UK tech co-op seeks support to continue fuelling fair opportunities for coders in Gaza

“We are proud of what we have built together”

“Yalla” has different meanings in Arabic. If for most Arabic speakers the word is just a way of saying “let’s go” or “come on”, for members of the Yalla co-op it has come to signify empowerment.

A UK-based web design and development agency, Yalla is all about bringing people together and providing fair opportunities for everyone, regardless of location and borders. Set up as a co-op, it is owned by members in Gaza, the UK, and the EU.

Its story started with a collaboration between its founders Joe Friel and Simon Dupree in the UK and Ramy Al Shurafa in Gaza, Palestine. Joe and Simon were graduates of Founders and Coders in London, a peer-led web development bootcamp, while Ramy was a graduate of Gaza Sky Geeks, a programme that gives freelancers, founders and coders in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem the technical training they need to earn an income online. The initial team of three, formed in 2019, grew to include 13 other designers, developers, project managers and strategists.

“We are proud of what we have built together,” says Al Shurafa.

Yalla works with charities, non-profits, start-ups and impact-driven businesses, helping them to solve problems and deliver the products their users need. The co-op is operated based on sociocratic principles to ensure all members can share ideas, have a say and contribute to how it’s run.

Since the start of the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, Yalla’s members in Gaza have been under constant threat with survival being a daily uncertainty.

Along with their families, they have had to leave their homes repeatedly to find safety away from the bombings. Some have had their homes destroyed and lost everything they owned, along with 1.9 million other people who are also struggling to secure  necessities and a place to stay.  “Even if miraculously a permanent ceasefire is called tomorrow, the essentials our team will need to build a life once more have gone, laptops, solar panels, generators,” says Friel.

The office building from which Yalla members in Gaza worked has been bombed and the co-op estimates that it would take between three to four months for its team in Gaza to return to operation after the war ends.

“When you face the very real threat of dying every day, work might seem trivial right now, but for our colleagues work has been a way to have agency and
build a better life for those around them,” says Erica Gasparini, project manager at the co-op.

“We’ve continued paying salaries and trying to support our colleagues and friends in any way we can,” adds Friel. “We will remain committed to doing this right until the point we cannot afford for Yalla to exist any more. However, we’re just a small agency. And with any company, if you remove half your team it is likely you’re going to struggle.”

With it equipment destroyed, Yalla’s team in Gaza cannot continue its work. Some members found refuge in areas where they cannot connect to the internet at all.

“We are normal people who crave a normal life – a safe place to work and to build a future for ourselves and my daughter,” says one of the co-op’s members in Gaza.

“While assistance programmes and government support are sometimes provided during moments of crisis – whether that be Covid or other wars like in Ukraine – this appears to be another area where Palestinians are sadly forgotten,” says Lina Ayesh, project manager, operations lead.

To help them cope, Yalla has launched a campaign to raise emergency funds to provide immediate relief.  It hopes to raise  £120,000, which will be used to cover six months of monthly salaries, ensuring that its Gaza team members can afford the essentials needed for survival and allocate funds for the reconstruction of homes, acquisition of generators and laptops, and other daily necessities lost in the bombings. 

The co-op says this aid will be crucial for helping its team return to work and reestablish a sense of normalcy.

Click here for Yalla’s Gaza Crisis Fund