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STEM Girls 2019–20, a joint project of AlNayzak and Canada Representative Office in Palestine


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AlNayzak, the Jerusalem-Based Incubator of Innovation and Creativity

When Aref Husseini founded AlNayzak Innovation Lab in 2003, his goal was to give gifted Palestinian students from Jerusalem the education and know-how they need to access world-class institutions and build extraordinary careers. Twenty years later, it has grown into a globally recognized institution that nurtures innovators throughout the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT).

AlNayzak is tucked away in a white sandstone building in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, wedged in between a cafe and a hair salon. From the outside, it looks like any other building, but inside is a different story. An entire wall of the brightly colored computer lab is lined with awards, and posters advertise a myriad of programs and projects for Jerusalem’s most promising students. This lab, with its blue-and-orange decor and atmosphere of innovation, is the beating heart of AlNayzak and a place where ideas are explored, boundaries are pushed, and potential is reached.

The founder of AlNayzak, Aref, is slightly late this morning. He had to take one of his children to school in Ramallah and was held up at the only checkpoint open between Ramallah and Jerusalem. But despite the inconvenience, he insists on sending his children to Ramallah Friends School, a Quaker school founded in 1869, because it offers “the best education they can get”.1


AlNayzak promotes an innovative Palestinian society, capable of producing original scientific knowledge and integrated with sustainable development

AlNayzak founder Aref Husseini seated in his office in Sheikh Jarrah, December 5, 2023

AlNayzak founder Aref Husseini seated in his office in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, December 5, 2023


Alice Austin for Jerusalem Story

In Aref’s opinion, education is everything. “It’s the only way to get good opportunities,” he says. “To compete for the right scholarships, they need to have good performance at school and the International Baccalaureate (IB).”

AlNayzak is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in education, mentoring, and research in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and other educational and applied sciences and Vocational and Technical Training (TVET).

Its mission is “to develop scientific, entrepreneurship, engineering and technological (STEEM) competencies of youth and to provide promising socio-economic opportunities, through initiating, design and implementation of specialized programs that create inspiring and motivating environments for incubation and excellence.”2

To this end, AlNayzak helps gifted Palestinian children win scholarships to some of the world’s best universities. Students who have participated in AlNayzak’s programs are currently studying at Harvard, Northwestern, MIT, Notre Dame, Oxford, Cambridge, and many other world-class institutions. “I think everybody should live abroad for a while to understand the world and get global citizenship and a global mindset,” Aref says. “And then come back to Jerusalem and serve the country.”

The national education system is flawed, Aref believes, which is one of the reasons he took matters into his own hands. 

Aref was born and raised in East Jerusalem, on the very same street where AlNayzak is headquartered. He was a bright and gifted child. In most places, this would be a good thing, but with 50 kids in his class at varying levels, he’d get the gist of a lesson within minutes and spend the rest of the time twiddling his thumbs.

“It was agony for me,” he says. “Our education system, until today, consists of memorizing content and passing exams. If you have a higher IQ, you suffer.”

Short Take Sheikh Jarrah: The Northern Gateway to Jerusalem

The neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah has historically been the northern gateway to the Old City and a home to powerful Palestinian families and consulates.

“Our education system, until today, consists of memorizing content and passing exams. If you have a higher IQ, you suffer.”

Aref Husseini, Founder, AlNayzak

Aref estimates that between 2 and 3 percent of Palestinian Jerusalemite students are considered gifted; however, the educational system is designed to serve the average student. This means the academic progress of the most talented students is essentially capped, so Aref found school unbearable and had to rely on himself if he wanted to fulfill his potential.

Despite this, Aref understood that education was the best way to secure a bright future. When he graduated from high school in 1995, he started working on a degree in electronics and applied physics. While he was studying, he worked in a pre-graduate role at Intel Israel, and when he graduated in 2000 he was hired to work in their offices in Silicon Valley. He worked in California for 18 months before leaving to work on a master’s degree, followed by a doctorate degree in physics.

