When Mahmoud Abu-Wardeh (zeedna.com) and Rama Chakaki (baraka.ae) asked the participants of the small panel discussion to separate a yellow sticky note and draw down what they think resembles them now, and on the right part, what they will be in the future, no one expected to have the same results. But most of the participants drew themselves (shape of a man or a point) that is lost between the currents not knowing what to choose, and then drew a cozy atmosphere surrounded with family and friends along with a decent job and the “fairy house” which each of them dreamed off. Mohammad explained that this is what he expected, eager people who have much to give but do not know what they really want to do. This was one important reason to conduct the 4SITE Forum in order to help young enthusiastic young people learn more about the chances and discover new ways to be more innovative.
Rama added that this can be perceived vice versa, and that we can look at our lives surrounded with everything we want, but still there is a drive to know what route to follow. This small session allowed the participants to talk about the “laws of attraction” and the need to have the proper tools to reach a state of stability. Those tools were shortened in a list to contain “experiences and maturity, tuition and education, and contempt”. It made the participants think more critically in the coming sessions of the 4SITE Forum where they began to form an idea of what business to pursue, the methods and the means of achieving it.
The “4SITE Forum: Investing in Sustainability, Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship” is an event organized by RootSpace during Global Entrepreneurship Week (from 16 to 22 November). The event included two days of panels and workshops that brought together investors, entrepreneurs, and students to “highlight and promote development towards an innovative, competitive, creative and thriving sustainable knowledge-based economy in the WANA (West Asia/North Africa) region”, as the conference booklet mentioned.
The event that took place in Bayt Al-Tabib, Beirut, and featured a series of ideas that have a social impact and are technologically innovative. The event was a result of months of preparation and collaboration between different organizations interested in promoting the significance of sustainable businesses that have social impact, especially those that are a result of entrepreneurial work.
The first day of the workshop included six different panel discussions in which different issues were addressed such as “Fostering an Innovation Ecosystem in Developing Countries”, “Freedom, Citizenship, and Transparency as Drivers of Innovation” and “The Power of Open Source in Publishing Innovation in Developing Countries”. The speakers talked about the regulations and their own experiences in their fields and regions and shared their insights.
4SITE shorts was an amazing opportunity in which speakers promoted their services and products that ranged from Youth Citizen Media, to a 3D inbox system (Wunbox). The Lego-like circuit board system equipped with magnets that allow them to connect in-line in order to have an electronic gadget in the end was a major hit. Ayah Bdeir, the founder of LittleBits.cc, talked about her innovative work. With a bachelor’s in CCE (Computer and Communications Engineering) from the American University of Beirut (AUB) and studies at the MIT Lab in Massachusetts, she had the idea from the daily work of teaching young students to use the electronic gadgets before it struck her to build Lego-like pieces suitable for children and amateurs to build up an electronic device using magnetic attraction between different pieces. The Zawya.com business portal was also a very interesting topic, along with theWikeez.com social entertainment website.
The second day featured seven more discussion panels that dealt with topics such as “The Role of Universities and Public Sector Support as Innovation Drivers” and “Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Investment for Social Impact”. The “Silicon Wadi” project examined the “Silicon Valley” concept in the US and Beirut Media City (similar to the Dubai Media City) project were featured presentations and some of the challenges and expectations were discussed with the public.
Joi Ito, the CEO of Creative Commons and the co-founder and board member of Digital Garage along with being on board of major non-profit organizations (such as Mozilla Foundation) gave an interesting speech about the future investment in the entrepreneurship field. He also asked the audience to share with him the positive and negative feedback about the platforms and the market in the WANA region in general, and in Lebanon in specific. Mr. Ito also spoke about the significance of being in a small economy because it will push you to be an entrepreneur and advance your target group and make you think internationally from the beginning.
Many organizations were presented in the hall of the first level of the conference with specific stands for Amideast (the American cultural center), Bayt.com(Middle East Job Site), and some Lebanese NGOs featured their work. Rabea Ataya from Bayt.com participated in the panel and workshop discussions, talking about the good and bad times of for business and offering assistance for the participants, along with the explanation of the objectives of running Bayt.com, its benefits and the social impact it has.
Sami Tueini, of Naharnet, considered the Forum as “extremely useful”, opening his mind to many aspects of innovative thinking. As for Marie Melki, a young Lebanese person coming from France only a few weeks earlier, the Forum gave her “hope” that there are work opportunities in the country, contrary to what she was told, that Lebanon is a “jobless area”.
This event has been the fruit of collaboration between different organizers and partners. Cisco, Bayt.com, and Maktoob were Cedar Sponsors for the Forum, with additional support from Aramex, Collabora, and Zawya.com, and YallaStartup. The media partners were: Jeeran, Syria Forward Magazine andHibr Lubnani, amongst others.
The Forum benefited from the strategic collaboration between the host RootSpace (Lebanese NGO that implements strategic projects that aim to promote sustainable social and economic development) and Baraka Group (located in UAE). Rama Chakaki said that Baraka was interested because the 4SITE Forum touches the core of what their company aims to promote, “investing in sustainable business that apply the 3P law (People, Profit and Planet), hence a project should have a social impact, make money, and preserve the environment.” Mahmoud Abou-Wardeh said that the reason why Zeedna.com (platform developed for building social networks) was interested in such a Forum is that the “region has great potential especially in the knowledge economy” and there are missing steps that should be taken to connect people with those potential opportunities.