, the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow program, looks to bring together young Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, using technology and innovation as a way to form relationships and open up lines of communication between the two sides.
A week ago, the non-profit organization launched a crowdfunding campaign on the popular Indiegogo platform, hoping to raise at least $10,000. As of the writing of this article, the group has succeeded in raising almost $21,000, with nearly a month left to go until the drive closes. According to their page, a pair of donors have each pledged to match up to $10,000 for the campaign, further adding to the final amount.
Founded in 2004 by a collection of Israelis, Palestinians, and others from around the world, the program is partnered with the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Incorporating volunteers from MIT, MEET works with participants to develop skills in computer science, entrepreneurship, and what they call deeper understanding and leadership.
The three-year program recruits youths at age 14 from schools across Israel and the Palestinian Territories, hosting them at their centers in Nazareth and Jerusalem.
The program’s impact on changing perceptions
Gigi Levy-Weiss, a well known Israeli entrepreneur and co-founder of MEET, spoke with Geektime about the work they are doing with the youth. He said that the program is apolitical, not favoring the narrative of either side in the conflict, rather helping both Israelis and Palestinians to become better acquainted with the other’s story.
As a part of working together so closely, the youths begin to know and build trust with each other. Levy-Weiss explained that difficult conversations often come up between the teens, especially when tensions and violence flares up in the region, citing the war in the summer of 2014. But through the program, they learn to speak with one another, and while not having to accept the narrative of the other, they gain the capacity to create an open dialogue about the issues.
Levy-Weiss told Geektime that they have noticed impressive results in only a short time, explaining that, “The immediate effect is that we’re seeing on the kids in the program who are learning a lot through working with and getting to know kids from the other side.”
While the program can only accept between 70-80 youths every year, meaning somewhere around 200 participants in total at any one time, the hope is that the benefits will extend beyond the confines of the program. “We’re seeing the ripple effect around these kids, who are impacting their family, friends, and their surroundings,” he said, adding that, “Later on, we see our graduates become significant entrepreneurs, setting up NGOs and entering into the political ecosystem, hopefully working to improve our region.”
When asked about the long term impact that MEET is hoping to have, Levy-Weiss answered that, “This is clearly only the beginning as our oldest graduate is now only 24 years old. As these are the best of Israeli and Palestinian youth, we truly hope that some of them will eventually become leaders in their community, and will leverage their experience of getting to know the other side, and learning to communicate with each other to bring a better future to our region.”
Like all initiatives related to the conflict, MEET is not immune from its challenges. Charges of normalization from both sides have been leveled at the participants. Levy-Weiss is undaunted, saying that, “The program is apolitical, instead aimed at educating kids from both sides, we are able to continue despite the pressures.”
Looking to the future
The MEET program has been operating its impressive programming for a little over a decade. Up to this point, they have been privately funded, not having received cash from government sources according to Levy-Weiss, unlike many other NGOs in the region. This campaign marks the first time that they are turning to the public for support.
While other projects have looked to bring youths from both sides together around areas of interest like music or sports, this team is hoping to capitalize on the Startup Nation’s magical touch for launching tech related businesses that can transcend ethnic identity and conflict.
Just like in the real world VC model, Levy-Weiss said that they are hoping to find their unicorn ($1 billion startup), seeking leaders who can emerge from their program to bring relations into a new place, and with any luck, taking them one step closer to a resolution of the conflict.
For anyone looking to support this great cause, click here to visit the campaign page and make a contribution.