(Barak Alkobi)

High school students responded together to water scarcity with prototypes for desalination facilities, vertical farms and innovative bottle caps.

By United With Israel Staff

A delegation of 16 Jerusalem high school students are in Dubai on the first academic exchange between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. The program was designed to promote collaboration between students on specific challenges facing the international community.

The initiative was spearheaded by PICO Kids, a Jerusalem-based non-profit that delivers hands-on STEEM education (science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship and math) to encourage youth to take action. The mission was organized in partnership with the Taaleem Schools of the UAE, Target Global, Concert Together for Israel and the Abraham Accords Peace Institute.

The educational focus of the mission was a “Makeathon” at the Dubai Future Foundation, where the students put their heads together to create workable solutions for water scarcity. Working together over six separate sessions, the Israeli and Emirati students developed prototypes for ideas including desalination facilities, vertical farms and portable bottle caps with integrated filters.

The student delegates also visited innovation centers in Dubai, and met with local entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders. The itinerary included the Dubai Future Foundation robotics lab, a solar park in the Dubai desert, the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj al-Khalifa, and Dubai’s museums and markets. Their first night in Dubai coincided with the last night of Chanukah, so the students held a Chanukah party too.

Over the next three years, PICO Kids aims to create dozens of delegation exchanges, reaching hundreds of kids.

Elie Wurtman, co-founder and managing partner of PICO Venture Partners and founder of PICO Kids, explained, “Children have a particularly unique vantagepoint to act as innovators and conceive of new ideas in ways that adults might not be able to. The Abraham Accords have presented a historic vision for collaboration between Israel and the Gulf countries and it is only natural that the collaborations that we are already seeing on commercial and investment fronts should now be realized among our youth as well.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett saluted the PICO Kids initiative.

“This mission represents youth who have traveled from Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel, to an Arab country in order to advance collaborative efforts and create solutions to environmental challenges,” Bennett said in a video message posted on social media. “There is no better time to spread the message of Israel to the world, and this mission is an example of proactively spreading that light. I wish each and every one of you only success in this important mission which should bring honor to our country.”

All of the student delegates are Jerusalem residents under the age of 18 and the group represents the city’s diverse makeup. “The power to think creatively and solve problems is something that we know exists within all walks of life in our city and it was critical that we ensured representation from diverse backgrounds,” said Wurtman.

To prepare for the PICO Kids Ambassadors mission, the student delegates went through training and workshops with renowned experts in the fields of diplomacy, design thinking, public speaking, English and Arabic lessons, storytelling, branding, group dynamics and entrepreneurship. The mission was delayed several times due to COVID travel restrictions.

Since its inception four years ago, the PICO Kids Ambassadors program has taken student delegations to global partner communities in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

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