The tone of our issue #70 is different from the previous sixty-nine.
I’m sharing some thoughts on how we should communicate in these times and how each of us can ensure that the concept of free speech in the workplace survives the ongoing war on Palestine.
How do we communicate when striving for entrepreneurship suddenly becomes striving for mere survival?
Gaza’s startup ecosystem has been blown up and its founders are being killed. Gaza Sky Geeks, the largest tech hub in the Strip run by Mercy Corps, had their offices demolished and some staff lost their life. The startup community in West Bank remains operational albeit with a very uncertain future. (I wrote about the Palestinian startup ecosystem here in June 2021 – amid another aggression.)
Over the last two months, several individuals in the West lost their jobs or had their events cancelled because of what they said or what they did not say, students lost their job offers and were publicly shamed… and often times they ended up being offered better jobs in more supportive environments, they found new audiences and support groups. These excessive firings and cancellations showed that such actions are indeed extreme measures and can spark more outrage in response.
Not sure how about you, but I’ve seen my LinkedIn feed turn acutely political or should I say acutely humanitarian?
How do we communicate in these times and how can we ensure that the concept of free speech in the workplace survives the ongoing war on Palestine?
In MENA, many VC partners, founders, teams are choosing not to stay silent. Some are actively posting, others are fighting the battles in the comment sections, some startups adapted their logo to reflect colours and symbols associated with Palestine and some founders even rejected investments after finding out the money was in some way affiliated with the occupying party. It’s their right. We should only do what our conscience tells us to do – and that certainly includes fundraising for your startup.
Earlier in November Fortune, Forbes, Inc and others began to dwell on the correct approach to talking about the ongoing conflict in the workplace. Geopolitics has become the no.1 challenge for CEOs. Google, the hub for employee activism, has been retaliating against Muslim employees. Communication advisors have full hands advising management teams around the world on how to respond while not offending the other group… and who are the groups? Should we label them by religious affiliation, or should we label them by their political beliefs, because the two do not seem to be interchangeable? A tricky quandary.
Free speech comes with responsibilities. Free speech means that not only bosses get to have a real freedom of speech. Free speech in the workplace means not retaliating against employees. Free speech means we sometimes have to stick up for people who have said things that we don’t like (unless what they said is pure hatred and source of threat to others and hence a good subject for cancel culture).
As a founder, ensuring the well-being of your team, safeguarding the culture you’ve created inside your startup and protecting the relations with your investors and clients is a must, but so is addressing sensitive issues that may disrupt that well-being, culture and relations. Whenever we’re talking about contentious topics, let’s not forget:
- 1. Our emotional intelligence & compassion
- 2. Our workplace policies and to what extent we can express our solidarity
- 3. Our company’s social media policies and how to make sure our opinions are voiced as our own
- 4. The language and tone we speak with
- 5. The sources of information we share
- 6. To keep documenting our conversations as a form of protection (evidence)
- 7. To stay calm and professional
These are difficult times to be a leader. However, it is possible to address issues involving human suffering in a diplomatic and compassionate way, starting by referring to our own values and principles. In an ideal world, leaders should bring people together, not divide them, and they should nurture healthy conversations – even when politics is involved. I believe that no matter what our opinions are, if we ready ourselves for listening to one’s opinion without immediately arguing back, if we don’t resort to aggression (although yes, emotions are high right now), if we work harder to create that safe zone, that neutral gathering space, where arguments can be voiced, heard and acknowledged, only then we will be able to progress – as companies, as communities, as countries, as humanity. I’m not daydreaming; if we don’t realize this now, we can as well forget about any lasting progress.
I wish for a future where our communities’ culture will be robust enough for all of us to have open discussions – even if they frustrate us. Frustration is better than silence and denial.
I trust that Palestinian entrepreneurs will be able to rebound and rebuild, except that this time they will do so without fearing that someone will come again and shatter everything they have built.
© Symbol of Hope by Sliman Mansour (1985)
TL;DR (too long; didn’t read)
Gaza's startup ecosystem has been blown up and its founders are being killed. Many VC partners, founders, teams are choosing not to stay silent, some founders even rejected certain funding. How do we communicate at times like these? If we work harder to create that safe zone, that neutral gathering space, where arguments can be voiced, heard and acknowledged, only then we will be able to progress - as companies, as communities, as countries, as humanity.
- National Operations Manager at Retailo (Riyadh / hybrid)
- Partnership Executive at Merit Incentives (Singapore)
- Scrum Master at Money Fellows (Cairo)
- BD Representative at Swvl (Cairo)
- Digital Marketing Specialist at Qoyod (Cairo)
- Cash On Delivery Coordinator at Khazenly (Zamalek)
Stay well & warm,