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Category Archives: entrepreneurship

Women in Computing Workshop

Today I spoke at the NYU Abu Dhabi workshop on Women in Computing in the Arab World. I was struck by the uniformity of challenges the speakers presented.  I was also encouraged to see a room full of role-models to rising women Engineers, Computer Scientists, Professors and Professionals.

Across the Arab world. participants in the Women in Computing workshop reiterated the same challenges.  Barriers to women in technology:

  • family responsibility
  • lack of confidence
  • low role models

“Consumerism in the Arab world plagues society, if you have money to consume it..why produce it? is the mode of operations” said Fatima Abu Salem Associate Professor at AUB.  Fatima’s superb delivery, keen focus on complex challenges and willingness to bring her personal experience made her presentation fabulous and informative.  She addressed issues that at the surface seem small, yet have wide implications.  Issues such as:

  • flexibility in working hours
  • maternity leave..and its impact on tenure
  • women leadership style – seeking community and connection.. not always looking for pure individual gain.
  • bosses don’t think they can rely on women in travel.. “males are bargains, can throw them into cheep hotels.. women need more pampering”
  • finding the right measuring tools for women: “what kind of male literacy are we comparing female literacy against?  don’t just look at quantity.. look at quality..”
  • not just encourage women to get a degree in computing.. look at how we can make it sustainable.
  • Policies.. for women.. we are not men in skirts!

Professor Amir Zeid spoke with passion about his gender research.  “40% female in classrooms in Kuwait, compared to 10% in Carnegie Mellon. The percentages are on the decline from 47 down to 34% that’s not because less women are interested in technology, rather more are interested in Engineering; a program that recently started at the University is a magnet for female students with enrolling 60% women.”

The university mandated a gender segregation program.  Prof. Zeid was forced to teach the same class, one for males and one females.  Prof. Zeid used different examples for his male & female classes, noted differences in knowledge acquisition.  That lead Prof. Zeid to start a study on the effect of gender segregation in the classroom. Findings included:

  • improved performance in both male and female classrooms
  • female in single gender classes out-performed males in other classes. – perception was that males knew better. when removed from class, female performance improved.

Questionnaire on why more females chose computer science in this region..

  • teaching jobs easier..
  • husband wants me to be a teacher
  • work for public sector..

East & West, perceive computer science as masculine..

when asked why they got in:

  • follow suit of mother
  • want to prove myself

Dr. Amany Al-Shawi – women division manager at The National Program of electronics, Communications, and Photonics at KACST

Collaboration between Academic Sector and Private sector:

  • Saudi – virtually non existent. private sector needs to be “told” to collaborate.. like the tax incentives in the USA
  • Lebanon – Very meager, under-developed capacity to contribute to research in the private sector
  • Morocco – mandatory in the undergrad and graduate level for internships, EU fund mandates collaboration w private sector for grants.

Alice Bonhomme-Biais is a software engineer working on crisis response at based in NY.

Did Facebook create the Egypt revolution?

  • it helped with horizontal expansion across social classes
  • it gave us a compounded effect.. lending experiences from Tunisia

FB was used inside the country.. Twitter reached outside the country.  Social Media increased the “emotional density” Hizb elKanabah.. joined through social media.

The innovation panel provided amazing insights into research and development in fuzzy logic, the semantic web, augmented reality, web analytics, crowd sourcing and much more.

I presented on the challenges facing female entrepreneurs investing in technology ventures, and the opportunities to support them:

View more presentations from rchakaki
Key calls to action are included in the slides above.
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bidayat – Building a network of social venture support organizations

For a while we’ve envisioned a network of organizations supporting social entrepreneurs.  The time is now.. it is happening.

On Tuesday, January 31st, we hosted a round-table discussion at the Shelter in Dubai.  The aim was to bring together organizations supporting social entrepreneurs to build a collaborative framework. A roundup of amazing individuals represented their organizations:

Each participant presented his/her organization services, and listened as others did the same.  We discussed ways in which we can deliver impact.  The group agreed to:

Build a network (Social Venture Network) that will…

  1. Define and develop the space
    1. Define the organizations that provide support.. categorize their service offering.. identify missing services..
    2. Collectively reach out to the Media to raise awareness
  2. Foster collaboration
    1. identify the stages of development from an entrepreneur’s perspective
    2. define the organization that can deliver support in the various stages
  3. Define social measurement metrics
    1. create an index of social challenges .. rate by urgency to address ?
    2. create an formula to measure social return on investment.
  4. Identify social entrepreneurs
    1. Campaign to reach them in schools, communities beyond the circles we are currently involved in.
    2. Reach out to Arabic media / web
  5. Mentor social entrepreneurs
    1. share the list of social entrepreneurs working in the field
    2. create one or two success stories in the GCC
  6. Fund social ventures
    1. Create packages for prospect investors who would be interested in investments in social enterprise

Participants are working in groups, and invite collaborators to join to help address the targets above. If you are interested in supporting, please leave a comment on this post with your contact details and services you can offer.

