Giving back to our host communities: young Palestinians make their voices heard

Host stories

10 March 2020

Leaders’ Quest workshops in Ramallah are bringing together young leaders, to hone their messaging skills.

LQ has been running Quests in Israel and Palestine since 2013. These programmes are designed to help people understand the history of this land and its people, and the layered complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They’re also a great way to explore the local tech-ecosystem, and the innovators who are busy transforming business and society.

These Quests are made possible by our relationships with a broad range of generous hosts in the region. From tech visionaries, artists and academics, to entrepreneurs, politicians and activists, each has given their time, perspective and expertise to hundreds of Quest participants over the years.

To give back to our Palestine hosts, and help them add value to the incredible work they are doing in their own communities, LQ is delivering pro-bono workshops in the West Bank this year. 

In February, LQ team members Sarah Johnson and Louise Smith delivered the first – Writing for an International Audience – to an invited group of talented young Palestinian leaders. 

This is Louise’s personal account of the trip.

On arrival, we were met by our fabulous driver Mutaz, who proudly showed us photos of his 10 children, before driving us from Tel Aviv, through the Israeli-controlled checkpoints and into the heart of Ramallah. This bustling city, the cultural hub of the West Bank, lies within Area A, where the Palestinian Authority holds civil and military control. 

It’s a fascinating place, full of beeping cars, shops, crowds of pedestrians wearing a mix of styles, and scores of newly built pale-stone apartments, interspersed with abandoned lots where dogs – absent during the day – roam at night. A curious mix that, like the ubiquitous cigarette smoke, you soon get used to. 

We were accompanied by local LQ friend and colleague Antwan Saca, who showed us where to find Palestine’s spectacular Mediterranean food and superb coffee (everywhere). We soaked up the buzz and, in a city that many feel is a journey too far, felt incredibly safe.

We were there to work. Our writing skills workshop was designed to help young leaders broaden their reach within Palestine and tell their stories to a global audience. We wanted to show how easy it is to convey a clear message using crisp language and a warm, conversational style. How positivity (and humour), can catch the reader’s attention. How blogs – personal or business – can be an outlet for creativity and expression; how well-chosen images can convey a strong message. In short, how the job of writing can feel more like an opportunity, and less of a chore.

Over the two days, Sarah, Antwan and I met 17 women and 13 men, all of whom are phenomenally talented.

Half the participants were drawn from the Leadership Incubator run by NGO Zimam (Arabic for ‘taking the initiative’). Mostly students, they are passionate believers in Palestine’s future. Zimam’s message is this: “You’re in charge of your own destiny” and under its guidance, these men and women are gaining the confidence and policy/skills training to lead their own communities. Many will go on to run for election on campuses and in local government. 

The other half were nominated by our hosts in the region. A mix of fledgling entrepreneurs and graduates, they’re taking their expertise into the commercial world. There were start-up interns, medical graduates, a trainee architect and experts on environmental science.

Each one spoke English as a second language and each one pitched in from the moment we got started. 

We began with an icebreaker (line up in order of the time you got up this morning) suggested by a former LQ-er, who’s now teaching empathy to Thai prison warders – a tougher crowd, it’s safe to say. 

Next, we asked everyone to offer one word describing what their organisation means to them. No hesitation here: family, friends, values, morals, freedom to be myself. A good way to think about how we describe what we do – and the need to avoid jargon and opt for warmth, humanity and feeling in our writing.

 As the two days progressed, we used different creative exercises. To show how blogs can be a great vehicle for a personal or business message, we asked the first group to present a one-minute personal blog. They crushed it. 

We heard stories of adapting to new realities. They ranged from moving from cosmopolitan, affluent UAE to Ramallah, to experiencing the city’s relative freedom after growing up in conservative Nablus. One group gave a raw, heartfelt presentation about women in the region, likening them to candy – something appealing until it is unwrapped and then considered spoiled. We saw the value of creating a safe space for open, trusting conversation (something that’s integral to every LQ programme, and which encourages deep personal reflection). I wish we’d had more time for the debate, which took a lot of courage and was understandably emotional. 

The following day, everyone wrote a one-minute pitch ‘selling’ their organisation. A tough task, but they were totally up for it and absorbed the group critique – not an easy thing to do. This applied to me too; clarification of my use of the word ‘preachy’ clearly lost something in translation and caused some temporary side-eye. We all learned how difficult it is to explain an elusive concept, while tailoring it to your audience. Always a stretch, as we at LQ know well.

The two groups had great questions for us (was it true that violent conflict zone photos are off-putting to audiences?) and they voiced their opinions. There was a spirited argument about Apple versus Android, and someone pointed out that my brilliant editing down of a guff-infused sentence was actually longer. Busted. 

After spending the day sharpening up interminable paragraphs, restructuring intros and turning stilted prose into something recognisably human, we had some fun. We looked at catchy headings: ‘Could Pablo Escobar’s escaped hippos help the environment?’. I talked about cutting waffle (cue Antwan translation of the word), and skewered the use of grammar by the current occupant of the White House. Much rustling and shared glances. “Is it okay to say that?”, I asked Antwan later. “It is definitely okay.”   

On parting, we urged everyone to look us up if they came to London (“I wish…” was the poignant response). When they’d gone, the room felt empty. I walked around, looking at the abandoned pages of doodles on the tables, wondering what these incredible people will do next.

LQ hopes to offer a second workshop in Palestine: Leadership and Management with Kersten England, Chief Executive of Bradford Council.  

Leaders’ Quest has developed a partnership offering for hosts. Various forms of outreach are available, from scholarships for Open Quests to Recharge personal energy assessments.

For more information, please click here.