How to Be in 2 Continents at Once: Asia-Pacific Week Berlin Recap

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Last week, I had the pleasure of being in two continents at once: Europe and Asia. No, I am not talking about Istanbul… I am talking about Asia Pacific Week in Berlin! When I learnt about the open conference and made my decision to attend, I was expecting perhaps a small-scale networking event that would be a nice side-reason to visit Berlin… But it turned out to be the main event, literally. Companies from all around Asia and Europe, from start-ups to major corporations, came together for a few days of exchanging knowledge, expertise, and business opportunities.

Starting with the first day, a wealth of knowledge and experience was shared by inspiring personalities such as Joe Kaeser, President and CEO of Siemens AG, a global powerhouse in electronics and electrical engineering, Allan Chou, CEO and Founder of RAIDical China which focuses on finding and growing the next Unicorns in Robotics, AI, IoT and Big Data in China, and Lars Voedisch, Managing Director of PRecious communications.

In an interesting panel discussion on future-proofing, the panelists shared the expertise and insights on how businesses and startups can use change as a drive for innovation to stay relevant in the future. Luckily, to help the attendees start on their future-proofing journey, APW hosted a number of experts from several fields to take us through the latest happenings in technologies that are increasingly having a major impact on business: Blockchain, AI, IoT, Advanced Materials, and Cryptocurrencies.

Ruo-Mei Chua (SUTW impact), Allan Chou (RAIDICal China), Gerrit Dumstorff (Hella Fast Forward), Lars Voedisch (PRecious Communications) share insights from their experience on how to become and stay future-proof.

Ruo-Mei Chua (SUTW impact), Allan Chou (RAIDICal China), Gerrit Dumstorff (Hella Fast Forward), Lars Voedisch (PRecious Communications) share insights from their experience on how to become and stay future-proof.

Of all these technologies, I am most excited about AI, as a marketer and as a sci-fi fan! Although there is often chatter in the digital marketing sphere about technological advancements and how they’re going to revolutionize the marketing industry, there are often misunderstandings and a lot of confusion about how exactly to leverage these technologies. Remember the Big Data fuss a few years ago? Well, having access to large sets of data is useless without the ability to accurately draw insights from it… That’s where machine learning, a subset application of AI, comes in. Without going into too many technical details, AI-based machine learning algorithms process Big Data, performing Data Labeling/Segmentation, Data Analytics, and Scenario Simulation, to create a big picture with insights and patterns that are sorted out, categorized, and packaged into a digestible form. Sounds easy, right? Well maybe for a human, but machines have yet to learn how to “explain” things to us in human-form, as they still lack the ability to combine implicit and explicit knowledge, or as Dr. Feiyu Xu, Vice President of Lenovo Group and Head of AI lab of Lenovo Research, said: “common sense”. While there are AI methods that model implicit or explicit knowledge, the next big challenge is to bring these two together in “Explainable AI (XAI)”… An AI that can be trusted and easily understood by humans, not because it can explain itself, but because it is transparent enough with any explanations that are needed being part of its design process.

Dr. Feiyu Xu taking us on a deep dive into AI and the challenges it faces…

While omnious sci-fi movies and series (Black Mirror anyone?) come to the minds of most people when they think of such technolgoies, they can pose more opportunities than threats if we learn how to take advantage of them with a strategic plan, rather than just the fear that they’d drive businesses or employees obsolete (or the human race to extinction…). This fear, however, can still be useful data for innovation, according to Raymond Miranda from Laborastory, a story and innovation expert, and global speaker.  I had the pleasure of attending Raymond’s StoryMapping Unplugged workshop on the 2nd day, and found the process of using stories to guide startups through innovation, quite… innovative!

Raymond Miranda taking us through StoryMapping and how each step applies to starting a business.

Raymond Miranda taking us through StoryMapping and how each step applies to starting a business.

On that second day, my attention shifted from technologies to gender, culture and bias… A topic that is dear to me as a female entrepreneur from the Middle East, having also heard from and read about many other women in business, and the struggles they have to go through. I was glad to see Lu Ying, co-founder of Future Urban Living, bringing up the important point of male empowerment in the home world in her keynote “Bridging the gap between gender, industry and culture”. It is in my opinion that if we want to reduce bias towards women in business, we need to stop treating the desire for flexibility, work-life balance and family life as “feminine” traits, and reduce the stigma around men having the same desire. I want to feel that the way I want to do my job is a “human desire”, rather than a female thing. And women shouldn’t feel like their careers are less important or serious to them if they want to take time off to build a family, and feel pressured to compete with men in that regards. If we make it safe and normal for both genders to have a work-life balance, both would benefit and so would the employers.

