Adonis Diaries

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Is Beirut promised to become a Tech Hub?

As my flight out of Beirut reached cruising altitude, and the seat buckle lights flickered off, I leant back in my chair and wondered if I had left the country just in time.

Admittedly, it wasn’t quite an ‘Argo-esue’ escape from another Middle Eastern country: labelling a controversial government minister on a conference stage as an “idiot” maybe wasn’t the wisest of moves. Beirut is not a town known for its placid history, after all.

My comment had made the front page of the Beirut Daily Star the next day. Perhaps it was just as well that I left the next day.

Beirut’s Bright Future As A Tech Hub For MENA, If Its Politicians Will Allow It

But the trip was worth it. Beirut is rapidly shaping up to be a powerhouse for startups in the Middle East.

It has many of the key elements:

1. a highly entrepreneurial culture;

2.  incubators and accelerators;

3. venture capital;

4. some gradually favourable government policy and access to growth funding.

The exits and the ‘PayPal mafias’ may be a ways off but its a beginning. In part because it is the most liberal state in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa)region, and has a western-style banking system bequeathed to it by the French a long time ago.

Lebanon is uniquely poised to generate startups which aim both at the Arab world and the wider world at large.

Last week a new $71 million MENA-focused VC fund was announced by Leap Ventures, based out of Beirut.

And the Lebanon Central Bank “Circular 331” initiative promises to put up to $400 million into the local startup economy.

In addition, this year, the UK government is supporting a scheme to bring Lebanese startups to the UK and to the attention of London-based investors.

Late last year the country saw the launch of its very own Disrupt-style startup-focused conference.

Banque du Liban Accelerate wasn’t the first conference about technology in Lebanon, but it was the first to focus exclusively on startups, and specifically, the Beirut tech startup ecosystem.

It therefore benefitted from that far more laser-like focus, and even managed to attract over 50 international speakers from over 20 countries and 1,000 attendees (Video of the event here). Given that a civil war in Syria is raging on the border, this was no mean feat.

Some parts of Beirut are awash with Syrian refugees, and yet delegates were treated to a startup conference close to any other they might encounter in the US or Europe.

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 16.32.46

One of the attractions of the tech scene in Beirut is the city itself. The city’s restaurants, bars and nightclubs, equal anything you might find in San Francisco, New York or London.

The safe areas of Beirut are well documented and patrolled by armed soldiers. Personally, I have never felt in danger in Beirut.

The conference was also a leap of faith. Banque du Liban Governor Riad Salameh green-lit the sizeable event, while director Marianne Hoayek put the project into gear. She in turn brought in Samer Karam, who was previously involved in Beirut’s first attempt to create a Valley-style accelerator.

The conference was also attended by some heavy hitters from the financial and political world including Marianne Hoayek, Director of the Executive Office at Banque du Liban, Riad Salameh, Governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon, Francois Bassil, Chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, Mohamed Choucair, Chairman of the Federation of the Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Lebanon, and Tom Fletcher, Ambassador of the United Kingdom in Lebanon.

But one heavy hitter that didn’t attend was Abdel Menhem Youssef. And perhaps it’s best that he stayed away. Let me explain.

Unfortunately, it’s his policies which stand in the way of Beirut motoring ahead.

The current average Internet speed in Lebanon is 3.11 Mbps, far lower than the Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates, which enjoys an average 27.9 Mbps.

It’s been estimated that doubling Lebanon’s bandwidth could improve GDP by 0.6 percent. That’s a healthy amount for an emerging market economy which currently has a war on its doorstep and a refugee crisis.

To improve the speed, in 2011 the country was connected to the India-Middle East-Western Europe (IMEWE) maritime cable. But while an improvement was felt., Lebanon still sits at 177th out of 200 countries on the Ookla list for Internet speed.

The reasons for this are simple. It’s entirely due to local politics.

Youssef, the head of the public-private organisation (OGERO, set up by the late Rafik Hariri) has blocked the utilisation and distribution of the IMEWE and other cables that have been hooked up.

As of today, less than 10% of the available capacity of the already operational Internet cables is made available to the market. It’s scandal which ought to have those at the highest levels of government fuming with anger.

Even former Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui estimates it would take only a year to organise fibre to the Home to every Lebanese citizen. If they could just connect up the IMEWE.

