Op-Ed: Empowering Youth Through International Education – “The Key to Everything is Determination.”

by Consul General Donald Blome

I want you to meet Abeer Al Yazji. Abeer decided early on that she wanted to learn English and studied it at university. She set her goals high on an international education, and the U.S. government was able to help by funding her Fulbright MBA in Social Entrepreneurship in the United States. Upon returning to Gaza, Abeer became active in the Gaza Sky Geeks organization and began to train her fellow Gazans on how to innovate and build start-up companies. And Abeer didn’t stop there. She won a grant from the Fulbright office in Washington to organize a boot camp on entrepreneurship and was part of two separate teams of USG alumni to receive $25,000 grants from the government. Her work shows the spirit of entrepreneurship and sense of social responsibility that can lead to growth and development in Gaza and around the world.

It was Palestinian success stories like this that laid the foundation for

the first-ever U.S.-Palestinian Higher Education Dialogue in Washington this October. There I joined Minister of Education and Higher Education Dr. Sabri Saidam, top Palestinian and American university officials, and members of the private sector to discuss ways to drive reform and progress in Palestinian higher education.

I was struck by the energy and commitment to change – real change – I heard during these discussions. I saw university presidents speaking as Palestinian educators, focused on the common challenges they faced. I was impressed by their solidarity and their determination to make this event not a last step, but a first step in our cooperation.

As part of the Dialogue, I announced a $342,000 grant to Najah University to pioneer a new IT curriculum and apprenticeship model with Northwestern University and local Palestinian businesses. We are also supporting a $352,000 grant for Atlas Corp to offer one-year internships for talented young Palestinian business people with U.S. companies. These are just a few of the ways we plan to keep this momentum going over the coming months.

We also again celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) and International Education Week (IEW) together this year. The Consulate and our partners at Amideast are carrying out a full slate of activities that highlight the deep and enduring U.S.-Palestinian cooperation in both the fields of education and entrepreneurship. These have included Open Days at different Palestinian universities, where students meet with EducationUSA advisors and receive information about continuing their education at one of the many colleges and universities in the United States.

But back to Abeer. What sorts of lessons can we learn from her experience? What is the relationship between entrepreneurship and education? And how can international education “empower youth”– the theme of this year’s IEW – through entrepreneurship?

In my opinion, the answer is simple but powerful. Entrepreneurship means innovation. It means critical thinking and challenging the status quo. It means building teams, solving problems, and figuring out ways to give back to your community. It really all comes down to an entrepreneurial mindset which focuses not just on what to learn, but on how to think. Stanford and Yale Universities have institutes specifically devoted to promoting entrepreneurship. But this focus isn’t just limited to the Ivy League “– it is found throughout the educational spectrum. That’s why, in the United States, there is a National Association of Community Colleges for Entrepreneurship to promote entrepreneurship as a transformative asset for students.

Of course, this focus on entrepreneurship can and should start well before university. That’s why we fund the Camp Discovery summer camp program for grade school aged children, where youth can learn and innovate through art and science. We also have the largest centrally-funded ACCESS English language program in the world, where economically disadvantaged but academically gifted high school students can become not just English speakers, but intellectual entrepreneurs, giving presentations on economics, science, and their ideas on how to change themselves – and change the world.

This sort of work is one of our main missions at the Consulate, including through programs at USAID and our America Houses in Jerusalem and Ramallah. It demonstrates the wisdom of the Arab proverb that “the key to everything is determination.” There is a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship in everything that we do. We use entrepreneurship as a way to bring together youth, particularly girls but boys as well, to help the communities and society they are deeply committed to improving. And we know the multiplier effect that one committed entrepreneur can have for the economy, the society, and the world.

This is how we can prepare students to be the leaders of tomorrow and build the civil society necessary for a future Palestinian state. This is how we can capitalize upon the Palestinian “comparative advantage” of education. This is how we bring hope to a society facing challenges but rich with youthful promise. My Mission here in Jerusalem is committed to pushing this nexus between entrepreneurship and education further forward, knowing that there is no greater investment we can make for the future of the Palestinian people. And I know – with the determination of our Palestinian partners – that we can succeed.