Creating an Ecosystem for Change

We were delighted this year to welcome Forsan Hussein as one of our featured speakers at the 2015 Benefit Cocktail Party for Outward Bound Peacebuilding. Forsan is an alumnus of the 2011 Business Leaders group of the Palestinian – Israeli Emerging Leaders Program.

In his speech at The New York Times Building last month, he touched on the moments that led to his own peacebuilding work and the ways that Outward Bound Peacebuilding is “creating an ecosystem for change”.

The following are excerpts from his longer speech:

Darren and the Expedition

The strongest part of the Outward Bound Peacebuilding expedition was the realization that we, Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis, our similarities by far exceed our differences and that we are all better off when we work together. We have the same dreams and aspirations for ourselves and our people.

One of my closest friends today, a brother, is Darren. Darren is a South African Jew who came to Israel with a tremendous deal of mistrust and stereotypes about the “other”. At the beginning Darren could not recognize my “Palestinian-ness” and rather preferred to see me as an Israeli citizen or an Israeli Arab – denying the Palestinian part of who I am.

One day on the mountains of Croatia, our facilitators asked us to split into pairs. One would blindfold the other and help him/her walk the next kilometers blindfolded. I succeeded in convincing Darren to walk blindfolded first. At the beginning, he walked with so much hesitation, like someone walking on eggshells. Slowly Darren started to walk more freely. One step after another and the pace started to pick up. Darren and I went from walking hesitantly to literally running.

What changed? Trust. Once trust was built, Darren immersed himself in an attempt to better understand the Palestinian narrative. My family’s story became his own story – a tale he would share in so many of his circles.

Impact of Program

In so many ways, my decision to create Zaitoun Ventures was a result of the Emerging Leaders Program expedition, the alumni network, and its impact on me. I sought to be more relevant in my daily work. I wanted to create an example of a successful values-based company that is shared by an Arab and a Jew – perhaps a model of cooperation that works and can be emulated by others in the region.

Today I find myself relying on a weekly basis on this network of alums from the Emerging Leaders Program to support some of our incubated companies and to help make connections throughout the region.

“Ecosystem for change”

The Outward Bound Peacebuilding Emerging Leaders Program is creating an ecosystem for change. It is an investment in the region’s present and future. We already see the program’s return on investment on different scales, and I know that the huge impact will come when more of us assume leadership roles in our respective fields. It is empowering change agents through transformative experiences – personal and professional.

Both the Quran and the Talmud recognize that “if one saves a person’s life, it is as if he had saved all of mankind/humanity.” I have a strong feeling that the Emerging Leaders Program fits the description: a personal transformation could potentially lead to a regional one. This is the hope and the vision!

Forsan Hussein is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Zaitoun Ventures, an investment company that builds its own startups, and invests in innovative Israeli companies in the medical device and personal health space. Forsan was the CEO of the Jerusalem International YMCA, an institution that has promoted harmony between Palestinians and Israelis. Since the age of 10, Forsan has been involved in various organizations that promote Middle East peace and foster cooperation and coexistence. As part of his social entrepreneurship efforts, Forsan created several international non-profit organizations including Shalam and Peace Camp Canada. Currently, Forsan is a board member of a number of non-profits and advises various startups.
Forsan holds a B.A. from Brandeis University, an M.A. from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.