Breath, count to 10 and let’s take small steps in the right direction

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To mentally marinate is to allow your brain to laterally mix thoughts, facts and impressions and find new ideas from the patterns. I spent the weekend in Istanbul with the aim to hang out with friends and indulge in aubergine. But I found myself inspired and compelled by conversations to think about our role in the evolving Middle East during a time of game changing technological innovations.

The basic premise is 500 million people in MENA, median age is 26, mobile penetration is around 100% and roughly speaking the region has $2.3trillion in GDP… Youth unemployment is in double digits and it’s hard to ignore the disaster of Daesh (ISIS) and other conflicts.

Interestingly the conversations over the weekend started from a different angle – What happens after the conflicts? How does one build or rebuild places we now call Syria, Libya, Kurdistan and Iraq? What could it look like? How does one leverage and harness the power of tech and entrepreneurship to build the next generation of society. And maybe more importantly – Who does this? Important men, wearing important suits, discussing important stuff in place like Geneva or Washington? That’s partly an unfair comment I know, but I’m thinking it’s time to try a new approach.

I’m going to be consistent and true to my own motto – Crazy and Naïve – and make the bold assumption that all the people living in, roots in, travelling to, connected with MENA will want to be a part of building the future.  Granted, we don’t always want the same thing but we want to be asked our opinion. The beauty is that we actually live in a time where tech and smart people can provide a platform to question and understand what we want and to work together bottom up to build key aspects of our society. City architecture, recycling facilities, school systems, parks, legal institutions… you name it.

When you start thinking about the power of bottom-up, you’ll quickly face lots of challenges. If we park those challenges, and just for a moment enjoy the thought of actually approaching these huge issues in a new and innovative way.

Inspiring.

Breath, count to 10 and let’s take small steps in the right direction.

One of the ideas that came to us this weekend was to create a pan-regional movement, maybe in the form of an online or TV show, which collates ideas, meets bold thinkers, implores the tech community and discusses disruptive change and innovation to solve tangible challenges?

Another thought was maybe I should write a book. What would my main message be? I’m thinking it starts with my personal insights from a hyped silicon vally startup…. Leads to a realization of the power of entrepreneurship from a macro level… leads to a realization that the challenges for a startup in the Middle East aren’t too different from anywhere else… spice the story with crazy anecdotes from my daily circus, amazing meetings and some aubergine dishes… and end with an open Question: How do we use technology and entrepreneurship to (re)build a prosperous and peaceful Middle East?

Who am I to tackle such a magnificent challenge? After mentally marinating that question a few days I’m convinced nobody is in a perfect position, which effectively means we all are a position to do something. That’s my plan.

Feedback is welcome.

Seeing the pyramids is like meeting Santa

In the absence of a crystal ball, I prefer to engage with the positive narrative

Seeing the pyramids is like meeting Santa Claus… Something magical I’ve lived with all my life but never known if they existed… It was the best Saturday in awhile – spent by the Nile with Wael Fakharany, planning how we can be a positive change and spur on innovation and entrepreneurship in the Middle East. A few hours with Wael and I had a lot to mentally marinate. He has the amazing ability to push your imagination and make you think braver and bolder… he is a Crazy and Naïve hero. There are great ideas in the making – watch this space. Thanks for showing me pyramids.

This was my first time visiting Cairo and it is truly a city that never sleeps. I think the contrasts struck me the most; Beauty next to Slum, Hope & Development dancing with Resignation, Green vs Grey. And in the middle of all this is an ambitious and maturing startup scene. The Greek Campus felt like a safe heaven behind Tahrir Square and the stories of how the core team struggled to organized Meetups during the revolution humbles. Goes to show, if there is a will, there’s a way.

The coolest people… I met Head of innovation at Vodafone Egypt, Endeavour’s team is solid as always, Salma (A head of the Curve) showed me lovely Sufi in Zamalek and gave me the ins and out of social entrepreneurship, Managing Director of Tetra Pak gave me a crash course in the process of packaging, Discussed the upcoming elections with insightful bloggers and journalists, Amazing Salma (PITME & Innovety) gave me the grand tour of the ecosystem – Big Schokran my dear. Great comparing startup mistakes with Con &Abdelhameed of RiseUp – looks like we’ll be doing cool things, Loved Mazen’s District, met a few impressive entrepreneurs… Emily cofounder crowdfunding platform Tennra, Basil cofounder HireHunt which I look forward to beta testing, Maria’s social fashion app Slickr, Waleed’s problem solving delivery solution Ingez (see pic). I enjoyed a very interesting discussion about future of Egypt at the Swedish Embassy with our Ambassador Charlotta Sparre… I didn’t make it all the way to Smart Village but Batman gratefully met Rasha Tantawy over aubergine at Sequoia with a fun group of geeky techs!

Broadly I’d say I heard two different strands of narratives in Cairo. Either people love to talk about the doom&gloom and that nothing will ever happen in the Middle East bla bla bla (long list of complaints, pointing fingers and a few conspiracy theories), OR I heard the opposite… Egypt has so much potential, the talent is here and we just need to unlock it, hope is on the rise, Cairo is THE place to be right now. In the absence of a crystal ball, I prefer to engage with the positive narrative. Our #YMEstartup is planned for the 27th of April and there will be a lot to talk about. Come join us.

Careem took me flawlessly to the airport… must tease the Uber team a little as I met them and they seem to be doing a great job after just 3 months in the market.

I confess on stage that I cry every day, in reality it’s probably every other day. My best crying is always on the plane. The luxury of moving from one point to another, and no action from me is required, usually no connection to the outer world – me and my thoughts and some tears of relief, joy, pride, homesick, excitement.  This trip I learnt a lot, laughed, lost a friendship, made friends and magically met the pyramids.