Students showcase ground-breaking projects in third Falling Walls Lab in Palestine

Fifteen forward-looking participants from all over the West Bank presented their world-changing ideas in the 2019 Falling Walls Lab in Palestine, organized by Birzeit University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Unit together with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) on Saturday, June 15, 2019.

The students, from Birzeit University and other Palestinian higher education institutions, showcased their ideas to a jury panel comprising prominent Palestinian and international academics and experts, with the aim of qualifying for the competition’s finale in Berlin in November. 

Established in 2009 on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Falling Walls Lab serves to break down the walls that inhibit progress, advancement, and unity by promoting innovation across the globe. The competition is a vibrant innovation incubator that aims to promote exceptional ideas and connect promising scientists and entrepreneurs from all fields, locally and globally.

Mohammad Al-Haj Hamad, whose project focused on tackling the high contamination rate of mobile phones with nosocomial pathogens, won the first place. The project utilizes a low-cost, low-technology device to quickly isolate phones, which can be significantly contaminated with bacteria and other drug-resistant pathogens in medical settings, from their surroundings. 

Ahmad Al Jamal won second place for his project on detecting bone fractures using artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. The third place went to Aya Dajani for her assistive mobile application that uses machine-learning algorithms to enable children with developmental delays and other special needs to acquire life skills and engage in self-directed play.

In her welcoming remarks, Mirvat Bulbul, the vice president for administrative and financial affairs at Birzeit University, praised the competition as an innovation stimulant and a showcase for the prowess and ingenuity of Palestinian youth, adding that innovation helps communities change the status quo and take down walls, whether real or symbolic. 

Explaining the role of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Unit (IEU) in promoting and fostering innovation, Bulbul said that the unit holds regular activities for students on various topics related to innovation and entrepreneurship development. 

The IEU, Bulbul noted, is also responsible for developing and deploying the Leadership and Active Citizenship Program — “Masari” — the latest effort by Birzeit University to prepare innovative, driven and socially conscious students to lead the Palestinian community toward positive change. The program, now preparing facilitators for its fifth and sixth learning stations, “Social Entrepreneurship,” has 3000 enrolled students in its learning stations. 

Christina Stahlbock, director of the DAAD, stressed the importance of communication, whether locally or internationally, in developing and changing communities for the better. “Walls are not always physical; there are also psychological walls embedded within societies that need to be torn down for people to flourish,” she added.

Ziad Tomeh, chief executive officer and the minister deputy assistant at the Higher Council for Innovation & Excellence, discussed the council’s efforts in promoting innovation in Palestine, saying that it supports competitions such as the Falling Walls Lab that builds the capacities of Palestinian youth and foster an innovative spirit in the community. 

Christian Clages, head of the Representative Office of the Federal Republic of Germany in Ramallah, noted that innovation competitions such as the Falling Walls Lab teach participants about the dynamics of life and the importance of thinking outside the box and challenging the status quo. 

After the participants presented their ideas, Samah Abu Assab, a professor of business administration at Birzeit University, shared her experiences as part of a fact-finding mission to German universities on innovation, and Mays Shadeed, winner of the 2018 Falling Walls Lab in Palestine, discussed her participation in the competition’s finale in Berlin, Germany. 

Considering the past years’ successes, DAAD and Birzeit University will continue to host the Falling Walls Lab to provide a platform for young innovators from Palestine, enabling them to present the potential of young bright Palestinian minds on an international stage.