Tune in for updates on our progress in this domain.

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Baraka listed as a useful resource for SMEs

Check out this interesting article on the journey taken a decade ago to launch a venture and Baraka being listed as a resources to help SME owners, amongst several others by The National –


setbacks are there to make you stronger

A brilliant young lady with immense talent sent me a heartfelt email today. She had been active in social work and dropped off the scene after receiving harsh criticism.  The critic, someone in the humanitarian field also turned competitive and broke the young lady’s spirit.  She left behind a promising beginning and settled for work without passion.

Too many entrepreneurs are easily put off by setbacks.. not realizing these setbacks are nothing but fitness training.. with each setback, you acquire a new skill to deal with challenges.. and the more setbacks you have the higher your purpose and calling is in life.. acknowledging setbacks and cheerfully moving past them paves the next step for progress.  Getting stuck on a setback kills your dreams.

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” – Michelangelo

The question of profit..

I start a conversation with a business man I recently co-presented with on a panel on Entrepreneurship “Pioneering or moving boundaries”.  In my presentation, I explicitly stated that social entrepreneurship is not a non-profit model.. and yet, he begins our dialogue by making a distinction between his “For-profit” and my “Non-profit” business.

I am perplexed. What is the root of the assumption that many in the MENA region seem to have? A business can either exist to make profit, or offer social value! Not both.

If a business doesn’t offer social value; then what value does it offer? And if a business is offering social value, then shouldn’t it deserve to be rewarded for it?

By definition; social entrepreneurship is applying entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage ventures to achieve social change.  We operate in a society that has its fair share of social challenges. It seems to me social entrepreneurship can serve to address these challenges.  Shouldn’t we attempt to understand it? teach it? encourage it? and rewarded those who engage in it and bring social value, whilst making a reasonable profit?

Presented with two Ad agencies which would you choose and why?

One offers creative services in return for high profit margins; creativity is arrived at through brand building based on emotions such as desire to live luxuriously, to emulate  aspirational figures; it replicates models successfully employed in other countries. It pays little attention to localizing the message, or investigating brand and messaging conflicts with local social values, norms and environmental challenges.

The other offers creative services, rooted in local culture aligned with social values for modest profits since the creative work here requires digging deeper to build a values-based brand. The later seeks to understand social norms, values, issues, and creates an association of a brand with a value, a social challenge, and identifies the way this brand is addressing the social challenge.

To be continued… pending a response to the questions above…

If it makes you cry, laugh, if it rips your heart out..

I walked into the gallery to see Elie; instead, I saw a wall of writing.. Arabic & English.. I scanned the place, and remembered that Elie mentioned a new exhibition that will mark Eid El Adha.  It had arrived!

Standing back, I read, Arabic text first, describing the exhibition; the photographs taken in 1885 by an orientalists, a Snouck Hurgronje, who converted to Islam to enter Mecca and document life in the historical city. 

The exhibition was beautiful, to see photos from the 1800s of a Mecca brought tears to my eyes.  I would never have recognized the city since I’ve only seen recent photos of it (1970s onwards). However, the real beauty was the curator’s insight into the artist, his journey to enter Mecca and document life in the historical city in a book “Mecca: a dangerous adventure”.

Elie has always taken the time to bring the most interesting, and emotional works of photographic art. His attention to the pieces is only matched by his attention to the story behind their production and the lives of the artists who brought the photos to life.

Recently I listened to Joi Ito present on happiness and the journey of work.  He stressed that the only real successful entrepreneurs are those who take the time to inject their spirit, love and diligent pure work on a daily basis without worrying about the outcome.  Those who care about the journey and find happiness in it define real success. Elie and his gallery are a reminder of doing one thing, and doing it right. Taking pride in depth, knowledge, research, taking the time to master an art form.

Seeing the amazing exhibitions that The Empty Quarter brings, and witnessing Elie’s journey to bring inspiring photography that speaks emotions I’m reminded of a quote I read in US museum..  ” If it makes you cry, if it makes you laugh, if it rips your heart out.. that’s a good picture” Eddie Adams – Pulitzer Prize winning photographer.

15 must read books for any social entrepreneur

  1. Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by CK Prahalad. (the title doesn’t do the book justice)
  2. The ethical corporation
  3. How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein
  4. Out of Poverty by Paul Polack
  5. Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets that Change the World by John
  6. Elkington and Pamela Hartigan
  7. Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism by Mohammed Yunnus
  8. The lorax – Dr. Seuss
  9. Blink – Gladwell
  10. The tipping point – Gladwell
  11. Wikinomics – Don Tapscott & Anthony Williams
  12. The world is flat – Thomas Freedman
  13. Real Magic – Wayne Dyer
  14. The fifth Discipline
  15. Purification of the Heart

Other recommended media

  1. ODE, UTNE, GOOD, Mother Jones (Magazines)
  2. Emmanuel’s Gift (Documentary)
  3. The Corporation (Documentary)

Characteristics of a Social Entrepreneur – Humble

Picture 6A wonderful Arabic poem uses a metaphor to describe humble individuals; they appear like stalks of wheat, bending and weighted down by the abundance of the wheat grain they carry.  This is contrasted with the empty stalks that are blowing in the wind, raised high, due to their emptiness.