The finger has therefore been pointed at Ogero, run by Youssef.

The company is responsible for distributing the boosted Internet capacity enjoyed from the IMEWE to different Internet service providers as well as building the network. It also sells internet access direct to consumers. But, in a bizarre twist, Ogero’s chairman is not only the state regulator of the telecommunication industry, but also in charge of Ogero itself.

So the body charged with widen gin broadband internet, is directly hindering the development of Lebanon’s internet economy and ultimately the development of the country.

Indeed, Marwan Kheireddine, the chairman and general manager of Al-Mawarid Bank, has been quoted as saying that there is a conflict of interest within the Telecommunications Ministry, given that the general director is also the chairman of Ogero. “That doesn’t work. It is designed to fail,” he recently told The Beirut Daily Star.

Certainly the implication is that Youssef is either incompetent (hence my ‘idiot’ remark) or worse.

All this, despite a law drafted in 2001 which recommended that Lebanon fully privatize its telecoms industry.

But this never happened. It never happened because the government at the time completely destroyed the telecom infrastructure in the hope of privatising it cheaply to cronies, and then reaping the benefits a couple of years down the line.

For example, DSL deployment in Lebanon was actively stalled until 2006 in the hope that this privatisation would occur. This would partly explain why Ogero behaves in the way it does.

NEW INITIATIVES

However, there is light on the horizon for Lebanon’s emergent tech ecosystem.

The current UK Ambassador to Lebanon and former Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the Prime Minister, Tom Fletcher, is powering a new initiative – a UK Lebanon “Tech Hub” would be formed to bridge the startup communities between Lebanon and the UK.

The private sector initiative begins this year, with the support of Lebanon’s Central Bank. As the ambassador says, the idea is to bring “British expertise and investment and connect them with Lebanon startups.”

But time is a-wasting. Lebanese startups need access to regional and international markets, as their success depended largely on their ability to sell products and services abroad.

In that respect their fate matches many other smaller Middle Eastern countries. On Lebanon’s side however is it’s relatively liberal culture, it’s multi-language society and its reputation as a cultural engine of the Middle East.

INVESTORS

Lebanon’s investment scene remains small, but shows promise.

So far 3 venture capital firms have established funds that have raised decent amounts of money. Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP), Berytech Fund and LEAP Ventures have each raised at least $50 million.

MEVP has $75 Million in capital and is growing.

So far it’s invested mainly in Lebanon-based startups, but also in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt.

One of the first VC firm across the Arab World, it’s been investing since 2010, putting between $200,000 up to $5M per startup. In addition, Wamda Capital (recently spun out of a company best known as a media site, Wamda Platform) has also built a $55m fund. A newer player is Y Venture Partners (YVP), a new, early stage investment and advisory firm created by brothers Abdallah and Ghaith Yafi, who founded Lebanese ecommerce site ScoopCity as well as Canadian ecommerce site TheVolts.

Henri Asseily (above), managing partner at Leap Ventures, a growth fund, is amongst the biggest supporters of the Lebanon tech scene and a former founder of Shopzilla which was sold for $500m. (He also happens to be a cousin of Alexander Asseily the co-founder of Jawbone).

And these investors have been boosted by Circular No. 331. This announcement was issued by Lebaon’s Central Bank in August 2013, and it encourages commercial banks to invest in startups.

The Central Bank now guarantees up to 75% of the value of a commercial bank’s investments into a startup. That move opened up a potential of $400 million that could be invested into venture capital funds or directly into startups. Over 15 Lebanese banks have already taken part in the scheme.

One of the first startups to benefit from this scheme is Presella, founded by Walid Singer and Louay Al Kadri, which is aiming to become the “Eventbrite for the Middle East”. Presella has so far raised in the region of $400,000 and expanded out of Lebanon into Dubai, and is rapidly growing its user-based across the Middle East.

Angel investors are thin on the ground, but are gradually being herded by Beirut Angels (an initiative by Samer Karam and Ex-Minister of Telecom Nicolas Sehnaoui).

In addition there are two large organisations of the considerable Lebanese diaspora in the US who are starting to impact the eco-system.

There is Lebnet (based in the Bay Area). And then there Daher Capital, a Lebanon-based family office that only invests in the US market and has had a few successful exits and IPOs.

