Harvard event highlights startups and civics

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Civics, that old idea of citizenship education, was a core feature of the 12th Annual Harvard Arab World Conference (HAWC) in Jordan on Saturday.

In parallel with panel discussions, a civics lab offered a complementary narrative focused on communities, individuals and a bottom up approach towards improving societies.

“Not all people are cut out for business, some people have a civic mandate among themselves,” said organizer Redha Al Haidar.

Several tech initiatives shared their experiences, including Deera from Kuwait and You Know from Palestine, both of which use digital platforms to allow citizens to participate in government processes in order to improve services provided in a specific area.

You Know founder Saed Karzoun said solving small problems on a small scale was important for gaining people’s trust, before trying to solve larger problems.

“Innovative ideas are the tools that first create a better present and eventually a better future. How do we expect people to believe in change if they do not witness it on a micro every day level?” he asked.

The conference came a week after the same organizers held Hack a Vision, a hackathon to develop a vision platform for the MENA region where citizens can post their problems and solutions.

Womena's Elissa Freiha and Hikma Venture's Lana Ghanem on the startup pitch judging panel. (Image via Tala El Issa)

Entrepreneurship is the future

The conference was held at a Dead Sea resort and brought together over 400 people, from Harvard alumni to diplomats, Arab entrepreneurs and Jordanian university students, with a theme of ‘building tomorrow’.

If education, healthcare, and good governance are the building blocks for a better future, entrepreneurship was the key that everyone agreed would be the driver of future development.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development will be the most significant contribution to the economy in the Middle East,” Carine Abu Akar, the conference’s co-chair told Wamda. “We can no longer rely on oil, we have to rely on youth as the new currency.”

Egyptians win pitching competition

The conference ended with a pitch competition where five startups, selected from a pool of 80, presented their businesses to the attendees.

The first place winner was Egypt’s Mumm which provides work opportunities for refugee women through its homemade delivery service. It won $15,000 from Hikma Ventures and Silicon Badia, and $9,000 of Microsoft software and services.

The second prize, $5,000 from Zain Innovation Campus and $9,000 of Microsoft software and services, went to Jaleesa, a platform connecting parents to babysitters in Lebanon.

Dox, a startup working on making drones more efficient, received five hours of mentorship.

“Investing in startups as a corporation is becoming more of a necessity than a want,” said Hikma Ventures managing director Lana Ghanem. “Startups are propellers and engines for innovation and growth; they supplement corporates’ business models since big companies are very difficult to change.”

Feature image via Tala El Issa: Redha Al Haidar moderating a discussion at the civics lab. 

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