In October 2015, an estimated number of 73 Palestinians and 13 Israelis lost their lives in the geographical area delimited by the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Some called it the Third Intifada, drawing an eloquent parallelism with the waves of violence that erupted in the Palestinian territories in the late 1980s and then again at the beginning of the new century.
But whether it was a prelude to a Palestinian uprising that has not yet burst out or not, one thing is sure: Insecurity is a sentiment that people in this part of the world will have to live with. Their daily lives, for some time to come at least, are not going to be anywhere near ‘safe.’
From the standpoint of a business pursuing operations in the West Bank, an uncertain climate can be a great source of stress, vulnerability, increased likelihood of failure, and on top of that, potential human and financial loss.
So what can be done to calculate this risk and safeguard those who are in the depths of such dicey situations?
Somewhere in 2012, Palestinian-born Hussein Nasser-Eddin and Laila Akel found themselves brainstorming over a sustainable solution to the security conundrum.
Entangling data was the at heart of those long conversations that used to fill up their days in sunny Ramallah, they tell us.
In that particular period, when the Arab Spring was leaving its first footprints, they had seen first-hand the amount of information that was flooding social media, and the lack of efficient tools to aggregate and make sense of that flow.
“Hussein and I started discussing the possibility of using social media tools and security intelligence methods to create a system that would automatically monitor the safety situation in MENA region,” Akel recalls.
Akel’s expertise in online marketing, data collection, and social media strategy infused with Nasser-Eddin’s studies in Middle East politics, management, and preventive security, laid the foundation for their startup—RedCrow.
In Data’s Safe Hands
The duo defines RedCrow as a data-crunching risk analysis enterprise providing mitigation solutions. Their startup works on a SaaS business model, where an array of customers subscribe on a monthly basis to the online platform.
The concept behind RedCrow is simple—the power of now-casting and real-time data harnessed for social good.
“Data currently collected by our system is related to four variables—geography, actions, actors and time—and is used to generate several products: Threat assessments, pre-entry (INGOs) reports and situation assessment,” Akel says, commenting the approach adopted.
Its users are mainly international NGOs and humanitarian agencies operating in volatile environments, although businesses of a different nature are increasingly interested.
The fact that incidents in conflict zones are hardly predictable, indeed, makes it difficult for any organizations to tell where they should plan to put roots down. RedCrow helps its clients understand, evaluate, and take proactive safety measures, thus increasing the probability of their success and significantly saving expenses.
Some of these clients, for instance, have decided to cross out no-go areas such as the Gaza Strip, and settle in areas less prone to confrontations or similar perils.
The reports the company works hard to disseminate fall under three different categories.
The weekly ones offer an expedient recap of whatever has happened over the previous week in areas under Israeli, Palestinian Authority and Hamas control—such as statistics and analysis on military arrest operations, clashes, attacks or injuries—coupled with recommendations based on events occurred in the past.
A more in-depth political analysis is at the core of the other two narratives, where attention is dedicated to issues people are most concerned about, like the rise of new ideologies and the political change that often follows. As Nasser-Eddin points out, these reports are numerical and purely based on quantitative security research and analysis, which makes them of greater value to clients.
For The Middle East Post, one of RedCrow’s customers from the West Bank, early warnings, and recommendations are used to advise international affiliates and its staff operating on-the-ground on any sudden transformations of the status quo.
“The system guides us with breakdowns of incidents in Israeli-controlled areas versus those in Palestinian Authority areas, or predictions of possible ripple effects such as the increased likelihood of hostilities stemming from sudden political instability,” says the founder of the online magazine, Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad.
“We use this information when writing about politics and security issues, as well as a reference when advising organizations or briefing others. On a personal level, I use their mobile app to be aware of hazards and security complications when on the road. Things evolve fast hereabouts,” he adds.
To help detect looming threats on a more individual level, the RedCrow offer has recently been enhanced with an app which allows the user to receive notifications from within 5km from his changing location.
In the event of danger, the app will speak out an alert about the users’ current location.
So far, the company has had 15 paying clients, some of which have been renewing their contract for two years.
The Palestinian Territories, however, aren’t the sole region in need of a high-tech boost to improve their level of security.
The year 2017 will mark RedCrow’s debut in Egypt and also in Jordan, where recent attacks have eroded the notion that the Kingdom is a safe haven as security experts have raised questions over its stability.
As soon as it gains more capacity, the company plans to move to the rest of the MENA region. New segments will then be targeted as their specific needs emerge.
In fact, institutions have repeatedly warned against some Middle Eastern areas as potentially dangerous places for entities like the press and news agencies to work in.
For RedCrow, as it happens to most global startups, being able to do that will need some heavy lifting. “Funds are available for early-stage companies. However, finding support after the nurturing stage may require an extra effort, especially here in the West Bank.”
In 2014, RedCrow was given seed funding of $20,000, while a $350,000 Series A investment round led by the Ibtikar Fund has recently been closed. “The startup has achieved impressive results with few resources, presenting us a ready product, reputable clients, and strong performance,” says Habib Hazzan, managing general partner of the Palestinian fund.
“RedCrow’s founders took a challenge and transformed it into an opportunity,” Hazzan tells us. “We see a growing sector with the ability to expand to other markets, especially given our current geopolitical situation and the great demand for the services this company has to offer.”
The constraints faced to date haven’t kept the two founders from maintaining high expectations. Because of events unfolding at an alarmingly quick pace, potential clients like NGOs have been increasing security spending to enable their continuity.
According to information technology research and advisory company Gartner, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) spending on information security exceeded $1 billion in 2016 and is expected to increment further in the years to come.
In fact, as critical political situations, uprisings, and economic crises continue to disrupt the Middle Eastern agenda, RedCrow’s founders stress that people shall need ever-improving security products and equipment.
To make a business thrive, one has to stay safe in the first place.
Photograph by: Raed Abughazaleh