When graduates of digital bootcamps in the UK and Palestine joined forces, they created an international co-op that’s skilling up its young members and giving them a voice.
A web design and development agency, Yalla Cooperative is a group of young tech experts who create and build digital products and solutions. The members of the team are based in the UK, Palestine, Turkey and Germany.
The co‑op grew from a collaboration between Joe Friel and Simon Dupree in the UK with Ramy Al Shurafa in Gaza, Palestine. All three were graduates of tech bootcamps.
Joe and Simon had been trained by Founders and Coders, a London based non‑profit that develops and runs tuition‑free, peer‑led training programmes in web development, guided by the core values of co‑operation, inclusion and social impact.
Ramy was a graduate of Gaza Sky Geeks, an initiative providing freelancers, founders and coders in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem with the technical training and support they need to earn an income online.
A joint programme between Gaza Sky Geeks and Founders and Coders brought them together. “I worked with Joe and Simon on two projects and afterwards we decided to become a team,” said Ramy. “As we took on more projects, we began to add more people to the team. Yalla has grown with time.”
They now have nine members across a number of countries and work with UK-based public sector and charitable organisations to solve their problems with digital products.
“We recently won an award for creating a tool to help people navigate the Universal Credit process, which was commissioned by affordable housing provider Hyde,” said Joe.
“Ramy was the architect of the project. I also worked on it, as well as Ahmed in Turkey. By using technology to transcend borders and bring people together around shared values, we feel you can put together stronger teams to help tackle the many societal challenges we face.
“And – by having a co-op owned by people in the UK, Gaza, Germany and Turkey – this in turn can mean a fairer distribution of opportunity too. In these times, the power of connection and collaboration is more important than ever.”
As Yalla grew, it was helped and supported along the way by members of CoTech, a network of ethical co‑operatives providing technology, digital and creative services.
“As young people straight out of training and starting a digital agency, we benefitted immensely from the CoTech scene,” said Joe. “We wouldn’t have succeeded if we didn’t have people who were happy to give us free advice and support and share their knowledge.
“Everyone in the co‑op movement is very happy to talk. My advice to young people starting out in a sector is to message a co‑operative. They are much more likely to reply because they have a greater commitment to helping and sharing knowledge.”
For the young Yalla members, the benefits of co‑operative working are many. “Countless times I’ve spoken to friends who say they’re in a toxic work culture and because they’re just starting out, they have to do their dues there for three years. But I’ve personally seen that isn’t the way that co‑ops work,” said Joe.
“You are given a voice and allowed to bring fresh ideas – and the business benefits from that. It’s a symbiotic thing. In turn, if you feel like you’re shaping the organisation you are part of, then you are likely to achieve more as a person than in other structures.
“There’s also a lot more room to grow because you have more say. In Yalla for example, we immediately involve new members in key business decisions and that impacts how invested they are in the work.
“For young people, if you can find the right support and community, there’s no end to what you can achieve. Whereas if you’re in a top-down structure, that can limit you because you have to go through processes.”
As a co‑op with predominately tech and design skills, the members of Yalla share out the tasks related to other business areas. For Ramy, this has been a welcome addition to his capabilities.
“Being in a co‑op has helped me develop new skills. My main focus of work is as a developer but I also like to work on other things. Everyone is assigned specific business roles. I work on strategy and people operations. I’ve developed expertise in these areas and I’m happy to have learned something new.”
For Joe, co‑operative working is also about putting people first. “Discovering co‑ops through Founders and Coders was like a curtain being lifted. Businesses don’t have to be the way that you’ve typically experienced. You can have organisations where the idea of supporting everyone is the goal first and foremost, rather than monetary benefit. And that’s what Yalla is all about.”