The Future is being written in lines of Code.  (Kathryn Parsons)

In a recent interview former UK Bank of England Governor Mark Carney stresses the need for diversity in all sectors of the economy.  It is important not only because it provides opportunity to a greater number of people but, quite simply, because it makes economic sense.  In addition, given that digital technologies are now underpinning virtually every aspect of everybody’s lives, there is a moral imperative to ensure that the decisions we allow our technologies to make are not framed through the lens of one dominant perspective.  The technology sector is still overwhelmingly white and male (as two iconic female tech innovators, Dame Stephanie Shirley and Professor Dame Wendy Hall, recently discussed in this delightful conversation) and this needs to change as a matter of urgency.

Intersticia is driven by the mission of providing the support and resources for a Fellowship of individuals, who share the common vision of caring for our World and all who live in it.  Over the past eight years we have carefully crafted a community of people who come from all walks of life and share this vision.  A big part of this is in promoting public education, through activities such as Brave Conversations and our Digital Gymnasia, but it is through our partnership with Founders and Coders (FAC) that we have been able to support individuals to become better equipped to help lead humanity in the digital age by themselves becoming better technologists.

Founders and Coders is guided by its values of cooperation, inclusion and social impact.  FAC began investing in Palestinian coders in 2017 by providing curriculum, mentors and course facilitators through both Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG) and the Israeli Not for Profit Kav Mashve (now Web Ahead) which promotes equal employment opportunities for Arab university graduates within the Israeli business sector.  Intersticia began supporting this work by funding the FAC’s Tech for Better Founders Programme which brought graduates from the London-based Code Academy together with graduates from the GSG Code Academy to work on Tech for Better projects.

Our original vision was to provide the opportunity for graduate coders to gain experience working on real, needs based client projects, whilst simultaneously encouraging and developing diversity in coding through focusing not only on the coding itself, but on entrepreneurship and community building.  Over three years we supported three cohorts (First Founders Cohort, Second Founders Cohort and Third Founders Cohort) and from this the Yalla Co-Operative emerged.

Yalla’s roots lie in the aspirations of a collective of people working from London, Gaza and Berlin to create a commercial entity which would transcend borders and provide opportunities for web developers, designers, project managers and strategists to work with non-profits, start ups and impact-driven businesses.  Yalla is unique in this combination of cross-border ownership and deep social focus and it is the courage of its Founders that provides an ongoing opportunity to experiment with new ways of growing a diversely based tech start-up whilst providing support for people in areas of conflict and instability.

We have now taken the next step with FAC and Yalla with the commencement of the Yalla Apprenticeship Programme which is designed to take this one step further by combining a mix of practical experience with tailored learning for the Code Academy graduates whilst simultaneously supporting the growth of Yalla itself.

We began in January 2021 by engaging FAC Founder and Intersticia Fellow Kristina Jaggard as the Programme Co-Ordinator and complemented this by engaging Ahmed Elqattawi, whom I met when I visited Gaza in January 2019 and is also now an Intersticia Fellow, to work with us on the ground in Gaza (for more on this and the objectives of the programme see this previous post).

The Apprenticeship opportunity was advertised through Gaza Sky Geeks to both current and recently graduated Coders, and we held an Information Session on 2nd March which was followed up by a formal application process which attracted fourteen applications.  From these eight Coders were selected and asked to provide a short video telling us a little about themselves, and this was followed by a twenty-minute online interview.  A short-list of our applicants then undertook a technical test with some pair-coding together with interviews with the core Yalla team.  After much deliberation – because all of the candidates were impressive and more than capable – Israa Ahmad Al-Jamal and Adham Haisami, were awarded the first Yalla Apprenticeships.

We had originally envisaged beginning the programme in early May 2021 but by 10th May the conflict between Israel and Palestine had escalated to the point where this became untenable.  Following on from the Ceasefire on 21st May, 2021 we determined that, if Israa and Adham were ready, we were keen to get them started as soon as possible in order to begin to rebuild their lives and gain some hope and confidence in a more positive future.

If you see a better world you are morally obligated to go and make it.  (Genevieve Bell)

Much of the conflict that happens within humanity comes from a lack of understanding of other people and their cultures, a dominance of short term self-interest, and an unwillingness to compromise.  Intersticia, Founders and Coders and Yalla are committed to working against all of these by deliberately crossing borders and tirelessly working towards creating a better shared future for us all.

We are thrilled to have Israa and Adham join our community and look forward to seeing how they grasp this opportunity and make it their own.

Israa Ahmad Al-Jamal is a graduate in Computer Engineering from the Islamic University in Gaza who then worked in Web Development and recently graduated from Gaza Sky Geeks Code Academy as a Full Stack Developer.  Israa comes to Yalla with an array of organisational skills (particularly juggling a young family, study and work) together with an interest in design and embroidery to complement her fascination with technology.  Above all what stood our for us is Israa’s focus on the importance of teamwork and co-operation.  As she said in her interview video:

“Shared joy is double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow.”

Adham Haisami studied Software Engineering and is passionate about learning and trying new things. He loves traveling for what it can teach us about different cultures and ways of thinking and has an innate curiosity to view and consider things differently.  What stood out for us is Adham’s sense of empathy and desire to help people, which he encapsulated with the phrase:

“We all are the same, we all are humans.”