ملىء السنابل تنحني بتواضعٍ   والفارغاتُ رؤوسهن شوامخُ

In recent months, I’ve come across many social and environmental entrepreneurs in the Middle East and the US. Without exception, they were all rich in experience and knowledge in their field. Some traveled to places I only dream of, others read books I find intimidating. Some met heads of state, received numerous degrees, awards and honors from reputable institutions worldwide.  And without exception, they are all humble.

They are eager to learn about others rather than brag about their accomplishments. What I find encouraging is that social and environmental entrepreneurs are bringing a new face to business.  While not all men and women in mainstream business practice are lacking humility, traditionally corporate cultures, corporate structures and brand confidence advocated a degree of snobbery, or a pride in belonging to an establishment/organization. Overtime, people forget their individual worth and exhibit a strange sense of pride and snobbery for their association with their institutions.  I stress, this doesn’t no apply to all, but it is certainly present and more so in some industries than others.

The humility social and environmental entrepreneurs exhibit draws people to them. Collaborators, supporters, and recipients of their good work rally around them and spread the message of their work far and wide. They rarely need to self-promote or spend excessively on marketing and PR activities.  The next time you’re in the presence of one, observe!

The beginning of the end of an era?

It appears that the newly appointed Supreme Court Associate Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, is starting to challenge what is seen as one of the primary tenets of corporate law, namely the conferment of human characteristics on the corporation.

According to this Wall Street Journal Article, Justice Sotomayor stated that:

Judges “created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons,” she said. “There could be an argument made that that was the court’s error to start with…[imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics.”

The revision of the laws of incorporation and holding people responsible for their actions, even (especially) when these actions are taken from behind the doors of boardrooms, is an essential part of the restructuring that’s needed to prevent the financial, social and environmental transgressions that have been spiraling out of control not only in the United States, but all over the world.

It is heartening to see Justice Sotomayor willing to ignite such a debate and I hope that it finds a way to be constructively continued.

Benevolent Business

Benevolent Business

The term Social Entrepreneur is increasingly becoming synonymous with a modern-day super-hero, sans the streamlined spandex get-ups (thankfully). Social entrepreneurs emerge as people from all walks of life, yet there are common elements that earn them the recently-coined title. They are creative beings, ones who have become cognizant of the fact that they can make a difference in the world and are fueled by that belief to create positive change. Similar to other members in their family tree–political entrepreneurs, business entrepreneurs and the like–these figures are not afraid to transcend the status quo and tread the road less travelled by if they believe it will yield results.

Innovative ideas are their ambrosia, sheer doggedness their nectar. A heightened sense of awareness of social strife and system failure drives them to dissect the social infrastructure, identify problem sources and use their outside-of-the box approach to overcome resource restrictions and find viable solutions to the issues. Whereas business entrepreneurs’ concern lays largely in the business sector social entrepreneurs’ tackle the social and environmental realm. The myriad issues they take on include disease prevention and human rights issues.

Nowadays there is a growing industry that caters to the likes of such upstanding citizens. Renowned universities are implementing programs that provide prospective entrepreneurs with the necessary skills to see them off in their endeavors. The Skoll Foundation, launched in Oxford University in 2003 is dedicated to serving, “social entrepreneurs in their pursuit to achieve a more equitable, prosperous, sustainable world.”[1] Other institutions that support the burgeoning field of social enterprise include Harvard University, whose Catherine B. Foundation Fellowships are, “designed to equip individuals for national leadership positions that bring the real-world insights of management and entrepreneurship to bear on social problems.”[2]

But the initiatives do not end there. As Social entrepreneurs are increasingly making their voices heard, communities are doing their part to connect them to one another and the public at large in an effort to strengthen the cause. Networking companies are establishing liaisons between such public figures, allowing them to share their inspirational experiences, their avant-garde thoughts on current affairs, and their future aspirations., an online venture started by The Baraka Group, revolves around an incremental concept where, “Social entrepreneurship meets social networking.”[3] Our values-based company is an example of the community’s desire to spur this wondrous movement.

The world could do with more people like Muhammed Yunus who epitomizes the Social Entrepreneur. His initiative involved implementing a policy of micro-finance to poverty-stricken regions in Bangladesh, in order to encourage self-sufficiency and proper integration into the socio-economic structure. Jeff Skoll, a proponent of the movement who has carried out like-minded schemes, described the basis of his film-making industry, “Time and time again you see this outpouring from people once they’re made aware they can do something. That’s the principle that drives this company.” It is up to the global community to support social entrepreneurs in their cause to keep this going.