UK’s Israel embassy seeks to export Arab-Jewish coders program

At pre-Christmas celebration, young Israelis talk about their projects in the Founders & Coders program – an initiative set up in Nazareth in February

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Alumni and participants of Founders & Coders Nazareth branch attend gathering at UK Ambassador David Quarrey's residence, Dec. 20, 2017  (Courtesy)
Alumni and participants of Founders & Coders Nazareth branch attend gathering at UK Ambassador David Quarrey's residence, Dec. 20, 2017 (Courtesy)

The British embassy in Israel is seeking to expand an intensive coding and programming course to other nations, after introducing the program to the Israeli city of Nazareth last year in an effort to support the economic development of the city and lead to better integration of the Arab community into the Israeli high-tech industry.

Founders & Coders is a London-based nonprofit organization that offers intensive but quick coding courses for people without tech backgrounds, who gain the tools needed to take part in the local tech industry. The first Founders & Coders program that was launched out of the UK was set up in Nazareth, in partnership with the British Embassy’s UK Israel Tech Hub. The UK Israel Tech Hub is an initiative launched by the British Embassy in Israel with the aim of boosting economic growth in both countries by partnering British companies with the best of Israeli innovation.

The UK Israel Tech Hub is now expanding its model to other countries including Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa. “We are hoping to take Founders & Coders to where we are taking the UK Tech Hub,” said Ayelet Mavor, the director of the UK Israel Tech Hub.

Young Arab and Jewish tech entrepreneurs who are taking part in the latest coding program — the third in Israel to date — met last week with representatives of corporations working in Israel — including Citi, HSBC Bank and Hewlett-Packard to showcase the skills gleaned from a coding and programming course they have been part of.

The gathering — a late Hanukkah and early Christmas party — was held at the home of the UK Ambassador to Israel, David Quarrey.

“The idea is to help Israeli Arabs with their international business skills through technology and innovation,” said Mavor.

The young students and graduates of the coding classes mingled over Scotch, gin and tonic, borekas pastries and fruit and nuts. A large Christmas tree sparkled in the living room, and attendees heard a presentation about the first year of activity of the Founders & Coders program in Israel.

UK’s deputy ambassador Tony Kaye adresses participants and guests of Founders & Coders and UK Israel Tech Hub event at ambassador’s David Quarrey’s residence; Dec. 20, 2017 (Courtesy)

The 16-week, full-time course pitches trains the students to become full stack web developers and exposes them to real world development methodologies. They also undertake a three-week final project that involves real clients, such as the Nazareth municipality or local charities. One of the projects chosen, for example, was setting up an open tourism website through which artisans and business of Nazareth can promote and sell their products; another was creating a platform to help people with disabilities access business and services; and a third was creating an app for local guesthouses to help tourists navigate the streets of Nazareth; a fourth created an app that listed events in Nazareth.

“The students have to come up with an idea of how to cope,” said Mavor. “They work together as a team” with a mix of Arab Israelis, Israelis and foreign students. “This is part of the experience.”

Marlen Awwad, 27, from Haifa and Hasan Saad, 19, from Umm al-Fahm are two participants in the current course.

Founders & Coders students Marlen Awwad and Hasan Saad at the UK ambassador’s residence; Dec. 20, 2017 (Shoshanna Solomon/TimesofIsrael)

“I wanted to do coding,” Awwad, who has a degree in computer science from a German university, said. She joined the class because she needed to get experience to help her apply for jobs in the field. Similarly, Saad, who after finishing high school thought he’d study medicine, decided he’d follow his passion for computers. He is now getting the coding tools he needs, he said, and is planning to start computer science studies at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology when he is done with the course.

Those who complete the course support the next group of students by mentoring them. Mentoring, employment and freelance jobs are the prospects awaiting graduates, the organizers of the event said during a presentation.

UK’s deputy ambassador to Israel, Tony Kaye on December 20, 2017 (Shoshanna Solmon/TimesofIsrael)

The British embassy has made it a priority to engage with the Arab society in Israel and promote Arab entrepreneurship, said Tony Kay, the deputy ambassador.
Founders & Coders is about “connecting people,” he said. “We connect Founders & Coders alumni to local institutions to show them how amazingly talented these people are and make them shine. And it is Christmas,” he said with a smile.

Founders & Coders is also looking into how it can do similar work with the Palestinian Authority. “The challenges there are different,” he said. “The ecosystem is different.”

The UK Israel Tech Hub, founded in 2011, aims to to create partnerships in which British companies help Israeli innovation go global, and Israeli innovation gives British companies a global competitive edge. The Hub is the first initiative of this kind at an embassy, and has facilitated over 80 UK-Israel tech partnerships, worth over 60 million pounds, the embassy said.

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