When I arrived in Kuwait and settled into a chair at the Nuqat Creative Conference last month, the young man next to me immediately turned, introduced himself, and exclaimed, “it’s an honour to meet you!” I glanced down at his event program to see that he was in the midst of reading my biography page when I approached. Faisal, a third year computer science student, spoke with a warmth and enthusiasm that I would soon realize permeated the entire Nuqat event, making it one of the more outstanding encounters with the creative community that I’ve ever had in the Arab world.
Now in its fourth year, the 2013 Nuqat Creative Conference brought together a multidisciplinary group of product designers, entrepreneurs, graffiti artists, industrial designers, and musicians to collaborate on the theme of ‘Executing Culture Shock’.
The theme calls for Arab creatives and entrepreneurs to move forward proactively in a time of dramatic change throughout the region. “If we are to question and break conventional norms, there [needs] to be some form of shock. Creativity and cooperation are mediums [we need] to harness to create a better future,” explained Hussa Al Humaidhi, one of Nuqat’s founding team members.
One way participants embraced the ‘Executing Culture Shock’ norm was by incorporating innovative new technologies into their work. These technologies have the ability to challenge the way we respond to our environments.
Massoud Hassani, who grew up in Kabul, designed and hand built a wind-powered device that moves elegantly across the terrain, tripping landmines. One of the workshops at Nuqat, meanwhile, featured 3D printers that participants used to design prototype products. The 3D printer represents a mind-boggling disruption to the conventional way we produce and create things, and the danger and promise of this technology came through poignantly in the workshop.
Alaa Yousef, a Saudi entrepreneur and founder of Creative Culture Catalyst, or C3, uses satire and humor to address political and cultural issues. In his presentation, he screened the group’s viral video ‘No Woman No Drive’, which recently accumulated over 10 million views on Youtube. Yousef eloquently pinpointed a problem that many entrepreneurs face, saying, "My utmost challenge is to push my team to be creative - in this case conceptualizing and scriptwriting - while still being able to meet deadlines that will allow us to pay salaries and be profitable."
Nuqat's vision is to be a creative incubator, think tank, educational institution, and venue for collaboration. Its program of presentations and workshops spans design, art, advertising and the creative space in general, and it has matured into the largest creative conference in the Arab World.
Tareq Atrissi, who led one of the most sought-after workshops of the event, notes, "My workshop was initially exclusively Kuwaiti, while this year my workshop was attended by Saudi, Bahraini, and other nationalities. They came specifically for this conference and its workshops."
The minds behind Nuqat, from founders to ambassadors to staff, are a team composed entirely of volunteers. Each holds a full time job apart from the conference, dedicating evenings to facilitating the event. Notably, ten of the eleven team members are women. "We were seeking inspiration. That’s the root of how we started Nuqat," said Al Humaidhi.
The team’s efforts yielded a warm spirit between conference participants. Bahia, a TEDfellow who spoke to the theme of culture shock through her experience as ‘an Egyptian of Lebanese origin’, gave me a hug right after my speech.
The speakers also received a lengthy standing ovation from the audience at the end of the conference. "We wanted a family environment - a special connection with speakers, not a corporate conference," Al Humaidhi explained.
When the conference ended, I was motivated to reflect on what made Nuqat such a meaningful space for entrepreneurs and creatives. I found the vitality of the organizers, speakers, workshop facilitators, and attendees to be a rejuvenating reminder of the optimism and passion I felt when I first launched my own startup. The energy of the event reminded me of how I felt as a Ripples to Waves fellow at Stanford University, where I was surrounded by motivated, excited, supportive individuals from the Silicon Valley.
According to Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, one of the most famous incubators for tech startups, the underlying cause for many startup failures is demoralization. He would meet once a week with startups to ensure their survival, and observed, “startups rarely die in mid keystroke.”
Nuqat provides the type of motivation that young entrepreneurs desperately need to bolster their resilience and raise their odds for success.
In the future, organizers plan to continue the Nuqat Creative Conference as a yearly meeting in the Arab World. Through this tradition, the team will continuously build and develop educational programs that promote creative thinking and collaboration.
This region of the world rarely grabs headlines for its creativity and innovations, but events like Nuqat demonstrate the potential within the Arab creative community. Nurturing this community, which exists but is often overlooked or dispersed, is absolutely imperative if we wish to bring about the kind of positive change the Nuqat Creative Conference invoked with its ‘culture shock’ theme.