Behind the scenes: hosting a Falling Walls Lab under extraordinary conditions

Christina Stahlbock, local organiser of the Falling Walls Labs in Gaza and Birzeit, talked with us about what it is like to organise a Lab in Palestine – with armoured vehicles and other challenges.

Falling Walls: How many Labs have you already organised and what motivated you to host local Labs?

Christina Stahlbock: I hosted my first Lab back in 2014 at the DAAD Cairo Office. We had organised Science Slams for students and young researchers before, and enjoyed experimenting with innovative formats to communicate science and research. The DAAD promotes Research in Germany, so the whole idea behind Falling Walls Lab played straight into our hands. Particularly the fact that the winner gets the chance to travel to Berlin, and takes part not only in the Finale, but also in all the other events surrounding it, is just life changing for young researchers from all over the world.

I have since hosted four more Labs, bringing the format with me to Palestine when I took over the DAAD Office in East Jerusalem in 2016. It had been my goal to host a Lab not only in the Westbank, but also in Gaza, and I am very proud that we realised that just before I left my position in Palestine – It was the perfect farewell gift. Now I am already thinking of Lab number six in location number four in the frame of my new position – we will see what is possible!

Falling Walls: Which local challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?

Christina Stahlbock: In general, it is sometimes difficult to find a good number of qualified participants. Though those who apply are often excellent students or researchers, the skill of presenting their idea to a crowd and creating excitement around it in the audience is still missing. Language barriers do contribute to this, of course.

My most challenging experience was definitely organising the Lab in Gaza. Crossing into and out of Gaza can be very unpleasant. The security situation is very unstable, and every visit needs special preparation and various permits. Once we even ended up postponing on short notice. Luckily, we had a strong network of local partners who live this reality every day and knew how to react accordingly. The second try was a success, and seeing how much it meant to participants, judges, partners, and the audience, who are usually very isolated, to be part of an international community, made it worth the trouble.

The whole day was a special adventure. My partner from the Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung, one of our judges, and I even organised an armoured carpool. The biggest challenge will be for the winner to travel to Berlin. The wall of freedom of travel for Gaza residents has unfortunately not fallen yet.

Falling Walls: What relevance do formats like the Falling Walls Lab have in your country?

Christina Stahlbock: Exposing young innovators to global networks can be life changing. You follow your Lab alumni and see how they develop their ideas further and start to think on an international level. The Lab is often the first step toward studying or working abroad. Even for those who don’t win, getting the chance to present your ideas in front of a jury, stepping out of your comfort zone, and being part of this amazing initiative is an asset.

Source: Falling Walls Fragments