UNRWA is piloting a new social enterprise, the Gaza Gateway, as part of an ongoing commitment to enhancing employment prospects for young Palestine refugees in Gaza. The initiative is designed to help young IT graduates gain work experience and employability training, and create new opportunities within the devastated Gaza economy. “It is like a survival kit. It changes your life and gives you a chance,” said Ahmed, a 27-year-old recent graduate working with the Gateway.
Approximately 1,000 Palestinians like Ahmed graduate with computer-related degrees in Gaza each year. However, in 2014, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) estimated a 75.1 per cent unemployment rate for Computer Science graduates, making it the sector with the highest unemployment among the specialties studied.
Refugee unemployment in Gaza reached 45.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2014, the highest level ever reported in UNRWA PCBS-based records. The IT industry in Gaza is trapped in a negative cycle: graduates need training and experience to refine their employable skills, but without a stronger skills base, companies cannot grow sufficiently to generate employment. The new UNRWA initiative responds to this challenge by building a bridge from IT graduation to private sector employability, with a view to demonstrating that Gaza can deliver competitive commercial services.
The new social enterprise is also timely - offering a beacon of hope to young people as they strive to recover from the 50 days of hostilities last summer. The Gaza Gateway team and programme participants were personally affected by the hostilities and some lost homes, family and friends. The opportunity to work and focus on their future is welcome. “I was looking for a job for three years and at some point I felt like my mind stopped thinking,” recalls 26-year-old Rose, who works as a team leader for the Gateway. “It was frustrating. Gaza Gateway gives us energy to achieve things despite the difficult situation.”
The social enterprise leverages the short- and medium-term IT needs of UNRWA into a permanent part of the Gaza employment infrastructure. Business and social aims form part of a single solution: Gaza’s first learning workplace. While working with the Gateway for approximately 12 months, graduates operate as Project Associates and attend regular structured skills training to develop an employable CV. “There is a lot of training included, it is not just work,” comments Ahmed. Rose adds: “Gaza Gateway is different because the main purpose is training in topics that are actually relevant for the market. This gives our careers a future.”
During each Gaza Gateway project, the social enterprise will identify and work with Gaza IT firms interested in sub-contracting the project and the Project Associates. The firms will gain commercial experience, and the Project Associates will move to private sector employment.
The Gaza Gateway is an UNRWA initiative that is being implemented with the support of a three-year US$ 1.3 million contribution from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). Korea is an increasingly important UNRWA donor, making generous contributions to both the General Fund and emergency appeals. Korea’s total contribution to UNRWA has increased from US$ 61,000 in 2012 to US$ 1.1 million in 2014. Recent support has been both crucial and timely – addressing the desperate needs of Palestine refugees living through crises.