Qasim Tech "Unconference": Building High Tech in A...
Qasim Tech "Unconference": Building High Tech in Arab Society
On February 20th, QasimTech – Building High Tech in Arab Society, an "unconference", or high-tech networking event, was held in Kafr Qasim, an Arab-Muslim city of 22,000 residents near Tel Aviv. The event drew more than 500 Jewish and Arab high-tech professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, supporters, and students, in its effort to generate buzz about Arab high tech and Kafr Qasim and the next high-tech hub in an Arab citiy. The event was the first of its kind on this scale in an Arab city.
QasimTech aimed to showcase the potential of Arab high tech in Israel both to business leaders, and to the Arab community, especially Arab students, who would be inspired and encouraged to pursue this career. The event was spearheaded by Tsofen, the leading NGO working to integrate and expand the high-tech industry to Israel’s Arab society, and organized in partnership with the Mayor of Kafr Qasim, Adel Bdir, Hans Shakur of Mobile Monday Nazareth, Yanki Margalit , one of the leaders of Shared Life platform.
While Israel’s high-tech sector is well known as an economic powerhouse, Arab citizens have been largely left out. Over the last decade, significant effort has been put into increasing Arab participation in the industry by civil society organizations and more recently by the government, to close economic gaps and boost growth. Beyond increasing the number of Arab professionals in high tech, these efforts have focused on creating high-tech hubs in Arab society.
Nazareth has already emerged as the first vibrant Arab tech hub, with a high-tech industrial park with major company offices (i.e. Amdocs, Microsoft), a burgeoning start-up scene, and hundreds of Arab and Jewish engineers from within and out of the city. Kafr Qasim is now working to become the second Arab tech hub, already home to the first Arab start- up school and entrepreneurship hub launched in 2016 and a new high-tech park being planned.
At the February 20th event, leading high-tech innovators shared their vision for Arab high tech and innovation as an integral part of the start-up nation’s success. Tsofen’s co-directors, Paz Hirschman and Sami Saadi spoke about the need to show the wider Israeli high-tech community, as well as the rapidly growing Arab high-tech community, that a shared society is possible inside and outside the high tech sphere. Government and other private sector figures also spoke in celebration of the event and encouraged continued high-tech integration for the sake of Israeli society and economy as a whole. Celebrations continued with live music performances in Hebrew and Arabic.
High-tech expansion into Arab society has been key to enhance exposure and integration of Arab professionals into the sphere. According to recent data, since 2008, the number of Arab engineers in Israeli high tech has grown from 350 to 3,500—a 900% increase, and half the growth in university enrollment in these fields consists of Arab students, despite being only 20% of the total population. While progress has been rapid, there is still far to go: Arab engineers still constitute only around 3% of the Israeli high-tech professionals.