The first startup in Palestine devoted to mental health and wellbeing – occupied Palestinian territory

Written by Shaden Tabila
Public Relations and Communications Coordinator

Hakini – which means “tell me” in Arabic – challenges social stigma and lack of awareness by helping thousands of Palestinians invest in their mental health. The online mental health platform is on a mission to make mental health care more accessible by providing telemedicine and mentoring for a self-help intervention in Arabic.

The Hakini website and mobile app match users with therapists who provide confidential care and guide users on a self-help journey backed by evidence-based exercises. The majority of users are women and teens, who face a lack of available mental health resources. Hakini’s success is due to her support from Arab mental health professionals who adapt content and services specifically to Arab culture.

Necessity is the mother of invention Sondus Mleitat, co-founder and co-CEO of Hakini, is a full-time entrepreneur and holds a BA in Architecture from Birzeit University. With a background in investment, design thinking, and project management, Sondos has always had the drive to do something that would benefit her community.

Hackney’s idea came when Sundus personally went through a rough patch and found herself in need of therapy. At the time, Sondos struggled to find the help she needed. Not only were services limited, but people seeking help also had to face the stigma and lack of awareness of the importance of mental health and well-being in Palestine. Statistics show that only 10% of Palestinians in need of mental health care and services are able to obtain them.

“Current mental health providers are disorganized, disorganized, expensive, and simply disappointing,” Sundus says. I felt the need to find a well-structured, personalized and affordable mental healthcare and self-awareness solution for Palestinians and people from the region and around the world.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, my co-founder Majd and I were in the idea stage of developing Hackini. We worked out manually and at a very low scale.” Sondos explains. “When we saw the invitation to the Hack the Crisis Palestine, we decided to participate.”

Mental health treatment should be available to everyone

“Hack the Crisis Palestine” was an online event hosted by Gaza Sky Geeks, a joint effort of Mercy Corps and Google for Startups. Gaza Sky Geeks is the leading co-working space, startup accelerator, and technology education hub in Palestine. The hackathon brought together more than 130 teams to exchange ideas and find solutions in the areas of health, education and working life for Palestinians in the time of COVID-19. Winners of this event receive support and guidance to develop and launch their ideas.

By having a truly unique idea that serves a real need in Palestine, Hakini won “Hack the Crisis Palestine”. After their win, Hakini moved on to the incubation stage at Gaza SkyGeeks Startup Accelerator. This intense 16-week introductory accelerator program helps founders build a usable, user-tested product, launch their apps for public use, and expand their user base.

When they joined Gaza SkyGeeks Startup Accelerator in 2020, Hakini had nothing but an idea but no execution. Helping the Gaza SkyGeeks Startup Accelerator team opened their eyes to many aspects of their project, from their presentation to their business model.

“Gaza Sky Geeks startup accelerator helped Hackney take it to the next level. They turned our idea into a real startup and helped us move forward. Without their help and the grant we won, and without the guidance of our mentors and other local and international supporters, Hackney would not have been able to serve A large client base as you do today.”

Hakini now offers therapeutic support through one-to-one online sessions, access to self-help materials, and content about mental health and therapy. They support hundreds of Palestinians and their content has reached hundreds of thousands of people through social media channels and the Hakini website.

Reflections on managing a female-led startup

Throughout their journey, Team Hackini has experienced many ups and downs, many of them related to being a women-led startup in a field as stigmatized as mental health. Sondos often felt that she was not taken seriously as a founder because of her gender, but that did not stop her from pursuing her goal of providing reliable resources to anyone who needed help to improve their mental health and well-being.

“My team’s dedication and belief in what we do is what keeps Hackney going. We want to help everyone who needs our services,” Sondos says.

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