A Lofty Dream Inspired by a Fleeting Meteor

One warm evening in 2003, Aref was sitting on the balcony of his Sheikh Jarrah home with some scientist and engineering friends, when he saw a meteor shoot through the sky. “A meteor is al-nayzak in Arabic, and I said to my friends: ‘Why aren’t we starting a youth initiative called AlNayzak?’”

They started small. (“Sometimes it’s easier to succeed on a smaller scale,” Aref says.) Every Saturday, four senior engineers and applied scientists traveled to local private and church schools, bringing bags full of equipment and apparatus. Aref says the scientists had just as much fun as the kids they were teaching. “Every Saturday we did six hours of entertainment,” Aref says. “We’d go to classrooms and teach interactive, hands-on, scientific education rooted in our experience and our passion.”

It took a while for more schools to warm up to the concept; however, the fact that it was free and AlNayzak covered the cost of materials made it more appealing. So as word and enthusiasm spread, Aref expanded the project, recruiting Palestinian engineers from tech companies to volunteer at more schools, until he realized the AlNayzak concept should be institutionalized and formalized. “In 2005, we registered our organization here in Jerusalem as a nonprofit organization, and in 2006 I resigned from all of my jobs,” Aref says. “I was employed by Intel producing microprocessors for computers, I had a private microprocessing, electronics, and computer science consulting company, and I closed the company and decided to dedicate my life to this mission.”

It was a big leap, but Aref had fallen in love with the idea of changing people’s lives and building a better future for the next generation. “It sounds like a slogan, but it’s a deep belief,” he says. “And I have the practical experience to achieve it.”

STEM Girls 2019–20, a joint project of AlNayzak and Canada Representative Office in Palestine

STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] Girls 2019–20, a joint project of AlNayzak and Canada Representative Office in Palestine

Nurturing Future Innovators

AlNayzak has a sophisticated scouting process, starting from the age of 10. “We don’t have to announce anything, because everyone knows us and they approach us,” Aref says. “We have Talented Student Incubators with at least 300 to 500 students in each city. They come at weekends and after school.”

The students come for six-to-eight hours per week and study AlNayzak’s core curricula. They graduate from the incubators when they’re 13, and can then choose to apply for the Horizons Academy. (The acceptance rate is less than 4 percent.) Another option is the Tech Talent Challenge, where students create a project based on scientific research or programming that solves a world problem. They then develop the project, competing with other students globally, to win the grand prize: a trip to the most distinguished science institutions in the United States, including the space program NASA.

“We don’t have to announce anything, because everyone knows us and they approach us,”

Aref Husseini, Founder, AlNayzak

Palestinian students participate in AlNayzak's Horizons Academy, 2023

Palestinian students participate in AlNayzak's Horizons Academy, 2023


Courtesy of AlNayzak

In 2023, as many as 14,000 students took part in the Tech Talent Challenge, with 1,120 competing at the governate level; 190 finalists were selected to participate in the final exhibition, and 28 students and teachers won the trip to the US.

For young students living under challenging circumstances, opportunities like this are truly life-changing, and AlNayzak’s work has a positive ripple effect on the community’s confidence, culture, and identity. Over the last 20 years, AlNayzak has built an exponential network of alumni who are now trail-blazing scientists, inventors, programmers, engineers, and entrepreneurs. So the organization doesn’t just provide its beneficiaries with a stellar education, but also gives them a community, a professional network, and a real shot at a brighter future.

Taking Stock: AlNayzak at Age 20

Twenty years on, AlNayzak is leading innovation on a local and global scale. It serves 32,000 students yearly in a network of seven centers across the oPT with multiple programs designed to help students fulfill their potential.

AlNayzak is leading innovation on a local and global scale.