There’s also LISA (the brainchild of Mark Haidar) and TheList (Lebanese entrepreneurs and investors network).

Other players include Hala Fadel, chair of the MIT EF Arab, also angel investor; Fadi Ghandour, Founder of Aramex and chair of wamda Capital, also angel investor.

On the debt side, Lebanon is home to more than 50 retail banks with $140 Billion US (three times its GDP) in deposits.

The reputation of Beirut being the Switzerland of the Middle East is well-earned. These banks are fueling debt financing to tech companies through a subsidised government loan program named Kafalat – a very innovative public sector initiative. Circular 331 has of course taken that up a notch by encouraging venture financing.

CLUSTERS

As well as being spaced around the city, Beirut’s tech clusters include the “Beirut Digital District”.

This is not state sponsored, but rather is afforded benefits like cheaper internet connectivity, and some favourable legislation around company formation. Unfortunately, most of these are not operational as the politicians that supported the creation of the BDD are now no longer in power. In addition the rental prices remain too high for the average startup.

But office space is far cheaper in Beirut than in Dubai, where sales, marketing and business development offices are often put.

TALENT

Lebanon has one of the best educational sectors (and engineers) in the Arab World. Beirut has more than 18 universities/tech campuses. It is places like this which are fuelling the rise of the startup ecosystem.

ENTREPRENEURS

Lebanon is also producing a number of successful entrepreneurs.

Force of nature entrepreneur Hind Hobeika created the Instabeat health tracking hardware and app for swimmers which was a smash hit on Kickstarter.

Elie Habib is the founder of Anghami — the first to start a music streaming platform in the MENA region which now has over 11 million users.

Paul Salameh created Pou, a game making millions on the app store.

Ayah Bdeir founded LittleBits, an award-winning library of Electronics dubbed “LEGOs for the iPad generation.”

Karim Safiedine founded Cinemoz, which is aiming to become the Hulu for the Middle East.

And Lebanon is also sending entrepreneurs to the Valley.

Elie Khoury founded Woopra, but has since relocated to San Francisco.

As has Paul Saber who founded Etobb, a Q&A platform to allow doctors to meet patients virtually in the MENA region. Then there is Roadie, the automatic guitar tuner and app featured on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt New York last year, and created by Bassam Jalgha and Hassane Slaibi.

NEW BLOOD

Beirut is also producing new startups at a lively rate. These include Ki an enterprise mobile app that eliminates the need for usernames and passwords.

Zoomaal is also quickly becoming the Arab region’s main-kickstarter-style startup. Sohati, a content website and interaction platform providing health information and services to patients across the Arab world

Feedeed, a marketplace for services that give talented people the opportunity to transform their skills & services into a viable business.

And Saily a second-hand local marketplace. There is even an app for real-time traffic conditions, not unlike Waze, called Tari’ak.

OTHER PLAYERS

The wider ecosystem is also buzzing with accelerators and events.

These include Co-Working 961 (Co-Working); Startup Bootcamp (Pre-Accelerator bootcamp); Startup Megaphone (International promoter of Lebanon startups); SETT (a think tank based out of Beirut that is working on a 20 year plan for Lebanon’s startup ecosystem); Speed Lebanon (a community accelerator); LFE (NGO); and ArabNet (a large regional digital and tech conference).

There’s also the Bader Young Entrepreneurs Program run by Fadi Bizri. And Altcity, the co-working and startup hub started by David Munir Nabti has also made waves as an enthusiastic supporter of the scene.

Lebanon is also host to many startup events.

These include BeryTech’s YallaStartup Weekend; Bader’s Networking 961 event; and the MixNMentor events put on by Wamda Platform, which also has an accelerator, combined with consulting and research arms). The MIT Enterprise Forum also organises a huge event for their award ceremony.

BUILDING BLOCKS

So the building blocks are all there. Beirut is using its culture of freedom, its diversity, its low-cost high fun living standards and its location to its advantage in the Arab region.

Hopefully its politicians will begin to realise that its emerging Internet startups need and require decent internet access. (And, that I’ll sail through immigration next time).

Patsy Z shared this link on FB

“Beirut is rapidly shaping up to be a powerhouse for startups in the Middle East. It has many of the key elements: a highly entrepreneurial culture; incubators and accelerators; venture capital; some gradually favourable government policy and access to growth funding.”

