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Category Archives: Think Tank

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 google.org 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:

http://www.slideshare.net/rchakaki/nyu-abu-dhabi-women-in-computing-workshop

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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career advice..

I received an email this week from a young Arab professional titled “Career Advice”.  It was a very honest account of his struggles to feel fulfilled, realize his potential.. make sense of his career path.. he has a job he dislikes, he’s always told he’s not realizing his full potential.. he cannot even recall what he’s passionate about.

My response is what follows; if you have an opinion, please share…

  1. as humans, we are not made to work desk jobs for most our waking hours
  2. today’s jobs are too monotonous especially for people with active minds
  3. you cannot survive without hobbies that take you in directions radically different from your routine.
  4. change is good
  5. articulating your passions is essential.. even if just on paper.. write them out.. say them, speak about them to anyone willing to listen.. some will stay with you, other passions will fizzle away.. at least you’d get them out of your system.
  6. don’t plan for a life time.. plan in 3 year increments…
  7. count your blessings every morning.. celebrate the small successes.
  8. be a child in your curiosity and excitement.  be happy when things go right… get excited for adventure and new experiences.. even if they feel uncomfortable.. a child is happy running around for hours in a garden, even if they feel exhausted afterwards..
  9. think now.. don’t think future all the time.. you have to be reaching your potential.. today.. wake up feeling great.. maintain the greatness all day.. despite what you hear in your head..
  10. let your inner compass guide you..don’t listen to others.. good, bad, or ugly .. other people’s opinions don’t matter.. they either make us think we have things they see or want to see, or they put us down for not realizing the potential they see in us… you have to be guided from within.

My wish list…

In a recent conversation where a colleague made sweeping generalizations on what Arab women want, I
remembered a movie..”what women want” Mel Gibson takes us into the world of a PR agency that hires a women to unleash the secrets of marketing to women.  I cannot speak for all women, what I can do is start my list and ask Arab women out there to contribute…

I want:

  1. an investment bank for women, run by women, that puts value on women’s ideas in the region, for the region.
  2. an Arab country where my children can live proud, vocal, secure, and peaceful,
  3. a Media that respects my values, pride in my heritage and lineage, my features, my traditional clothes, my modesty and lack of interest in looking 18 when I’m 42,
  4. a TV station that doesn’t assume I like trashy music videos, inconsequential series, and borrowed reality TV themes,
  5. a business culture that acknowledges local talent, run by professionals who believe the marketing slogans they put out and start living by them,
  6. a collective consciousness that appreciates our individual and collective potential as Arabs.. takes criticism with humility, celebrates our successes locally, regionally and globally,
  7. a society that sees the connection between excess and obesity, pollution and asthma, greed and heart ailment, emotional suppression and cancer,
  8. an outlook on non-working mothers as an asset .. an emotional comfort, the wise grandmothers, the nurturing mothers who provide the emotional foundation of our society,
  9. a memory of the way our grandparents and parents lived.. with less material possessions, and treasures of contentment,
  10. I want Google to stop advertising “girls in the UAE” ads when I browse the web!

many more..  and waiting to be inspired others out there..please pass it on. ..

A baraka year..

Reflecting on 365 days is like playing a reel of photos, with emotions in the background substituting for music. 2010 brought a lot of promise, hope, heartfelt emotions, financial anxieties, many new beginnings, and a few bitter endings.

We were blessed with:

  • Working closely with the PCRF and realizing through our support that nothing can be more fulfilling than working to provide children and youth a better future.
  • Launching zeedna, after two long years of an uphill climb in a downhill market,  receiving a warm market welcome, and getting amazing advisers Joi Ito & Razan Kabbani
  • Launching bidayat our contribution to the development of the Arab Social Venture landscape.
  • Building the online presence of inspiring organizations like Injaz & Buzoor that are changing the face of education in the Arab world.
  • Knowing that our contributions to the Qatar 2022 made a difference, and has the impact to change the social landscape of the region over the next 12 years.
  • Sharing our thoughts with audiences through Open DiversityYAL, DSG, NYU Abu Dhabi, Khalifa Fund, Arabnet, Ashoka Arab World, Dubai University and many others throughout the year.
  • We met like-minded people from Jeddah, Beirut, Damascus, and many other places throughout the Arab world and the US.

In the new year, we wish for:

  • prosperity in bringing technologies and good business to life
  • freedom from anxiety, financial burdens, insincerity,  time-wasting endeavors
  • less bureaucracy, less time spent at airports, banks and government agencies
  • more time spent with loved ones, inspiring colleagues, friends and nature

Most of all, we wish for time to reflect on how to live wisely and purposefully and extend our gratitude to everyone who supported us and stood by us in 2010.

Islam in America

I have long maintained that the real Islam is being preserved and nurtured today in the USA.  In small social circles, academic forums, individual and collective discourse; uncovering relevance to environmental conservation, gender equality and much more. Young and old, Muslims and other denominations are having healthy, constructive exchanges on the beauty of Islam and the Qur’an.  Here is one example that is absolutely brilliant!