Lu Ying sharing with us her insights on gender equality in business for better economic value.

Lu Ying sharing with us her insights on gender equality in business for better economic value.

In that regard, as a behavioral economics (BE) buff, I am quite enthusiastic about the possibilities that BE principles, such as nudging, present in fostering inclusion, and improving gender equality. I brought some points up from those articles with Miroslav Dimitrov, from SAP.iO No Boundaries, the first comprehensive inclusive entrepreneurship initiative for underrepresented entrepreneurs in the business software industry, during his keynote where he pointed out the low rate of female entrepreneurs with startups and even much lower rate of those who acquire funding and investments. I wondered if they’d be using techniques such as blind auditioning to reduce gender bias during start-up pitches for funding, he believes though that the right selection of open-minded judges who care more about the pitch than the pitcher’s gender is key.

One of the biggest takeaways from APW, aside from plenty of business opportunities, is the bridging of the very distinct cultures of Asia and Europe through sharing and understanding. That isn’t surprising considering Europe is mostly a low-context culture, that communicate information in direct, explicit, and precise ways, whereas Asia is a high-context culture, that communicate in ways that are implicit and rely heavily on nonverbal language. Attendees especially shared their experiences with cultural differences in business during the keynote and workshop “Yays and Nays of intercultural communication” by Tien Ma, Director, and Lucas Jahn, Senior Account Manager, at REDHILL international communications firm, who will soon be sharing with us a report of the workshop outcomes, which I in turn will share with you later.

John Lucas and Tien Ma from Redhill International Communications agency share low context and high context cultures where most central and northern European and western countries being low context, and Asian, Arab, south European, African and Latin American countries being high context.

John Lucas and Tien Ma from Redhill International Communications agency share low context and high context cultures where most central and northern European and western countries being low context, and Asian, Arab, south European, African and Latin American countries being high context.

Of course, it is not news that culture plays an important role in business, as cultural differences can pose quite a challenge, especially when doing business across borders. It is a discussion I indulged in with Alexander Jansen, a serial entrepreneur, mentor and professional consultant for startups, who provides leadership training & coaching, especially in agile and innovation environments across Europe and Asia. From our discussion, it was evident that there are difficulties in conducting business between two cultures that operate on a different pace, such as the German pace being quite steady and time-consuming to ensure quality, whereas the Asian pace in countries such as China and Singapore can be fast and ad-hoc to favor innovation.

Naturally, Europe and Asia have many distinct countries and cultures within, that can’t be just bundled under one label. During the third day of APW, Embassy Day, it was clear where interests lied when it came to Asia… Countries like Singapore and China garnered much formal business attention, but I personally was there rooting for one of the countries on my travel wishlist: Nepal. Home to friendly and modest people, it is perhaps most known as a trekking destination for the Himalayas, or for the devastating news of earthquakes in 2015 that left a high death toll and the country in ruins. Still, it is certainly not a formal or serious vibe that we got from the keynote of Mr. Ramesh Khanal, Ambassador of Nepal to Germany, that day, but a message of hope, music, dance and a warm invitation to experience Nepal’s natural beauty and sense of adventure. I’ll be taking up his invitation for sure some day, as I do believe in Nepal’s potential of being the next adventure and budget travel destination in Asia!

Me all huddled in with the Nepalese Ambassador, Mr. Ramesh Khanal, and the beautiful colorful Nepalese dancers.

Me all huddled in with the Nepalese Ambassador, Mr. Ramesh Khanal, and the beautiful colorful Nepalese dancers.

There was a lot more happening in APW, and a few more days to cover, but this was a very brief summary of what I was able to gather. Still, if you’d like to know more or need help connecting to any of these speakers/businesspeople, I am more than happy to help. Possibly being the only representative of the Middle East at APW, I felt like I was caught in the middle between East and West with barely anyone knowing much about the MEA region, but I tried to do my best to present the unique Middle Eastern culture and the business value and potential it holds. Hopefully next year, promising and innovative startups from the Middle East can also have a presence at APW! Until then, subscribe to my blog or connect with me on Linkedin, Instagram or Twitter to stay updated.

