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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:
“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:
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:
Questionnaire on why more females chose computer science in this region..
East & West, perceive computer science as masculine..
when asked why they got in:
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:
Alice Bonhomme-Biais is a software engineer working on crisis response at google.org based in NY.
Did Facebook create the Egypt revolution?
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:
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.” 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.”
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. Baraka.is, an online venture started by The Baraka Group, revolves around an incremental concept where, “Social entrepreneurship meets social networking.” 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.
What’s new in technology & media?
Social media is the new game in town. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry, you’re probably already using it. Facebook, youtube, twitter, myspace, peoplepress, blogger .. to name a few, are social media sites that you have come across, or use regularly.
What is social media?
Online social media, is a category of New Media. Wikipedia defines social media as information content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies that is intended to facilitate communications, influence and interaction with peers and with public audiences.
Do Arabic online social communities exist?
The region is witnessing an average online growth rate of 1100% between 2000 and 2008, the highest growth rate worldwide. While much of the online community in the region interacts in English, a sizable portion uses Arabic to interact on predominately English sites (ex. facebook users messaging in Arabic) and slightly fewer interact on exclusively Arabic sites (jeeran.com and kooora.com).1
How different is it from websites and web portals?
Although many sites are increasingly more dynamic, offering video and animations, syndicating content from other sources, and providing comment fields for visitors to leave information, the user experience remains largely a passive one. The site owner’s role changes from that of content generator, to a content moderator. Social community sites put the user in the driver’s seat; the user generates content.
How is it evolving?
Online social communities began with a general purpose; a platform for users to connect to others and share their content. From photo sharing, to slide sharing, and thought sharing (blogging). As sites and their users matured, the community started segmenting, moving towards specialized micro-communities with focused content. From mega portals, to focused content specific portals, from blogs, to micro-blogs.
Is it used for business?
As social media segmentation grew, it caught the eye of marketing professionals in mainstream industries. The ability to dialogue with customers, and to advertise to very focused target markets was highly attractive. Established mainstream industries began using social communities to engage their stakeholders. Businesses such as Dell changed their online presense from a content portal driven by internal product development and marketing departments to a community driven site where customers drive the Dell product development lifecycle.
Is it for everybody?
While there are no age limits, the largest segment from this region has been youth and young professionals (ages 13 to 30), a generation that grew up on technology and is well versed in using media gadgets. This segment of the population is comfortable with sharing information publicly, and is more likely to make purchasing decisions based on peer recommendations through viral marketing. Parents, educators and employers are struggling to keep up with their children, students and employees who are spending 16 – 20 hours a week online. Whether you are head of household, school, university or place of work, chances are your young community members are already using social media.
Should you join?
Adoption is the only option! and the sooner you join the better, especially if you have a child, a student or an employee hooked on social media. Join the online social community and start building your knowledge of this virtual reality. There are many highly useful applications of social media. The more you know about these applications, the better you are able to guide and influence the use of social media in your immediate community.
1. Alexa.com, http://www.internetworldstats.com
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