I pray that Muslims around the world find the wisdom to explore the meaning, values, depth of the Holy book in such a manner.

Hazleton is author of After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam

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Resituating Sustainability

I was invited recently to present at a workshop convened by NYU, Abu-Dhabi Institute under the title of “Situating Sustainability: Urban Ecology and the Problem of Context”. The workshop brought together urban ecologists, architects, urban planners, anthropologists and authors who have studied, written about and had hands-on experience in shaping the urban-ecological landscape of many cities in the UAE, India, USA, Bahrain, Kuwait and China.

I was asked to give a presentation on our work in the context of the subject of the workshop. While our work encompasses many areas, I found it difficult at first to situate our work within the context of the workshop. So I took the alternative approach of re-situating the subject of the workshop within the context of our work. Here is the transcript of the presentation that resulted from this process (big thanks to Rama & Mohamad for their input):

“Much of the talk in this workshop has been focusing on situating sustainability in the physical sense within the cities and urban landscapes of the region. I will talk about situating sustainability in a different context – the context of where, along the spectrum of practice, sustainability is situated in the region from a social, cultural and educational perspective.

We, at Baraka, work closely with social entrepreneurs who are addressing social and environmental issues and in doing so have experienced, first hand, some of the challenges facing those who are working on building an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable region.

Dubai in the 1970's

As we have heard, Abu-Dhabi, Dubai and other cities on the Western coast of the Gulf are often characterized as being desert cities. This is in line with the fact that much of sustainability, particularly in the urban-ecological context, over-privileges the land.

Yet the majority of the cities in the region are coastal cities with close economic and cultural ties to the water. It made sense to us, when we started looking at environmental sustainability in the region, that we needed to focus on the ocean.

I’d like to make the point here that we’ve been handling the terrestrial environment for more than ten thousand years. We have been gardening for ten thousand years. We can take a body of land and change it from its current state to something we prefer to live in and we can then landscape it, set it up as a functioning biological system that is pleasant to be around whether it’s gardens or agricultural fields.

We know how to do that. We have been doing it for years and years and years.

Dubai's new coastline

We don’t know how to do that in the ocean. When you start extensively changing coastlines and building new coastlines that extend kilometers out into the ocean in places where that land did not exist before, you are embarking on a process of changing the ocean environment and we don’t really know how to do that or truly understand the consequences of doing that.

It was in this context that we started working on creating a video documentary about the impact of the artificial islands that have been built along the coastline of Dubai. One of  the problems that the researchers we were working with faced as they started the project was a general lack of information.

This is a part of the world in which marine science has not been a dominant activity. It is a part of the world in which  the marine science that has been done has usually been done by people from overseas who’ve taken a lot of the information back home with them. Basically, the researchers had to recognize that in many ways they were starting with almost zero baseline data.

Pearl divers

So, they tried to look to non-academic sources of information. They were happy to use anecdotal evidence gathered from the local communities to use as a baseline for their research into the history of the local marine ecology, with regard to fish populations, algal blooms and other data. This avenue did not give them much data to work with either. While there was an older tradition of pearl culture and fishing, that has largely vanished, and with it much of the culture related to these traditions. There have been efforts to preserve these in books and on film, but they have been largely reduced to the status of historical artifact rather than living culture.

This is where I raise the question of where is sustainability situated in the context of the culture of Gulf cities? The dhows that are being built today are used for recreation rather than plying the trade of their owners. Yet, the culture of the dhow crews and the pearl divers is still being presented as the primary cultural connection of these cities to the ocean even though the dhows have mostly been replaced by yachts, speedboats and jet-skis.

Modern Dubai

The influx of people into the region brought with it not just a need to change the urban landscape of the region’s cities to allow for this influx and expansion, but also a cultural change brought on by the fact that these new residents had no connection with the local ecology. This has reflected back on society in many ways. When it comes to nature, very few residents, or even the nationals, know much about the local sea-dwelling species beyond the few that end up on their dinner plates and they have become totally disconnected from most of the local land-based species. There’s more to sustainability than just preserving species, we need to also preserve our relationships with them.

This is where I pose the question of where is sustainability situated in the social context of the region? When it comes to society, many people in Gulf cities feel disengaged from many of the day-to-day issues that matter to most urbanites in other parts of the world – from the use of public space, zoning, waste collection and transportation. This is caused by the rapid urban changes, the transient nature of many of the residents’ connection with place and many other factors.

Most of the people who are resident here know next to nothing about what happens below the water. In fact a lot of the marketing of the coastal development projects suggest that it is the opportunity to look out over the surface of the water which is the attractive thing that they are providing by these developments.It’s time to break through the surface, both literally and figuratively and make people more aware of the fascinating things happening under the water, in an effort to encourage them to reconnect their coastal-urban living with the relevant urban ecological consequence of their lifestyles.