So, which technology do you think would have the biggest effect on your career/business:

  1. AI

  2. Cryptocurrencies

  3. Blockchain

  4. IoT

  5. Advanced Materials

  6. None

  7. All

  8. Other? Specify in the comments!

Arab Tech Women Entrepreneurs

On September 23rd, I spoke at The Arab Women In Leadership & Business Summit in Dubai on technology-based entrepreneurship. I felt quite honoured to share the stage with amazing leading women who are ministers, founders, CEOs, chairmen (chairwomen?!), and managers of international and major brands, while I was there representing only myself as The Manalyst... That made me realise even more the importance and power of technology-based entrepreneurship. When I launched my website and online brand, The Manalyst, in 2009, it was not for the objective of having my own business, but merely to make use of the free time and internet I had in learning and sharing about the latest trends in my industry, while overcoming the limitations of being a professional in a male-dominated world (whether for being in Saudi Arabia, or generally in the business world)... I never thought that first step would lead me to be one of the influential bloggers and social media professionals in the region, covering and speaking at various related events such as this one I'm writing about, being interviewed by the media, and most importantly, having helped various brands and people with using social media to achieve their goals. 

In the 2-day event, I sat among the audience, of mostly women, listening to their stories, questions, concerns, and most of all... complaints. Some were legitimate complaints of social, cultural and work-discrimination struggles that might take long to change, yet many have overcame them; and some I found to be invalid, like the lack of role models in our Arab community... And that is what I aimed to prove wrong through my presentation, and this post.

First of all, one prevailing statistic in the Arab region is that almost over half of university attendees and graduates are female, yet that only translates to being less than a quarter of the workforce... So the problem isn't that Arab women lack the formal education or skills and capabilities to join or excel in the workforce. They're actually more likely to start their own business than to get a job, and even more women intend to do the same, yet that still doesn't transform into action.

There probably haven't been any formal studies or research of why there aren't more women in business, whether as employees or entrepreneurs, but common beliefs is that it is for one of the following reasons:

Cultural Pressures and Stereotypes, and Overcoming Women Unemployment Issues by Working from Home, with Flexible Hours

Even at this modern day and age, the role of women in the Arab world is still quite traditional... In most typical Arab families, a girl's priority is to get married and have kids. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, women are also often not allowed to work for cultural/social reasons or due to gender segregation laws. So while the majority of adult females attend university, graduate or even get to work, they do so as long as they are single. And those who have ambitions to pursue higher education and a business career face pressures from their families, or community, to focus on getting a husband instead, and if they're already married, then they should focus on their family and household instead. And in the business community, they're mostly viewed a "flight risk", as in, if hired, they might suddenly quit once married or with child, which makes them a bad investment. An example of a woman who faced and defied such pressures and stereotypes is Yasmine Al Mehairy.

Yasmine co-founded the Arabic parenting website Supermama with Zeinab Samir in 2011. She faced many negative cultural stereotypes as a single 30 year old woman entrepreneur but was positive about the startup ecosystem in Egypt being more supportive than it is in the West, and she was able to secure funding as bias towards male founders was not yet apparent in the Arab world as it is in the West. (Source: Middle East Monitor)

These cultural and employment issues that Arab women face is what drives some into tech entrepreneurship as they get the ability to work from home, or wherever they need to be, and with flexible hours thus having the ability to tend to their other affairs (whether they're students, wives and/or moms) at their own comfort. This is what drove Tasneem Salim, programmer and gamer, to co-find GCON -the world’s biggest and Saudi’s first girls-only yearly gaming convention and community in Riyadh-, encouraging girls to pursue careers in game development, and break the stereotypes that gaming is a boys-only industry. In Saudi, where gender segregation poses a challenge in the workforce, that consists only 20% of women, she believes that gaming can a powerful option for those who prefer flexible hours and working from home. (Source: Wamda)

Two other ladies who also found that drive to start their own tech business are Duna AlSiyari and Hussa AlShamran; two college students who kickstarted the eCommerce site Qurtsyah in 2012 as the first in Saudi to sell stationary online, enjoying the flexibility it gives them to work while also continuing their education. They are determined to grow their business to the GCC, and continue to apply their college learnings to practical business experience and starting their own line of Arabic-style stationary. (Source: AlEqtisadiah)

Funding and Financing, and How It is Countered by Low Costs/Barriers to Entry 

During the event, some women were repeatedly mentioned in the discussion as role models for women entrepreneurs, such as Sheikha Moza, Queen Rania, and other prominent names... While their work is to be appreciated and admired, not all women in the Arab region have the same access to family money, status and connections to support their business initiatives. The average Arab woman has to strive to attain funds and finance her business. Either there aren't enough sources for funds in the Arab world with high competition, or there is lack of awareness in how or where to attain funds. In most cases, women who want to start their own business are either discouraged by lack of funds or they resort to financing their business with their own personal money which often slows their progress. 

