U-SOLVE in Palestine shares the results of its mapping study on Urban Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
This article highlights some facts about the Palestinian Urban Entrepreneurial Ecosystem (EE) from an urban sustainability perspective. The information contained in this article is a result of a mapping study finalized by the 20th of February 2022, conducted by Palestine Ahliya University (PAU) within the U-SOLVE project (Urban Sustainable development SOLutions Valuing Entrepreneurship project).
U-SOLVE aims to create a model of urban development based on innovative and sustainable entrepreneurial ideas that address sustainability challenges encountered in the urban areas. These ideas will be consolidated to become emerging start-ups and SMEs that contribute to the urban ecosystem and create jobs for youth and women. The priority of U-SOLVE is to strengthen and interconnect the entrepreneurial ecosystems in the Mediterranean countries (Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Palestine, and Egypt) by accurately and thoroughly mapping and defining interconnections of the main stakeholders with those ideas and start-ups, including universities, incubators, accelerators, businesses, public agencies, and civil society actors.
PAU, Palestinian partner of U-SOLVE, has conducted a descriptive study to assess and analyze the Palestinian entrepreneurial ecosystem (EE) in the urban development context.
The study offered a special focus on the southern urban areas of the West Bank (Bethlehem, Hebron). A combination of quantitative and qualitative tools was adopted. The data collection tools relied on primary and secondary data sources, including desk review, key informant interviews (KIIs), field observations, and focus group meetings. The study results can be utilized as a roadmap for decision-makers and entrepreneurs to highlight and tackle the most urging challenges that encounter the EE in Palestine through innovative entrepreneurial ideas and start-ups. To do so, they have to get introduced to the key actors of the EE, and know the gaps, the impact, and the connectivity among the EE actors and functions.
The study presents the situation in Palestine, which is particularly challenging. On the one hand, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (2021), the unemployment rate has increased, reaching 27.3%. On the other hand, Palestine has limited access to natural resources and vital assets due to the Israeli occupation, which has the power over approx. 61% of the total area of the West Bank; the areas that are classified as "C" according to Oslo accords. Therefore, entrepreneurship and the associated entrepreneurial supporting processes and services supported by innovation become one of the top national priorities in Palestine
It is important to note that Israeli occupation and control over resources is a crosscutting challenge in all urban EE functions. Moreover, lack of awareness regarding the significance of the urban entrepreneurial ecosystem is also one of the highlighted concerns in most urban challenges.
Considering this, we shed light on the most prominent challenges that face the urban EE in Palestine, which can be represented as follows:
- Urban and Transport Planning; refers to traffic-related issues, noise, gas emissions, etc. The key challenges in this function, mainly focus on traffic congestion; vehicle emissions pollution; weakness of the appropriate financial capabilities for implementing proper urban planning; and poor infrastructure of roads.
- Green Infrastructure; refers to the protection of natural resources. In this regard, the study has highlighted some main concerns and challenges represented by urban expansion at the cost of green areas; industrial waste and gaseous pollutants; lack of water resources needed for the agriculture; lack of interest in and awareness of the importance of the agricultural and green spaces to mitigate effects of the climate changes; lack of deterrent laws of any violation
- Blue Infrastructure; refers to water elements, wastewater management, water treatment, and accessibility lack of ground and surface water resources; random water management; lack of awareness of citizens regarding the water rationalization; high cost and uncontrol of drilling new underground wells; inefficient water harvesting methods; and pollution of the groundwater.
- Urban Food Systems; refers to healthy diets, food safety, and security. This includes the decline of food security and food production rates; lack of monitoring framework on food quality; the duality between the Palestinian and Israeli quality standards; and lack of community health education.
- Sustainable Energy; refers to renewable energy. This challenge seems to be the highest among the other urban challenges, and more specifically, the key challenge impeded in this function includes the high cost of renewable energy; weak infrastructure for the energy production; and lack of citizens awareness regarding the sustainable energy importance, production and consumption.