Beirut is rapidly shaping up to be a powerhouse for startups in the Middle East.
tcrn.ch

Replies and Responses to TEDxBeirut “Limitation to inspiration” slogan

Three weeks ago, I sent a link to ten speakers at TEDxBeirut, asking for their feedback https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/mostly-a-hoax-from-limitation-to-inspiration-slogan-of-tedxbeirut/.  The first week I received a single reply.  Currently, I have got three more responses.

As promised, I’ll publish the reactions. If you read also the link in the note, you might realize that the late responses were mostly in reaction to the second reactive post “Culture of Contempt...” https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/culture-of-contempt-misplaced-comprehension-of-personal-failure/

(note: I slightly edited responses to fit my style in writing, words in parentheses are mine)

The first to respond promptly was speaker at TEDxBeirut, Ali Jaber. He replied by email: “I very much enjoyed your critical piece. Such critical thinking is required in our Arab World, so we can move ahead. Two thoughts I would like to share with you.

1.  The most oppressive of limitations for the Lebanese expatriates is to realize (achieve) what they aspire to (becoming) abroad, and not in their own country.

2.  Collaboration, listening and turning to others for support, — whether they know you or not — is very important in the creative and liberal process. Creating a collaborative environment around the activities that you endeavor in the land of big egos, increased individualism and egotistical attitudes, is the road less traveled.”

I replied that mankind intelligence evolved because they managed to comprehend the great advantages in trading goods, expertise, and culture…Most of ancient wars were fundamentally meant to “connect by force”, to break barriers: The looting part was merely a catalyst…

Hala Fadel responded with a message on Facebook: “Adonis, thank you for your email via facebook. My email address is halarfadel@gmail.com for future communication. And yes, I feel that I totally fit the slogan: If you listen to my talk, the main point of my story is that I realized we need the right environment to create entrepreneurs. So the limitation is that there was no such environment in the Arab region and that many institutions including the one I started, the MIT Arab Business plan competition, contributed to creating the right environment and now inspires thousands of Arabs to create companies in their region.

I think most of what you picked about me is from my bio, which on purpose does not deliver the message of the TED talk. I feel, from being in contact with many entrepreneurs in this region, every day we have helped them go beyond their limitations and go beyond their aspirations. One of them actually is an Egyptian handicapped person who started a call center in Egypt for handicapped people and for profit.

So yes, you can achieve success whatever challenge you face in life, provided that you are “put in the right environment and you get the viral energy“, which was the message of my talk. I am available to discuss this further if you want, but try to get positive energy from somewhere before, and if you don’t no problem, I have plenty of that and it is contagious! Hala”

My reply to Hala: “you irradiated positive energy: that is why we flock at TEDx events. Journalist Samir Attalah published an article in Al Nahar describing how a blind US citizen of Lebanese origin became a judge…thanks to the proper environment…Read again the article and you might discover that I was not stealing any of your energy…Good work Hala…”

Najat Rizk sent this message on Facebook: “Hi Adonis, please try sending it again: My inbox was full and was out of the country in Benghazi completely disconnected. My email is najat.r@firehorse.me. Thx. I just read your article. I would like to add one comment.  People in modern age are divided in two categories: digital native and digital immigrants. So between generation X and generation Y there’s a big difference.

In Lebanon, the emphasis on the difference between the two is huge. it’s not an excuse to lack of respect but just food for thoughts.”

My reply to Najat: “Thanks for the reply. My article is in my blog adonis49.wordpress.com.  Can you develop further on the two categories of digital people? It might be a good topic for an essay…send reply to adonisbouh@gmail.com”

I am under the impression that war zones attract Najat like magnets. Najat is set for dispaching a more developed answer, and I will glad to re-edit this post, or better, write a special post on this “digital categories”.

Ziad Abi Chaker responded by email: “Actually, your first article inspired a long article/response on my part..but it is still under works. I hope you are not in hurry, coz I like to take my time in such issues and “ferment” them in my mind before I engage in a discussion.  I loved the way you challenged me … but I have recently gotten romantically engaged with someone, so I beg for your understanding that she has priority … Cheers my man…”

I replied that I understand his priority: Pinpoint your strongest passions and go all the way.

