This year the U.S. State Department hosted the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) at Stanford University in Silicon Valley, the heart of U.S. entrepreneurship and investment. The GES kicked off of June 22nd and concluded on June 24th. The primary objective of GES was to showcase inspiring entrepreneurs from around the world and to foster opportunities for investment, partnership, and collaboration. GES also aimed to generate connections between American entrepreneurs and investors with international counterparts in order to form lasting relationships. One of the goals of GES was to highlight entrepreneurship as a means to address some of the world’s most burdensome issues. In fact, the first Summit was announced at President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo on “New Beginnings with the Muslim World.” TechWadi’s own Deena Shakir joined the Obama Administration after covering that speech as a journalist for the BBC in order to help put together the very first GES in Washington, D.C.
TechWadi was an active participant within the Summit. Two of our Board of Directors, Deena Shakir and Sharif El Badawi, participated as speakers–facilitating a workshop on women in technology and speaking about methods to unlock the Middle East’s economic potential through youth and technology. TechWadi team members, Nida Atshan and Tasneem Sabri also attended. Senior Program Manager, Nida Atshan was featured on Voice of America, where she spoke on some of the challenges of entrepreneurship and its importance in the Middle East and North Africa. Al Jazeera Arabic included a piece on TechWadi’s role in helping to facilitate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in MENA.
At TechWadi, our organization’s vision is very much aligned with that of GES. Indeed, the MENA region can stand to benefit greatly from entrepreneurship as a tool to promote stability and prosperity between and within the respective nations. Consider the youth bulge that exists in many areas of the developing world. President Obama himself posits that a significant solution to this issue rests in “‘the young people around the world needing to start new ventures and create jobs in the 21st century and help lift up entire populations.’” Tapping into this energy and vital source of human capital is key to growing the MENA ecosystem.
TechWadi Board Chair, Sharif El Badawi, specifically focused on this idea during GES. El Badawi participated in a panel directly discussing how to expose the Middle East’s economic potential through the youth that already make up a substantial portion of the market. Technology and programs that facilitate entrepreneurship lift more than those that are merely economically at a disadvantage, but also those who are economically oppressed. Women and minorities gain the opportunity to contribute and lead when programs empower them through both technology and mentorship. TechWadi Director, Deena Shakir, offered practical solutions to tackling obstacles in MENA. She presented within a training session at GES that highlighted why women are not just essential players in the ecosystem that infact, they build better companies, stronger investments and stronger communities.
The TechWadi team also partnered with MENA Consultants to host a GES speed networking event and iftar, at which Ms. Shakir delivered the keynote address. The speed networking event invited entrepreneurs from the MENA region to pitch their ideas to Silicon Valley investors and forge relationships that could lead to future collaborations. Speakers from the UAE Embassy, U.S. Department of State, and Bahrain Economic Development Agency, Tamkeen, all delivered remarks about entrepreneurship as a vital tool to dismantle stereotypes and improve the economic and social development of both the U.S. economy and those of countries in MENA.
A validation of the importance of TechWadi’s work was displayed during the panel moderated by President Obama. Mai Medhat, founder of Eventus and TechWadi member and mentee, was one of the entrepreneurs selected to be on a panel with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, Jean Bosco Nzeyimana, founder and CEO of Rwandan renewable energy firm Habona, and Mariana Costa Checa, founder and CEO of the Peruvian technology education social enterprise Laboratoria. Medhat serves as an inspiration to many entrepreneurs in the MENA region, particularly women. Her success and efforts go to show that the mentorship model provides the necessary tools for the right-minded individuals to succeed.