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In hackathon, hopes of new ties between young Israelis and Arab peers

‘The First Abraham Accords Virtual Social Hackathon,’ to be held in late March, will see students and professionals from Israel, Bahrain, Morocco and the UAE brainstorm together

Left to right: Eyal Biram, Ilan Hazam, Norah Alawadi and Ahmed Elmansuri, pose for a photo as part of the first formal visit of the Leaders of Tomorrow initiative in Dubai last November (Courtesy)
Left to right: Eyal Biram, Ilan Hazam, Norah Alawadi and Ahmed Elmansuri, pose for a photo as part of the first formal visit of the Leaders of Tomorrow initiative in Dubai last November (Courtesy)

The Abraham Accords, which normalized diplomatic ties between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco last year, also kicked off a wave of transnational business collaborations.

Now, Israel-is, a Tel Aviv-based nonprofit organization, hopes to strengthen regional social and cultural ties by co-sponsoring a virtual hackathon on March 23-25.

The U&I Hackathon, dubbed by its creators “The First Abraham Accords Virtual Social Hackathon,” is a platform for students and young professionals from Israel, Bahrain, Morocco and the UAE to work as teams to connect and collaborate on local, national and global topics like tourism and education.

The goal of the event is to promote personal connections and expand industry cooperation among young Israelis, Bahrainis, Moroccans and Emiratis, focusing on peacebuilding at a societal and grassroots level, rather than just between nations.

Eyal Biram, CEO of Israel-is (Courtesy)

To do so, emphasis is placed on deepening cultural understandings between the youth groups by getting participants to share personal stories and business ideas — in short, to have them get to know each other.

With 100 participants age 20-35 divided into 25 mixed teams, the three-day hackathon will schedule time for teams to craft a product idea that may be worth pitching to investors. In addition, there will be sessions on team dynamics, startups and business methodology, and digital marketing; diplomat speakers from Israel and the UAE; and mentoring sessions with specialists from the tech industry, media and marketing.

The expected outcomes will be solutions that bridge cultural gaps between young Israelis and their regional counterparts, such leveraging tourism to deepen personal connections and using education to create a more open-minded generation. Examples of this may be an app that connects travelers with local hosts and free tour guides, or virtual “Teen TED Talks” given by teenagers from participating countries on relevant cultural topics.

Hackathon projects will entail teams setting up strategic plans for their ideas, budgets and business models, and assessing the impact value of the solution, how it will be executed and who the potential partners could be. They will also set up a pitch to investors.

The first-place prize is a trip to Israel and the UAE, including cultural tours, meetings with top business figures and promotion of the winning teams’ project.

The UAE’s first ambassador to Israel, Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khajah, with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on March 1, 2021. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Partners of the hackathon include Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, UAE-is, Jerusalem Venture Partners and the Dubai Future Foundation. Funding comes from the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and outside donor organizations in Israel and the US.

Israel-is, which is helping to organize the event, is a nonprofit organization that aims to educate young Israelis for meaningful encounters with their international peers in order to build a stronger foundation for peace in the Middle East. It was founded in 2017 by CEO Eyal Biram.

The hackathon is part of the Leaders of Tomorrow initiative, which seeks to connect young professionals in Israel and the UAE.

Leaders of Tomorrow has also organized two virtual meetups — one connecting Israeli and Bahraini entrepreneurs and the other connecting Israeli and Moroccan entrepreneurs.

The goal of both events is to share thoughts about the region’s problems, needs and solutions, as well as creating a more tangible relationship between the youth of the involved countries.

Matan Dansker, who recently worked in New York as a senior adviser to Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan, had the opportunity to see the Abraham Accords play out at a political and diplomatic level. He is now facilitating content for educational and leadership programs for Israel-is.

Israel-is creates the “foundations of cooperation between peoples on the levels of economy, tourism and just common interest or common human values,” Dansker said. “That’s the best way of making sure that peace isn’t only on a piece of paper, but it’s actually in the foundations of the ground.”

Biram said he hopes for more delegations and events in the future, potentially with youth from countries that haven’t yet formalized diplomatic relations with Israel, as well as expanding influence in countries Israel-is already works with.

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