February 20, 2017, marked the launch of the First Zamala Conference (the Palestinian University Fellowship Program) at the Mövenpick Hotel in Ramallah, and through a video conference at the Roots conference hall in Gaza City. The conference involved the participation of 13 Palestinian universities, presidents of Palestinian universities and their deputies, a substantial number of businesspersons and economists, and civil society organizations, in the presence of His Excellency Dr. Sabri Saidam, the Minister of Education and Higher Education, Mr. Hashim Shawa, the Chairman and General Manager of Bank of Palestine, Dr. Tafeeda Jarbawi, the Director General of the Welfare Association, in addition to media persons and journalists.

The conference was launched five years following the establishment of the Palestinian University Fellowship Program, which was created through an initiative by Bank of Palestine, with an aim to contribute to developing the quality of higher education and teaching methods at Palestinian universities, to harmonize the needs and requirements of the job market with the development of society. The program entails covering the expenses of training or research-based scholarships for Palestinian university teachers and lecturers who qualify to attend world-renowned educational, medical and investment institutes to develop their educational and professional experiences, and come back to Palestine and apply them at local universities.

Dr. Tafida Jarbawi, the Director General of the Welfare Association, delivered the opening speech and welcomed guests and participants, assuring that the Welfare Association is working diligently to achieve the vision that aims to invest in Palestinian individuals at a very young age, by promoting the education sector in Palestine in all its stages, providing equal educational opportunities to develop the creative capacities of these individuals so that they excel and open up to the world, and enable them to interact with the different civilizations in addition to providing them with knowledge about the latest scientific developments in research and creativity, so they would employ technologies that would raise the quality of higher education. Jarwabi stated that the idea of the Palestinian University Fellowship Program came through an innovative initiative by Bank of Palestine, and the Welfare Association realized the importance of this program that suits its goals pertaining to the development of higher education, considering it the main pillar for developing society on the civil, intellectual and economic levels.

Jarbawi added that the crops of the program are the youth of the future who require support from all of us in terms of obtaining jobs or starting income generating projects that would grow into companies that are able to build the basis for the national economy. She assured that youth are continuously supported in their efforts to launch their artistic, literary, technological and intellectual creativities to contribute to producing knowledge and developing civilizations on a global level. Jarbawi believes that investing in raising the quality of higher education will also benefit society by empowering youth to seek solutions for social issues and lead the social and political scene.

Jarbawi also clarified that during the past five years, and through the distinguished partnership of 13 Palestinian universities, 120 fellows from various Palestinian cities received scholarships from the Zamala program and succeeded in producing a total of 42 research papers in management, economics, finance, banking, health and life sciences, engineering, information technology and literature. Many of these fellows obtained global awards for their exceptional work, and several research papers contributed to achieving advancements in many fields, including breast cancer, Alzheimer's diseases that infect olive and fig trees, alternative energy generation, and other important fields that attracted the interest of scientific and research centers across the globe. Jarbawi expressed her pride in these fellows who managed, despite the difficult circumstances under which Palestinians and the rest of the world live, to succeed in scientific forums and contribute to achieving advancement in the fields of health, agriculture and information technology, and assist marginalized groups, especially women and children.  

Dr. Sabri Saidam, the Minister of Education and Higher Education, welcomed all the guests in the West Bank and Gaza, praising the Zamala program and its sustainable vision. He also valued the efforts conducted by Bank of Palestine on the level of contributing to education in Palestine, as well as the Welfare Association, which is considered one of the leading civil society organizations that work in development, especially in the field of education. He stated that the Zamala program managed to achieve extraordinary goals in order to develop the Palestinian individual in all fields. He pointed out that Palestine managed to establish many youth ambassadors who represent Palestine at best in the various scientific, medical and artistic fields. These youth have more impact than thousands of politicians. Saidam stressed the importance of developing Palestinian experiences and creativities through the Zamala program, which has become the focus of attention and encouragement. He expressed his hope that the program will proceed for ten more years, calling upon all organizations in the private sector, civil society and international organizations to contribute to support the program in the years ahead.

Mr. Hashim  Shawa, the Chairman and General Manager of Bank of Palestine, emphasized the importance of the program in terms of promoting the role of the next generations in order to build Palestine. He said that during the past five years, the bank managed to allocate approximately two million dollars, part of its CSR contribution, which is 6% of its annual profits, for the program .Mr. Shawa considers this an investment in Palestinian individuals and youth for a better Palestine in the future. Through its fellows, the Zamala program managed to reach several countries around the world and acquire new experiences to transfer to Palestinian generations. He also pointed out the bank’s initiative to establish the first investment fund for youth entrepreneurial projects and ideas “Ibtikar”, whose capital reaches 10 million dollars. The bank also contributed 10% of the fund’s capital for supporting youth and providing them opportunities to work and develop initiatives.

