Innovation Transcends Borders at Birzeit University

Birzeit University, in cooperation with the Representative Office of Switzerland in Ramallah, organized the “Building Bridges: Innovation in Palestine and Switzerland” panel discussion on October 28, hosting the Swiss Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research Councilor Johann Schneider-Amman.

Birzeit University President Dr. Abdullatif Abuhijleh noted in his welcoming remarks the role of innovation and entrepreneurship in driving economies and societies forward, and highlighted the university’s efforts in fostering an entrepreneurial spirit among its students, faculty, and staff.

“In order to prepare individuals to adapt to change, to take the initiative, and to be creative, we must ensure that our systems of education become more responsive and relevant to the rapidly-evolving society we live in.”

The President assured the audience that the University has taken notice of the rapid changes, pointing out the programs that the University recently launched: “We started the students’ career management service (Masari) to connect students, graduates, and alumni with the job market, and recently launched Birzeit Business Hub (B-Hub) to address the problems of small enterprises and student employability.”

Councilor Schneider-Amman highlighted the importance of cooperation in innovation and noted the economic stability that arises from converting innovative ideas into actual startups. He said, “Switzerland has always supported innovators and entrepreneurs in their drive to make the world a better place. We believe that innovation fosters economic, political, and social stability, and we will always cooperate with the builders of a better, brighter future.”

Following Councilor Schneider-Amman’s speech, Sam Bahour took to the stage to present the panelists and specify the focal points of the discussion, which were: the Palestinian economy under the Israeli military occupation; the role of the Palestinian Authority in supporting the economy; and business relations with Israel.

The panel featured venerable experts on innovation from Switzerland and Palestine, including the State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation, Mauro Dell’Ambrogio; Vice President of Innosuisse, and Dean and Managing Director of the School of Engineering at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Martina Hirayama; and CEO of Xovis, David Studer; as well as Co-founder of the Red Crow, Laila Akel; Chief Operating Officer of the Ibtikar Fund, Ambar Amleh; and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Birzeit University, Dr. Iyad Tumar.

The panelists each drew from their own experiences in establishing and advising startups. They also exchanged comments and helpful advice with the audience in a Q&A session that followed the discussion.

Following the Q&A session, the Director of Swisspeace, Laurent Goetschel, discussed the relationship between peace and innovation and remotely activated a Swiss-based robot. Part of the EFORD (Education for Development) collaborative project between Birzeit University and Swisspeace, the robot sorted balls into color-coordinated groups on a live internet broadcast; a signal that innovation transcends borders and political conflicts.