- Waste Management; refers to solid waste recycling. It includes lack of proper landfills for the separation of solid waste; lack of waste recycling infrastructure; lack of sold water treatment systems; and the random landfills scattered in the outskirts of urban areas.
- Urban Health Equity; refers to the threats related to the climate and environmental injustice to access health facilities and services: It includes climate and environmental changes; weak infrastructure for adequate health service provision; residential areas are close to polluted areas and polluting sources; lack of national projects to advance the health services sector, in addition to the spread of viruses and epidemics in the recent period.
The question arises here: do the Palestinian EE actors perceive these challenges at the same level of importance? By EE actors, we refer to the following examples: policymakers & formal institutions, business organizations, human capital, knowledge creation and innovation, incubators, accelerators, NGOs, financial capital, and market channels. The study reveals, as shown in Figure 1, that the EE actors perceive the importance of urban challenges in the following ranking order: Sustainable Energy, Blue Infrastructure, Waste Management, Urban and Transport Planning, Urban Food Systems, Green Infrastructure, and then Urban Health Equity. As such, ranking associated with the identified key challenges of the urban entrepreneurial ecosystem in Palestine will highly pave the road for Palestine Ahliya University to scout business ideas and start-ups process.
Supporting the business ideas and start-ups within U-SOLVE requires some diagnosis of the EE, particularly how connected they are to deliver the service to the entrepreneurs in an efficient manner.
The study has summarized the connectivity bonds among EE actors in Palestine. The results have shown that the human capital actors have the lowest connectivity with others among all actors. Likewise, the informal and cultural institutions encounter weak connectivity from other actors. In contrast, financial capital actors and formal institutions seem to have higher connectivity with other factors.
This result is reasonable since all entities and actors should come across financial issues and legalization from formal institutions. Public authorities have reasonable connectivity with the formal institutions, which is justified due to the crosscutting in work between the two actors. Knowledge (Research & Development) and innovation actors have better connections with NGOs than other actors. This might be because most NGOs working in the field of entrepreneurship rely on funded projects that address R&D and innovation aspects.
The financial capital actors have the highest closeness centrality. In contrast, the knowledge creation (R&D) and Innovation and the human capital actors have the least score, which means they are not quite close to other actors in the EE.
These results trigger an interesting recommendation to the R&D centers to boost the connectivity with other actors through initiatives, events, and Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs). Moreover, R&D centers should discuss urban challenges to be addressed in their research studies with other EE actors who might influence the research directions and applicability.
At the end of the study, a list of recommendations has been set for supporting the urban entrepreneurial ecosystem in Palestine, which could be summarized in the following points:
- Palestinian EE connectivity in the urban development context has to be boosted and enhanced through various means, including the establishment of specialized urban hubs that can play a role in enhancing the coordination scheme among EE actors for supporting, coaching, and mentoring the entrepreneurial ideas and startups in the urban development context. Moreover, the urban hub can host the statistical and empirical studies to overcome and mitigate the urban challenges faced in the territorial areas in which the hubs exist alongside supporting the networking process among countries that share the same global challenges (e.g., global warming and sustainable energy);
- Universities and schools should enhance business and entrepreneurship education and training, especially in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields (STEM), while including urban challenges and global concerns in their curriculum and extra-curricular activities;
- An urban sustainability model should be established by the joint effort of actors in the urban areas to support value creation through innovation and entrepreneurship;
- National policies, plans, and agendas to be more aligned with the key challenges in EE, including Sustainable Energy, Blue Infrastructure, Waste Management, Urban Transport Planning, Urban Food, Green Infrastructure, and Healy Equity;
- Promoting women engagement in EE from Private and Public sectors;
- More financial incentives (accessibility) to be given to entrepreneurs;
Finally, the success of the urban entrepreneurial ecosystem in Palestine shall depend on overcoming and mitigating the effects of the challenges encountered in (1) Knowledge creation, (2) Access to equity finance, (3) Incentives and creative ideas to solve environmental and urban challenges, (4) Policies and regulations (5) Accessibly to telecommunication and internet networks, (6) Quality of entrepreneurship and education, (7) Access to technical support, and (8) Access to international markets.