Mr.Shawa expressed his pride in the strategic partnership between Bank of Palestine and the Welfare Association, considering the latter to have a unique and extensive experience, and because of that, was granted the Zamalaprogram as a qualitative add-on on ideas, mechanisms and implementation. Mr.Shawa stated that the bank views the Zamala program as a national initiative that should be supported by private sector organizations, each in its field of specialization, and adopt training and application programs that are compatible with their field of work. Mr. Shawa called upon all private sector and civil society organizations to participate in this program, which forms part of social development.

During the first session of the conference, Professor Hussam Qasrawi from Palestine Technical University - Kadoorie, delivered a presentation about some fellows from the Zamala program who completed their educational and applied scholarships abroad in the fields of science and the environment. Some of these scholarships included: Training on collecting and analyzing air quality samples, by Dr. Abdelhaleem Khader from An-Najah National University; artificial intelligence and quantitative methods for managing cloud computing risks in banking organizations, by Dr. Abdelrafe Alzamly from Al Aqsa University;

The use of innovative marketing survey techniques in healthcare, by Dr. Ilham Kateeb from Al-Quds University; using environmental isotopes to delineate the aquifers relations in the South Eastern slope of the Dead Sea, by Dr. Saed Khayat from the Palestine Technical University – Kadoorie. Following these presentations, there was an open discussion with the fellows on their fellowship achievements.

The second session, which was administered by Dr. Mahdi Qleibo from Bethlehem University, involved the presentation of another batch of success stories from the Zamalaprogram. Some of these include: Space Weather Palestine (SWEP): Securing space environment for telecommunications, hypertension electricity networks, TV space channels broadcasting, by Dr. Suleiman Baraka from Al Aqsa University; using the latest molecular techniques for detecting fig viruses, by Dr. Raed Al Kowni from An Najah National University; Applying Okun’s Law to macroeconomic analysis of the mutual economic relation between the Palestinian and Israeli economies using econometrics, by Dr. Ibrahim Awad from Al-Quds University; Practical training in GIS and GPS latest technologies, by Mr. Mutaz Qafesheh from Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron. The session was followed by an open discussion with the fellow on their fellowship achievements.

During the third and final session, the obstacles, challenges and future vision of the Zamalaprogram were discussed, with the participation of Mr. Hashim  Shawa, Chairman and General Manager of Bank of Palestine, Dr. Tafida Jarbawi, Director General of the Welfare Association, Dr. Hasan Dweik, Deputy Director of Al Quds University for communications and development, Dr. Maher Al Natsheh, Acting President of Al Najah National University, Dr. Marwan Al Awartani, President of the Palestine Technical University – Kadoorie; Dr. Henry Giacaman, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Birzeit University, and Dr. Adel Awadallah, President of the Islamic University in Gaza. The final session resulted in a number of recommendations related to developing the Zamala program and promoting its future visions.

One of the most important recommendations that came out of the conference was launching the second stage of the Zamala program with the effective participation of the private sector, and activating the Zamala fund, as well as opening channels of communication with embassies and foreign representative offices to network with universities in their countries and facilitate fellowship procedures for Zamala fellows. The initiative also involves the activation and promotion of the role  of universities to take encouraging actions for their staff, the establishment of mechanisms to measure the effect of fellowships on students and the job market by universities and their joint cooperation, the establishment of mechanisms to network fellow staff with ministries, organizations and private sector companies to apply the results of their research, and the establishment of mechanisms to fund feasible future research and training, which requires tools and equipment that are unavailable in Palestine.

It is worthy to mention that the Zamala program aims to contribute to improving the quality of university education in Palestine, and this event is a completion of successes achieved by the program for the fifth year in a row with a unique partnership with 13 Palestinian universities. The current sixth round aims to attract more applications for funding and provide training for teachers at Palestinian universities. The sixth round of the Zamala program opened its doors to receive applications from university professors, research and teaching assistants, engineers and administrative persons working at Palestinian universities, until 10 March, 2017. The sixth round  will feature the implementation of workshops at Palestinian universities to introduce the idea of the program, and provide mechanisms for application and participation.