That is what Hanan Khader, a programmer and mommy of 3, had to do when she launched Aqar-estate.com in 2008, a real estate digital platform for the MENA, which was a challenge in a male-dominated industry that she had to finance herself until she secured seed investment from Oasis500. 2 years ago, she also started HelloWorldKids, teaching programming to kids and inspiring them to be tech entrepreneurs.

With the low cost and barriers to entry of tech-based industry, in case of most businesses, many women have taken up to the internet to start their own small businesses, starting from scratch depending on whatever knowledge or skills they have, and financing their business further with the earnings, until they're able to make some steady income from it... Which is the case with Farihan Amin, owner of Simplecious, an instagram-based home baking business. 

The Need for Women-Focused Support Network, and What YOU Can Do to Help!

It is safe to say that women can never be equal to men, we may want equal rights but at the end of the day, we will always be different, especially in the Arab/Muslim world because we believe in our role as housewives and mothers, even if we weren't all born to have that typical life or if we wanted to be businesswomen on top of being wives/mothers. So the aim is to have a business ecosystem that understands the characteristics, requirements and challenges of Arab women entrepreneurs and support them through their journey & in their lifestyle. That's not saying that Arab women can't already compete, succeed and flourish in the current ecosystem among men! May Attari, a Palestinian student, has certainly accomplished that, along with her peers, through her university's leadership program "Qiyadat", by co-founding Fadfid, an online psychotherapy platform that connects patients seeking expert psychological advice to specialists across the Arab world.

Think of how many more innovative startups we'd have, in addition to the economic benefits, if more women are supported and encouraged to become entrepreneurs! You can start encouraging them from a young age, by raising girls to overcome negative stereotypes and explore their interests in a gender-neutral environment, and learn tech skills from resources like: ScratchHacketyKhan AcademyCode.orgTahrir AcademyThe Little Engineer

Female students can also be encouraged to aspire for an education & career in tech by nurturing and developing their innate skills, and using educational technology to teach and inspire them, from resources like: Khan AcademyCode AcademyTechGirlsEdSurge.

And as entrepreneurs and business owners, share your experience and knowledge with them, support their entrepreneurial activities and intentions, and welcome opportunities to mentor and guide women with entrepreneurial activities/intentions, through platforms such as Wamda Mix n’ mentorArabnetWamda 4 Women; and various Linkedin Groups.

And lastly, as part of the community, support them, enable them, encourage them, share their stories, give them feedback…You can start by sharing this post or its presentation below, in hope that the women I mentioned here can serve as inspiration and role models for others out there who are just waiting for the right motivation to rise and flourish!

Highlights of Arabnet Riyadh 2013

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Arabnet Riyadh conference and it was a great experience as I anticipated, as I have attended almost all of of Arabnet's conferences so far, and have written about them in my blog, and it was always worth it!

If you have attended the conference, you would've benefited from the great connections you make during as well as the useful content and knowledge you learn. If you didn't attend, then you would have probably benefited from the live coverage via Twitter through the hashtag #عرب_نت. If you also didn't catch up with the live coverage, then you can at least get to know what went down in the conference by reading my article on Wamda: 

Women's entrepreneurship and social media: the two hottest trends at Arabnet Riyadh

Did you attend Arabnet Riyadh? What did you think of it? What other conferences have you attended and liked? Leave your opinion and recommendations below, and please share this post for your peers to pitch in as well.

Thank you for reading and subscribe to stay updated!