I am under the impression that falling in love erase promises of lesser urgency, for long duration.

Note 1: I realized that I should check my messages on Facebook more frequently: My apology for late replies. This habit will change.

Note 2:  If you read this link, you might find out the reasons of the late feedback https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/culture-of-contempt-misplaced-comprehension-of-personal-failure/

Session 3 of TEDxBeirut: Any follow-up session to wrap it up?

Note: You may read detailed info on 8 speakers on this post https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/mostly-a-hoax-from-limitation-to-inspiration-slogan-of-tedxbeirut/

You would assume that the third session, after lunch and no siesta, is usually doomed to be more on the dosing side, regardless of how inspirational a speaker is.  Sort of the speaker must learn clowning to attracting attention first… The auditorium was still packed and buzzing.

Najat Rizk spoke at 2:50.  (Read link for further details) The story is how Najat turned from “Bent el Ashrafyye” (Christian East Beirut) to an open-minded person and investigated the Moslem Shia of Dahieh, headquarter of Hezbollah. She entered the lion’s den and had the guts to visit all regions and cultures by breaking through stereotypes and delving into the other side fo the fence.


Halim Madi took the stage at 3 pm. Halim examines the internet to feel what are the needs and wants of the world community and discover trends.  We are into web 3.0 where you start searching internet for medical information before you visit a physician.  We have more confidence in the internet “intelligence pieces” and what it disseminate in knowledge than textbook materials…Halim explained the process of how the Flying Spaghetti Monster God got so popular.  A single  person has now the power to trigger changes.

Hala Fadel spoke at 3:13.  (Read link for further details).  In order to have a successful enterprise, she commended: “Work like a slave, lead like a king, and create like a god”.

Andrew Bossone appeared at 3:30.  He said that a wolf trust his companion in the group, and thus, he has no fear, and can howl to the moon as long and as hard he wishes.  He participated with the Egyptian mass upheaval on Jan. 23 in Tahrir Square.  Andrew gave the butterfly example for drastic transformation: At its second stage before turning to a butterfly, it just dangle from a branch and is an easy prey to all kinds of danger.

Andrew likes to predispose friends to noticing changes in their life.  For example, he tells a person: “Expect to see a butterfly soon”.  Obviously, butterflies are everywhere, but we fail to see them, unless we are forwarned to expect their existence soon in our life… 

Hassan Aziz spoke at 3:43.  Let us not take shadows for granted: We used to be fascinated by shadows in our early years.  I failed to note down this speech: I was outside for an urgent need.

Arne Dietrich expounded on the theory that what people claim as “higher level consciousness” is in fact a far reduced level of consciousness.  In a transcendental phase, the brain fails to compute properly and differentiate your body from the environment.  This state of merging with the surrounding and becoming ONE with the universe is a state of brain failure. The world is happening in your own mind, an onion of different layers of consciousness..

Ziad AbiChaker spoke at 4:08.  (Read link for details). He shared his enthusiastic hate-love story with waste and garbage. That guy is the recycling monster in Lebanon, and I’m not quite done with him. Stay tuned for updates from his side as well..

The event practically was wrapped up at 4:23.  Tania Saleh was slotted to sing, but she could not deliver at last-minute invitation.

William Choukeir and Patricia Zoghaib took the stage and introduced the volunteers, and the speakers joined to a round of applause.  Huge thanks and appreciation to TEDxBeirut team from a grateful audience to this monster organization that required 9 months in preparation.

I met with speaker Ziad AbiChaker and I learned that the Hariri clan, monopolizing the waste disposal contracts in the last 20 years, has tried to buy him out for $5 million. I also learned that, in order to getting rid of small insects and flies in the composted waste, all you have to do is using the water of diluted Mexican hot pepper…

We were supposed to have cocktail drinks to celebrate the big event: It never happened!

All TED talks will be posted online!

Note 1: In the first session, TEDx displayed the speech of Kankwamba in one of TED events.  This African young guy from a remote and poor village put together a functional windmill from whatever material he could gather around the village.  This installation generated enough electricity to transfer water, and for the neighbors to recharge their cellular phone…I guess words of cell calls led Kankwamba to being selected a TED speaker.  Sort of TED company needed to diversify the range of limitations and exotism…? Most probably, TEDxBeirut realized that the slogan “From Limitation…” was to be desired and speakers’ limitations were lacking in the selection process. Consequently, TEDxBeirut was implicitly extending apology? 