With an annual budget of $2 to 3 million, the AlNayzak team works with a range of partners and donors including UNICEF, UNESCO, the European Union, the Australian government, and US Department of State. They currently have 52 full-time employees, 120 part-timers and trainers, and thousands of alumni all over the globe. 

The website lists the impressive awards received by AlNayzak over the years, including the Schwab Foundation Award for Social Entrepreneurship, the Takreem Foundation Award, and the Arab Creativity Award for Social Creativity.

“We’re still at the beginning if you ask me,” Aref says. “The main mission is to build a better future based on critical and scientific thinking and a global mindset with domestic identity. It’s development through education, with a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

A medal awarded to AlNayzak by the Alquds Fund and Endowment

A medal awarded to AlNayzak by the Alquds Fund and Endowment


Alice Austin for Jerusalem Story

The Horizons Academy is a good example of this development. It’s an initiative that equips gifted students with the tools to obtain a scholarship at the world’s best universities. Aref designs and programs dozens of courses, ranging from psychometry, critical and design thinking, German, to Middle East history. “And we’re building an innovation park in East Jerusalem,” he says. “It’s an IB school with a science center open to the public, and we plan to build six of them.”

Gifted Palestinian students at AlNayzak's Horizons Academy, 2023

Palestinian students listen attentively during a group activity at AlNayzak's Horizons Academy, Jericho, 2023.


Courtesy of AlNayzak

Palestinian students at AlNayzak's Horizons Academy, Jericho, 2023

Palestinian students enthusiastically engage in an activity at AlNayzak's Horizons Academy, Jericho, 2023.


Courtesy of AlNayzak

The Jerusalem Innovation Park is a $14 million project and will open in September 2024, which is nothing short of a miracle given the location in the al-Sawana neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Securing the building permit took 10 years and cost $1.2 million, but Aref will never give up on his vision. “The idea now is to create a network of science centers alongside IB schools,” Aref says. The park was funded mainly by the European Union, with students under the age of 12 able to enter from the West Bank without a permit. However, AlNayzak’s plans to build a similar center in Ramallah are well underway.

AlNayzak founder Aref Husseini stands in his office in Sheikh Jarrah, December 5, 2023.

AlNayzak founder Aref Husseini stands in his office in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, in front of plans for the Jerusalem Innovation Park, December 5, 2023.


Alice Austin for Jerusalem Story

Plans for AlNayzak’s Jerusalem Innovation Park

Plans for the Jerusalem Innovation Park in AlNayzak’s office


Alice Austin for Jerusalem Story

Success Stories

AlNayzak’s success stories include Ahmad Ramahi, who founded the application WeDeliver, which primarily operates in Saudi Arabia. Iris Solutions is another example; the global company creates sensory products, services, and solutions for people with disabilities, such as a plug-in kit to control a room’s light, sound, and visuals, interactive flooring, sensory pillows, and interactive sound panels. 

But perhaps more impactful than these success stories is the mountain of contacts AlNayzak has at its fingertips. “Ahmad [Ramahi] offers internships to AlNayzak students,” Aref says. "So the main idea of AlNayzak is to stay in the community.” 

Part of the reason for AlNayzak’s success is diplomacy. The organization must navigate a multitude of different governments, municipalities, territories, and cultures. But by keeping its focus fixed on the prize of world-class education, it has been able to work successfully with a range of people across the land. 

Like all local institutions, the organization has been put under strain since October 7. “The priorities of donors are a little different now,” he says. “Some projects have been frozen, some cancelled, others postponed. The EU decided to revise everything, and the US is waiting to see what happens in Gaza. So now everything is up in the air.”

But whatever happens, Aref and AlNayzak will never lose sight of their mission to give youth the opportunity to excel in life, regardless of where they come from. “Giving back and being part of this collective intelligence is serving the individual, serving others, and serving Jerusalem,” Aref says. “And this is the meaning of life.”



All quotes are taken from the author’s interview with Aref Husseini on December 5, 2023.


About Us,” AlNayzak website, accessed December 28, 2023.

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