Researchers Develop New Approach to Accelerate Palestine’s High-Tech Economy – Harvard Gazette
Avner Halperin is a research associate with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative, based at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and led by Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Governance Tarek Masoud. Halperin and his colleagues Mahmoud Khweis, a tech entrepreneur focusing on the Palestinian economy, and Ely Sandler, an Israeli policy researcher pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at HKS, proposed the creation of a new foundation – which they call on the Global Palestinian Innovation Foundation (GPI) – to energize the Palestinian tech sector. We asked Halperin about the research, the foundation, and how GPI can succeed where other efforts have failed.
Q: How did the idea of the GPI Foundation come about?
Halperin: I have been involved in high tech in the Middle East, particularly in Israel, for the past 30 years. At that time, I was working on inclusion in high tech, thinking about how we are involving more and more populations. For example, my company, based in Israel, had a Palestinian R&D team working for us to develop health software applications for the US market. When I left that company and had the opportunity to connect with the Middle East Initiative and with Professor Tarek Masoud, we both thought it would be great to research policies that could promote inclusiveness in high technology in the Middle East. We have seen that there is already a lot of political work going on in this area on the Israeli side. So we turned to what we saw as a real opportunity: promoting the Palestinian tech sector, especially in the West Bank.
During my year as a researcher at HKS, I partnered with a Palestinian colleague, Mahmoud Khweis, and another HKS colleague, Eli Sandler, at the Middle East Initiative to develop GPI.
Q: Your new report notes that the lack of technological development in the Palestinian territories is not due to a lack of effort or financial support, but rather a failure to build mutually beneficial partnerships and prepare participants for the international business arena. How does your plan address this?
Halperin: What we have proposed is a new policy initiative that actually focuses on building international business ties and business partnerships. We were inspired by a very successful US policy initiative, the Binational Foundation for Industrial Research and Development (BIRD), which promoted Israel’s high-tech sector. The idea is to make the money work where we build bridges of collaboration between Palestinian businesses and US entities and Gulf entities.
The other critical shortcoming is the absence of a champion. If you want to build a tech ecosystem, especially an edge ecosystem, whether it’s in Israel, Taiwan, Singapore, or Ireland, you can’t expect it to succeed on its own. You need someone to defend him.