Note 2: Miscellaneous posted on Sept. 25, underTEDxBeirut was yesterday and it was amazing

(With slight editing to abridge the post) “In the days leading to the event, I had wondered if the event would be worth an entire day. I walked into the theater thinking that I was one of the first to walk in after all the ushers were saying that people should start going in. Boy was I wrong!  The theater was packed up and I barely found a place in the first session (in later sessions I opted for a seat on the stairs for it felt more natural). 685 people were sitting there waiting for the event.

The stage looked amazing: Simply decoration of various luminescent boxes (in the form of file boxes?) in an elegant testimonial to what was about to begin. Our host Sara was well rehearsed and so were all of our speakers.  The talks alone were not the cause for success. The success came from the well-timed breaks, allowing people to mingle and to bring forth discussions, to linger in conversation, as speaker Mahomoud Natout had so hoped.

And to my surprise and happiness those discussions during the breaks were not about people selling their products or their companies, it was about knowing other individuals in such a short span.  But the greatest testimonial for the event’s spirit and success came from the audience.

During the sessions, you would be hard pressed to hear side conversations taking place. People were listening, and dare I say reflecting. More importantly, after lunch, I came back to a theater that was still packed. You might not grasp the significance of this immediately, but in Lebanon (or elsewhere) I have yet to see a little less than 700 people stay the whole day for conference.

Yes, yesterday’s TEDxBeirut event was well worth the day and much more. It was worth it thanks to the hard work invested by the TEDxBeirut team who volunteered to make such a great event, and to the speakers who volunteered their stories. To both of you a great thank you for the wonderful even you did. As for me, I think speaker ‘Arne Dietrich’ put it best when he said that “It was the most fun he had in a single day in Beirut”. Do visite TEDxBeirut“.

Mostly a Hoax: “From Limitation to Inspiration” slogan of TEDxBeirut

The slogan or motto of TEDxBeirut was “From Limitation to Inspiration”.  At first, this slogan didn’t inspire me much, in the sense I felt I have read that slogan before, or that is essentially the theme of TED in the first place.  When you read that slogan what comes first in your mind? What does it mean to you?

I interpreted the motto as: “Your are an individual with huge limitations (physical, mental, financial, connections, unstable family, poor country with no institutions, a disintegrating social structure with no community cohesion and support…) and yet, you managed to struggle and be a “success story” that can be “inspirational” and benefit society and people connected to you…”

You may send me the alternative interpretations to inspire me further, but my article will be based on my interpretation of the slogan.  From the 19 speakers, I could barely isolate four who actually fit my understanding of the slogan, and will demonstrate my case shortly.

I am convinced that the slogan was meant to catalyze the basic two organizers of this huge undertaking, and to inspire the other members and support network to surmount the difficult obstacles and limitations in Lebanon for coordinating the event.  William Choukeir and Patricia Zoghaib overcame many real limitations and inspired thousands for a “big cultural and reflecting events, which connect engaged youth and set them to communicating pragmatically, can take place in Lebanon!”

My impression is that the organizers failed to take advantage of opportunities in order to define what is “limitation” and the wide range of limitations in the Lebanese society, and gather categories and define what could be “inspirational”.  If they invested the time to meeting individually all who submitted a one-minute video and had a talk with potential candidate, they would have been far more inspired and would have an excellent background to establishing meaningful criteria for the selection process.

Mind you that the first six months were kind of trial and error journey, and meeting the potential candidate would have aided in what “From Limitation to Inspiration” means to them, instead of the common biased understanding that “success means establishing an enterprise that generates profit or acceding to a CEO position her and there…”

For example, is it impossible to find handicapped or autistic people who could be considered “success stories”?  Should all speakers be very much ambulatory and looking “presentable” so that the event doesn’t give the impression of a gathering of “retarded” Lebanese?

For this article, I will selected sample speakers from each of the three sessions who do not fit the slogan, and the speakers who do fit.  It is very likely that I will re-edit this post and be as exhaustive as possible to proving my case.

Group one: Speakers who do not fit the “limitation” criterion.

