Saudi Aramco World: May/June 2014 - page 31

substantially,” he says. “So
the divide exists, but that
does not worry me as much
as red tape, access to capital
and building the infrastruc-
ture for enabling people and
businesses to transact online.”
Indeed, those worries may also endanger the Arab world’s
ability to retain the precious talent it has built. For example,
young hardware developers like Hobeika of Instabeat are weigh-
ing options for future locations.
“I think we will have a lot of trouble scaling in the future
when we want to create more than one product,” she says.
“We’ve been looking into relocating, places in Europe, in the
We are definitely exploring. You want to hire senior people and
high-level expertise.”
Sitting in a Beirut café, Bassam Jalgha, the creator of Roadie
Tuner, is also torn, facing his next trip to China to oversee the first
production cycle. “I want to give hope to people, to tell them it
is possible, that we are doing it, even if the situation is bad, that
you can still do it.” But as car bombs continue to go off in Beirut,
he has been considering spending more time in China, and he
is learning Chinese. “I like it,” he says wistfully. “The sad part
about being here is nothing is getting better. I came back after six
months in China and now it’s worse.”
And time is of the essence. Governments and institutions that
constrain investment or opportunities now are making “terrible
choices” that may affect generations, author Schroeder argues.
“Technology moves so fast,” he says. “If a country falls behind,
it is hard to catch up. They will lose their best talent.”
But Ghandour remains confident for the longer term: “I under-
stand the risk very well, and I know the rewards. Profits are impor-
tant, but this industry needs to be built and nurtured, and investors
and entrepreneurs have to be very patient before pushing to see
profits. Like all business or startups, everything takes time to build.”
Ghandour’s team at Wamda is now raising a $75 million
fund to support entrepreneurs, a more than tenfold increase on
Wamda’s previous $7 million fund launched just three years ago.
“The trends in all areas look good. Green shoots everywhere.
We just have to keep pushing and pushing and continue believ-
ing and investing,” says Ghandour. ”Pathfinders are people that
are going to take the biggest risks. They are the most coura-
geous and most committed. Their work will be rewarded. His-
tory tells us that all the time.”
Startup Rising.
Christopher M. Schroeder.
2013, Palgrave Macmillan, 978-0230342224.
Scan to link to the video interviews with
Arab entrepreneurs.
Habib Battah
and @habib_b) is a
Beirut-based investigative journalist, filmmaker and author of
the blog
He is also a regular contribu-
tor to Al Jazeera,
World and The Daily Star newspaper. He
is a two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Press
Freedom Award.
Cairo-based freelance photo-
David Degner
) is represented
by Getty Reportage. He studied philosophy and photojournal-
ism at Western Kentucky University.
Saudi national Joumana Al
Jabri cofounded Beirut-based
Visualizing Impact, which
produces data and graphic-
based storytelling to map out
Middle East social and political
challenges not covered in depth
by news media. “There’s a lot of
talent in the region and it’s not
being utilized in areas that need
it most,” she says. “Our ambition
is to create a precedent that can
both address pressing issues
and engage highly creative
people in data-science
technology and design.”
By the end of 2014, the number of Syrian refugees in
Lebanon is predicted to reach two million, equivalent to
a nearly 50 percent increase in Lebanon’s population.
With many refugees living in tents across the country,
technology has empowered several grassroots aid ef-
forts. Inspired by the Syrian families peddling goods on
the streets near her university in Beirut, college stu-
dent Tanya Khalil cofounded the “I am not a Tourist”
initiative. Using a highly publicized Facebook page and
partnering with relief groups, she organized a clothing
drive that in a single day filled more than 25 trucks
with winter clothing and bedding.
Rainboots for Syrian Children, spearheaded by furni-
ture designer Hala Habib, mobilized dozens of young vol-
unteers to provide waterproof footwear for refugee chil-
dren living in muddy campsites. With an online gateway
that allows donors to purchase a pair of boots for $5, to
date the initiative has delivered more than 10,000 boots
to refugee children across Lebanon.
Startups for Refugee Relief
May/June 2014
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