The State of Palestine, even while under prolonged Israeli military occupation, has potential. Traditional industries have been identified by numerous reports as key pillars to any current or future Palestinian economy: agriculture, building materials, construction, information and communication technology (ICT), light manufacturing, and tourism. As productive sectors, these are all poised to uplift Palestine’s economy, some more than others while Israel still micro-manages all of Palestine’s strategic economic resources. However, one sector always ignored from the list of key sectors is the one Palestinians have a vast experience in and a multitude of reasons to focus on, education. To be more exact, education under duress is Palestinian’s forte.
A leading Palestinian university commissioned my business consulting firm to recruit private sector investors to co-invest with them in revenue-generation projects, utilizing empty university lands, for the sake of creating new streams of revenue to help alleviate the university’s financial strains. After conceptualizing and pitching over a dozen potential projects over a two-year period, this effort was unsuccessful in bringing any of these investments to fruition. But all was not lost.
Learning from Failure
After this assignment ended, my team sat down to internally evaluate why this effort did not work as planned. We concluded that the miscalculation was from the very outset of the assignment. The university viewed the asset they brought to a future partnership with the private sector as being their hundreds of dunams of unused land, and desired to invest them, but without taking any risk. In hindsight, we concluded that land was not the real added-value a university could offer, not to mention along with a zero-risk appetite, for the university is not a real estate developer nor experienced enough to take even calculated business risks. Instead, we reasoned, the university’s real added-value is its core business, namely providing quality education and engaging knowledge.
A new idea was born—to leverage the vast experience of Palestinian higher education institutions operating in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, to establish a university outside of Palestine for all those diaspora Palestinians and those in the Palestinian solidarity movement aboard, who are prohibited by Israel from attending Palestinian universities in Palestine. In short, we aimed to export Palestinian higher education to Palestinians.
As a longtime business consultant who works on developing new ideas into companies or not-for-profit organizations, I have become accustomed to starting off my consulting assignments with a declaration, especially when the issue at hand is taking an entrepreneur’s idea and developing it into a business plan. I advise my client that I will only engage in the assignment if the client recognizes, upfront, that conducting a feasibility study for any idea is done just for that reason, to test feasibility, and the client must have the wherewithal to accept a well-argued case that the investment may be unfeasible, and thus must be able to pass on it. I never had a client walk away because of this stipulation, however I can make a list of the ones who were lying through their teeth and who had already decided to invest before a feasibility study was conducted. They merely needed an external consultant to provide the number-crunching and paperwork blessings.
More recently, I learned firsthand how difficult of a request I was making to my clients when I had my firm undertake a pre-feasibility study for my own investment idea, establishing a university outside of Palestine.