Speaker Ali Jaber was born in Lebanon in 1961 (he looks much older). Ali was correspondent of New York Times, chief correspondent for the German Press Agency (DPA), founded and managed Future TV and Zen TV. In 2004, Ali  was hired as consultant to head Dubai Media Incorporated…He is currently General Director of the MBC Group TV.  He founded the Mohammad Bin Rashed  School for communication at the American Univ. in Dubai and working on a PhD degree at Cambridge Univ. on Arab satellite TV… What was the story of Ali at the TEDxBeirut?  Ali Jaber wanted to link the University via internet to other universities (ultimately, hooking with 148 university in the US). Selim Edde told Ali to shoot for 100 Mbite.  Ali made a few phone calls to higher-ups in Dubai government and got the funding and facilitation…70% of the students receive scholarships…

What kinds of limitations did Ali Jaber had to surmount? He had the connections, the money, the position…Does this case applies to the slogan? Good work Ali Jaber: Inspirational talk.

Speaker Hala Fadel is chair of MIT Entreprise Forum of the Pan-Arab region.  She has been organizing the MIT Business Competition for the last 5 years: Over 3,000 participate from 17 Arab States.  Hala manages $13 billion at Comgest…She is married with 3 children. What’s the story?

Hala was 21 and happily married. One evening, her husband (currently a deputy in the Parliament) asked her: “Hala, are you happy”.  That set Hala into deciding to continue her education and on the path of success.  What kinds of limitations Hala was confronted to?  She had the support, the money, the brain… Does Hala fit the slogan?  Great job Hala: I enjoyed your speech.

Speaker Ziad Abi Chaker is CEO of Cedar Environmental.  The enterprise specializes in building Municipal Recycling Facilities on the communal level, contrasting with central Mega recycling plants. The three-way deal is for banks to extend soft loan to build the local plant, and the municipality to paying only the services of recycling/composting in monthly installments, not exceeding $5 per household per month.  Ziad told me that the Hariri clan, having monopoly of the wast disposal for the last 20 years, offered him $5 million to get out-of-the-way… Ziad studied industrial engineering at Rutgers Univ. (New Jersey).  How limiting was Ziad situation?  He has the brain, the energy, the family support (rich and into import business…) and the connection…Does Ziad fit into the slogan?  Cudo Ziad: Great idea, great project and highly sustainable, and wonderful presentation.

Speaker Arne Dietrich teaches psychology at the American Univ. of Beirut.  He surfs the “stream of consciousness” and his favorite topics are daydreaming and the “transient hypofrontality” induced state, generated by swimming, biking, and hiking for miles on end… What’s the story?  His “objective” research on what is called “higher level of consciousness” experienced by yogi and … are in fact in the lowest level of consciousness of our primitive brain…

What were limiting Arne? Maybe the case of Arne is a moot one: the biography stated that he was diagnosed with incurable curiosity and spent time in an “educational” institution…and what of going globe-trotting for years?  If Arne was from my hometown, he would be elected “Town certified idiot“. If Arne was from my hometown, I would rank him top in “limitations” among the speakers who managed to “inspire” against all odds! Informative talk, and “inspirational to me”, though many were dozing after lunch…

Group 2: Speakers who fit both the limitation and inspiration criteria:

Katia Saleh is founder of Batoota Films and producer of “Shankaboot”, winner of the 2011 International Emmy Award… Katia produced and directed award-winning documentaries “Beirut: All Flight Cancelled” (2006), “Iraq: Womens’s Stories” (2006), “Return to Basra” (2003), “Inside Saddam’s Iraq” (2003), the documentary “Ashura: Blood and Beauty” (2005)…

What’s the story?  Katia is from Kfarshouba, Lebanon,(on the border with Israel) and the town of her mother is Nabatieh.  She worked as usher in London while pursuing her study. A British asked her where she was from. He had no idea where Palestine was and she said: “Jesus is my neighbor”.  When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, an Israeli soldier asked her mother for her ID papers and she replied: “It is up to you to show me your papers”.  This incident was very inspiring to Katia. She received many threats on YouTube.  Any limiting handicaps with Katia? What about chasing danger for shooting documentaries that are worth recounting?

