The Gaza Strip in Palestine might seem like an unlikely place to have a budding tech scene for female entrepreneurs. But thanks to the work of Mai Abualkas Temraz, who is the Mentorship & Women’s Inclusivity Program Coordinator at Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG), Gaza’s first startup accelerator and coworking hub, the area is experiencing an influx of technological innovation.
Mai explains that in fact, attracting women to the field of computer science is easier in Gaza than other parts of the world — in some programs, more women are enrolled than men. But as only 27 percent of GSG participants were female between 2011 and 2013, she helped spearhead a new strategy to more actively engage women.
“We made the outreach materials with women in mind — they were purple and had women depicted on them — because we wanted our materials to state explicitly, “Women are welcome!”
Mai explains that after this targeted outreach, the number of women attending GSG jumped to nearly 50 percent. But even though she’s attracted significantly more women to the program, Mai’s work is far from over. Her next challenge is helping women get from the participant stage to becoming entrepreneurial leaders, especially when it comes to obtaining funds for their startup ideas.
“Our goal is to see as many women founders receive investment funding as men, but we currently have more men pitching to investors successfully than women,” Mai says. “We’ve been learning that women lose confidence during the long process of launching a startup.”
Confidence Through Community
One of the ways GSG is addressing this confidence gap is by running a club where female founders can share their own inspirational stories, personal tips and challenges.
“We’ve seen that this community keeps women confident through the ups and downs of being a startup founder,” says Mai.
Mai is also about to launch another program aimed at female founders in the Gaza region, called “Entrepreneura”. The idea is to create a platform that connects female entrepreneurs in the Middle East/North Africa region to broadcast their achievements and inspire a global audience of women.
Mai’s dedication to inspire more interest in computer science and other STEM fields goes beyond the women in tech community in Gaza. She is also the founder of Amateur Club, a training center and maker space aimed at teaching younger minds about STEM fields.
“Our mission is to support creativity and innovation and provide the best training and the best means and methods,” she says. “We believe that investment in science is a priority over investment in other areas.”
Why Mentorship Matters
Mai has also devoted herself to increasing the importance of mentorship in the Gaza computer science community. After participating in TechWomen2014, she understood the importance of mentoring and how it can change lives for the better.
“I’m incredibly motivated to continue this work because I see its impact all the time,” she says. “In fact, the 20 startup teams that just went through [GSG’s] incubation program all say that the most valuable part of it, by far, was the mentorship they received from international mentors coming to Gaza.”
Through Mai’s efforts, Gaza Sky Geeks connects startup founders with mentors from outside Gaza, who can help founders remotely over Skype or through visits to the incubator. Mai also recently joined the ArabWIC mentoring committing, where her goal is to introduce women in the Middle East/North Africa region to the concept of mentoring so they can boost their professional and personal development.
Mai’s own success is evidence of how much potential there is in the computer science community in Gaza — not only is she immersed in the technology community in the region, she is also the first and only female licensed amateur radio operator in Palestine.
For Mai, the idea of helping others on their path to success is clearly one of her biggest passions. She sums up her thoughts with a traditional saying from Africa:
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” she quotes. “Consider what the future will be like if all women in technology support each other. Not alone and fast, but together and far.”