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Nalan Al Sarraj: Rebuilding Gaza with Start-Ups

Conor Sheils heads to Rise Up to talk to one of Palestine's most resilient entrepreneurs, persevering with building her dreams and those of others in the face of Israeli aggression.

There's a new revolt happening in Gaza, but it's not what you think. Young entrepreneur Nalan Al Sarraj, is spearheading the besieged country's start-up revolution, which is already making waves on the River Jordan and beyond. Al Sarraj first becomae involved with Gaza's first start-up accelerator after quitting her job in advertising last year - a brave yet successful move that made her one of the most anticipated speakers at Rise Up Summit 2014. Since then she has not only set up her own blossoming business but also formed part of the country's first start-up accelerator designed to help would-be entrepreneurs take their business in the right direction.

"In our society it is often viewed as strange by families when there kids come home and tell them that they want to become involved in the start-up industry. Many parents can't comprehend how their children would choose to work in an industry which does not immediately make money. However my family have been really supportive, they see how happy am I and they are getting used to the idea," says Al Sarraj after her soul-stirring speech yesterday. 

The bright-eyed start-up starlet claims that her life living under the brutal Israeli siege has given her and her counterparts a resilience to persevere. "In Gaza everything is difficult. In other parts of the world people have worries about getting their companies financing but in Gaza we have so many more challenges to face, even in our every day lives. It makes people there much more resilient, which is important in the start-up world."

Al Sarraj forms part of a team at Samimli, a Gazan start-up designed to match the regions top graphic designers with their perfect customers. Speaking about her fledgling venture, she proudly says: " The company is designed to help clients advertise vacancies and get in touch with the best designers in the region. It's a new concept for the region. Our first major client actually came during the conflict. They were a group from the West Bank and since then  they have fallen in love with us." 

Despite the resilience and perseverance Al Sarraj describes, it of course hasn't been all plain sailing as she tells of the hard life living behind the inhumane Israeli blockade. "It is difficult for us to function because of the blockade, it is really difficult for us to attend conferences or events outside of Gaza. I came to Egypt as my home in Gaza city was bombed during the recent air strikes made it really difficult for us to do even basic things."

However, Al Sarraj believes that the are fighting their own brand of resistance against the Israeli regime. "Using technology we can take part in peaceful resistance in a way that previous generations could not. We are putting Gaza on the map in a global way and our work allows us to reach the outside world in the a way that we could not previously."

In the face of the many obstacles, however, Al Sarraj is adamant she will continue to fight to do what she loves. "Looking to the future I just want to keep on doing what I'm doing. I'm really passionate about it and for now I want to build on that and keep taking our project from strength to strength."

For more information visit: www.samimli.com or check out Gaza's first start-up accelerator http://www.gazaskygeeks.com


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