As a scuba diver and underwater filmmaker, I can tell you that there is a lot of life that goes on below the surface of the sea just off our coastlines. While on land, if you live in an urban environment such as that in Dubai or Abu-Dhabi, you need to drive some distance outside the city’s boundaries to come across any wildlife apart from birds, rodents and feral cats. Yet diving just a few minutes out from the beaches of these cities will reveal some of the richness of what is there in terms of the wildlife.

On a typical beach dive in Dubai we can see sting rays, groupers, butterfly fish and tens of other fish species; invertebrates such as sea urchins and sea cucumbers. We see more wildlife, in its natural habitat, per square meter than anywhere else this close to the city.

This work also tied in with another project that we had been working on, a project called Tawasul which is Arabic for “reach out”. Tawasul was founded by Ernst Vanderpoll, a PADI Course Director who had been diving and instructing in Dubai since the late nineties. Tawasul aims to engage young people and students in grass roots conservation and restoration ecology. It does this through a place-based education program that looks to address what Richard Louv termed a “nature deficit disorder” in his book “Last Child in the Woods”.

Tawasul students diving off the coast of the UAE

It makes more sense when in an urban landscapes such as those on the coast of the Gulf to think “Blue” rather than “Green” when thinking of nature so I guess the local version of Louv’s book should be titled “The Last Child in the Corals”. We educate students about the degradation that is being caused at their doorstep in the marine environment by overconsumption, bad waste management, coastal construction and pollution. We teach them to dive so that they can see these problems first hand, which creates a much deeper recognition of these issues and a stronger desire to address them than any amount of lecturing would ever achieve.

We also teach them how to monitor the marine environment by doing fish and reef surveys thereby taking them from awareness to taking practical steps towards sustainable action. They learn that plankton has been responsible for producing most of the oxygen on our planet and that practices such as shark-finning contribute to global climate change by killing off the ocean’s apex predator that, for millennia, have kept the population of plankton-eating species in check.

They learn that killing sharks is not just an issue of biological conservation of a species of fish, but a matter effecting the ecological balance of the planet’s climate.

A Whale Shark that was spotted during one of Tawasul's local learning journies

This is a picture of a whale shark that we saw just after coming out of the second dive of the day during one of the field trips to the east coast. The kids had just removed their diving gear, so they jumped straight back into the water to swim with the whale shark (that’s one of the Tawasul students in the top-left corner of the picture).

There is no amount of classroom tuition that can create the kind of attachment to nature and to conservation and restoration issues that an encounter with a magnificent creature such as this can. The experience transcended being educational, it was a spiritual experience for most of them. One of the children exclaimed that the spots on the whale shark’s skin looked like the fingerprints of God. Many of the children on that particular trip ended up blogging about that experience and led some of them to become some of the most ardent advocates of conservation and sustainability in their schools and neighborhoods.

A blog by a Tawasul student (click to read)

They also became advocates in their virtual communities. As part of the implementation of the program, we had set up an online social network to allow students to connect online in-between learning sessions and field trips. It is a platform for them to share their experiences and best practice. This led on to Tawasul starting a young environmental journalist program where the environmental correspondents of the local newspapers such as The National teach and mentor these budding journalists.

So, where is sustainability situated in the educational context of the region? There are some efforts – private sector ones such as Tawasul as well as public sector ones led by education authorities and ministries. But there is still much to be done.

We can’t teach the next generation the solutions for creating the sustainable urban ecologies of the future. We don’t have the answers because we haven’t experienced the future that they will inhabit. The children at school today are likely to see the world’s population exceed 9 billion in their lifetime. History has little to teach them about how to live in a world with so many people in it. They will face many challenges in creating urban living spaces for such massive populations with sustainable economies, food and water supplies, waste management, energy production, education and social services. My hope is that we are providing them with the ability to see the connectedness of everything and instill in them the hope, inquisitiveness, knowledge, passion and sensibility to create the right solutions.”

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Abundance Theory – conversation threads and questions.

How does 1+1 equal a million?

How do you unleash the power of many?

Is a focus on a single bottom line more effective than one a triple bottom line? It is simpler; but is it more effective?

Does a single bottom line mean forgoing measures, or merging them?

Must you look for a problem to solve? Or do you stumble on solving a problem?

What lessons of abundance can one learn from Nature?

How do you create a collaborative, agile, creative, efficient framework for organizations / entrepreneurs /  to operate within?

A thought provoking conversation with Ihsan Jawad; the second of many I hope to have to shed light on a needed dialogue on an alternative framework; barakability and abundance theory, Rizq and Risk, return and reward.

A new lexicon

  • Marketing => Cause Marketing
  • Business => Social Business
  • Information Technology => Inspiration Technology
  • Think Tanks => Do Tanks
  • Competition => Coopetition
  • Arab Women . An industry of social enterprise
  • Arab Youth . The case for place-based education