Speaker Yorgui Teyrouz is currently a pharmacy student at Lebanese American Univ. He is founder of “Donner Sang Compter” (Give blood selflessly).  The on-line group on Facebook saved 12,000 lives since 2007.  What’s the story? Yorgui was very young, 19?, when he overrun and killed someone in a car accident.  He was sentenced in Roumieh prison, one of the worst overcrowded prisons in Lebanon.  How a young man surmounted the indignity and humiliation of being incarcerated, and went ahead to coming to the rescue of people in need of blood? Very inspirational.

Najat Rizk is CEO of Firehorse Films and was acclaimed the second most successful CEO in Lebanon by Harvard Univ. Firehorse tagline “Making Television Worth Watching” is a commitment to producing knowledge-base and innovative media that engages audience.  Samples of her documentaries are “The Great Trade-off” on prisoners swapping between Hezbollah and Israel; “From Herat to Baghdad” “The living martyr: Hezbollah unveiled”…

What’s the story.  Najat lived in isolated Ashrafieh section of East Beirut during the civil war; her mother is from the town of Ghosta in Kesruwan.  She decided to make a documentary on Hezbollah.  Najat was so persistent that she got an interview with media director of Hezbollah.  She ended up living an entire year in Dahieh and changing her guard-robe…and was finally adopted as one of them. And her journey started filming the ceremony of Ashoura, going to Jordan and filming a Qaeda base in Salt, meeting the Dalai Lama

Just this guts to taking vile myths by the horns and taking the plunge; it is inspiration enough to breaking taboos instituted by ignorant communities…

Speaker Joanna Choukeir Hojeili is doing her PhD at the University of the Arts London.  She is exploring “how communication design methods and interventions” can contribute to social integration. She is using four design methods. For example, “Exploration” method is an innovative cultural probes toolkit.  “Connection” refers to a new perspective in networking method. “Expression Corner” is designed as a diary room for virtual interviews.  “Imagination Clinic” is intended as co-creation workshop.

The four methods aim to inform the development of communication design interventions for social integration among youth from different social groups and communities in Lebanon. Lebanon is a society heavily segregated along religious, political, geographic, linguistic, and cultural lines. The design package is transferable across other socially segregated communities worldwide.  What’s the story?

Charbel (18 year-old) from the district of Bshare has never visited south Lebanon, and barely stepped out of his restricted district.  Sahar (19 year-old) from Tyr didn’t visit much of tiny Lebanon.  Charbel and Sahar are curious to meet other youth of different religious, cultural, and geographical locations.  Many are plain apathetic in mixing with other people.

On October 1st, the first pilot workshop “Imagination Studio” will be held, inviting 25 of those who participated in the virtual interview so that they agree on a practical program that they will implement as a group.  This pilot workshop is sort of co-creation process: Every member will combine “what he knows” in expertise.  Outside experts will participate to put in shape a feasible program for application.

Joanna got a job pretty quickly: She was first of her class.  Two years later, Joanna realized there was no prospects for fulfilling her life dreams.  Short on money, she applied relentlessly to different overseas universities for scholarship.  Finally, she set her target on University of the Arts London and took the dive, working in London on several jobs and continuing her higher education.

Group 3: Speakers who do not fit the “inspiration” criterion.  For example, they failed to “inspire me” in any shape or form. I will refrain from expanding on this group, at least, not in this post.

Let’s consider a few limitations to inspiration in this modern society.  Do you think not being able to own a computer a serious limitation? How about not getting connected to the internet? What if you cannot afford the expenses of a cellular phone? You have no transportation means, and you have got to walk 2 miles to the nearest library to getting connected to internet in order to publish, rain or shine, hot or cold, and the library has no English books and you have got to translate…

If within 4 years you managed to publish 2,400 articles on wordpress.com in 50 categories…On a scale of one to 10 (highest inspirational case study), how would you rate inspiration within the above limitations? Does the extra piece of intelligence that the person is over 60 years make a difference?  How about this person does not enjoy any family or community support, like someone exhibiting self-autonomous behavior, and is starting to be viewed as one of the idiots of the town with “mild autistic” syndrome?

I say: “What has been done and properly executed is the best at the moment.”  I suggest the next program will have the same slogan to demonstrate the versatility of this powerful slogan.

Note: The sketch or cartoon is from David Habchi who covered the TEDxBeirut conference


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

July 2021
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