At age twenty, Marwan Abdelhamid is very passionate about the development of Palestine channeled through its diaspora to the homeland. An undergraduate student at UC Santa Barbara with internship experiences at the UNDP and UNRWA, he is also the Co-Founder of GrowHome.
Marwan is also a content creator, artist and brand influencer. Born in Jerusalem, he lived in Gaza before his family moved to Jordan in 2007. After graduating from high school in 2018 they again moved to the USA where he has been studying since then.
Experience in the diaspora
Speaking to Diaspora Digital News he says “As a Palestinian growing up in the diaspora, I have come to know that we naturally adopt what I call ‘survival guilt’, where we feel like we are living a good life whilst our brothers and sisters back home are suffering.
Being limited in how I can help, I co-founded GrowHome because I believe it is the best thing, I can do to help people to sustain themselves because that’s what entrepreneurs do. They solve problems and then they sustain themselves and employ people. So, with Palestine it seems our struggles are sometimes romanticized; that is why we have created the platform where people in the diaspora can use their human capital to the benefit of people back home.”
Continuing the conversation, Marwan says that “Palestine has a huge diaspora community but unfortunately, its talent has not been tapped into especially with regards to the government. There is so much talent spread out across the world which is not being utilized for the betterment of people back home. And so, I started a Company called GrowHome where we connect diaspora members to entrepreneurs back home to fill the ‘opportunity gap’. Entrepreneurs in Palestine don’t have the same opportunities as those in the USA. It doesn’t mean they are less talented; they just don’t have the networks, access to capital and opportunity. There is an emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem in developing nations especially in the global south that are solving local problems.
In Palestine for example, a lot of entrepreneurs are being created not because they love startups, but they need to create employment for themselves as unemployment levels are high. This is what GrowHome is about: a platform where entrepreneurs back home can post opportunities related to anything in the startup world, the algorithm then sends it out to the Palestinians in the diaspora with the relevant skills to actually help them efficiently. It is business development, we are really taking the skills in the diaspora and taking it back into our own country.
My co-founder and I started the platform in April 2020 and will be launching it by mid-March 2021. In a build up to the launch, we are running a series of online events including a monthly podcast where local startups come and they pitch to a group of diaspora investors with the hopes of raising some money. We are working with a lot of international development agencies such as GIZ in different countries as well. Our goal is to be able to democratize opportunity through diaspora engagement across the world because diasporas are national assets.
The good thing about GrowHome is that the platform is scalable to every country that has a diaspora community. We are currently working on the MENA region with first stop being Palestine, and we are hopeful that they will see the results of actually making these connections.
Our business model is designed in a way that we are able to sell subscriptions to entities that support entrepreneurs such as business incubators, university programs, foundations and so on.”
View of the Palestinian diaspora and connection with its homeland in the coming years
Marwan hopes that his efforts will help facilitate investments to Palestine because at the moment there is a lot of legislation and rules surrounding investment there which is not very business friendly and so he wants to work with the government to be able to facilitate investments through GrowHome. According to him, “I think that early stage investment is a very good thing for any ecosystem, and the Palestinian diaspora has a lot of money they would like to invest and people don’t have the mechanisms. I know that mentorship works and when the right mentor believes in you, it changes your life. GrowHome will connect a lot of young entrepreneurs in Palestine to seasoned professionals in the diaspora and potentially collaborating in projects.”
Being a music artist with hit songs such as Jerusalem and Nirvana in Gaza, Marwan considers himself as a Palestinian activist and does a lot of content creation related to its history and identity as he believes there is a big gap in this market.
To know more about GrowHome, kindly visit their website.
Interview by: Theresa R. Fianko
Photo Attribution: Marwan Abdelhamid