Arabnet 2012: The Afterthought

Do you follow me on Twitter? Then I must have spammed you a week ago for five days tweeting about the largest digital event in the region: Arabnet Digital Summit

I had the pleasure of attending Arabnet 2011, and a greater pleasure returning to Arabnet 2012 as an official blogger among some other great bloggers. This year’s event was bigger, with more workshops and talks, and more focus on details! Read on to know what you've missed ;)
Starting with the Developer Days on March 27 – 28, there has been a great focus on the mobile industry. It’s not a surprise since the world is going mobile, more precisely 80% of the world already owns a mobile phone and 84% of them use it for internet browsing and 59% of them use it for social networking. Other interesting statistics can be found in The Smartphone Usage Statistics 2012 [Infographic]! And according to Google’s 12 Mobile Prediction for 2012 at Arabnet, one million small businesses will go online with a mobile website, and Arabnet made sure it included enough talks and workshops to help pave the way for them. 
This year’s Developer Days were better planned with more room for more people and better networking, at the Metropolitan Palace. The most interesting workshop was The Facebook Developer Garage: Open Graph and Mobile Apps by Stephane Crozatier, Partner Engineer at Facebook who gave the developers some hands-on tips and answered the audiences’ question regarding the social networking giant. Stephane was clearly pushing for less fake accounts, but sadly, it doesn’t seem that Facebook has yet developed a strategy to combat that. Which leaves you wondering: Of the 800+ million accounts on Facebook, how many are the real users? Most of the friends you know have probably more than one account, not to count the dozens of brand accounts that agencies create, and the fake accounts that prize hunters create to vote themselves up in a Facebook competition. The first day ended with an Overnight Developer Competition that encouraged developers to compete over the course of 12 sleepless hours to build a web application or a mobile app.  
 What was different this year was the addition of Industry Day on March 28, which had workshops and talks covering 4 industries: Healthcare, Education, Travel, and Banking. Although I loved the micro-focus on each industry separately, but it made things confusing for me and other people I talked to at the event because it was difficult to choose which industry workshop to attend, given that we can’t be in more than one place at the same time. However, following the hashtag did make it easier to get bits and pieces from all workshops. I personally attended some Travel and Education workshops, the most interesting of which was Leila Khauli’s case study of The Use of Social Media in the Classroom. Check out the hashtags of her classrooms to see how she helps her marketing students apply their social media skills in their class: #mktg225 #mktg350b
The Forum Days on March 29 – 30 are usually the most important and most crowded, especially since it featured the Ideathon competition where multiple contestants presented their ideas to appeal for funding and of course the Arabnet prizes. Winning first place was Mahmoud AlDwairy with his Influsense idea which you should ask him about because it’s interesting :D It’s mostly like Klout but with a gamified competition where influencers need to perform certain tasks to get influence points in certain topics, making it easier for brands to target them as promoters. The Forum Days were filled with too much great content for me to restate here! But just to recap, some of the presentations that stood out were The Social Bakers’ Measuring Social Media with Jan Rezab and the Augmented Reality demo by Omar Tayeb Gilles Fayad. 
Overall, a prominent feature in this year’s Arabnet was Sociatag which allowed attendees to register their Facebook accounts on a Sociatag card that they could use in various checkpoints in the event to “check-in”, “like” a workshop, or take a photo and post it toArabnet’s Facebook Page album which is fun to browse even though the image quality is a disaster hehe
On a side note, Mike Butcher, a correspondent from TechCrunch and a feature speaker at Arabnet, co-hosted a meet-up (#TCBeirut) alongside Wamda and AltCity. I was looking forward to that event like many others. To my disappointment, the meet-up, which was supposed to be a gathering of intellectual minds discussing the future tech in the Middle East and the digital ecosystem in Lebanon, took place at a small pub in Hamra where drinks and loud music buried any potential for intelligent conversations. In my humble opinion, which I am sure is supported by the general global professional standards, a meeting with any valuable input should never be held at venues that do not facilitate networking and discussion, and certainly does not defer most of its conservative target audience. The meet-up should have taken place at a more appropriate bigger space where everyone could have enjoyed it and benefited from it, then, those who wanted to grab a drink could have gone altogether afterwards… Just my two cents! 

Keep on the look out for the coverage from the other official bloggers on Arabnet’s Facebook Page and Twitter account, and leave your questions and comments to me below :D

What Startups Need: An ArabNet Community.

Photo credit:  imthiaz blog

Photo credit: imthiaz blog

When you work in the social media field like I do, it becomes inevitable to run into startups that are eager to launch the newest idea, the most tech-advanced service or the best-specialized network. As a startup, it is perhaps important to believe that the product you’re developing will be a success, will bring you fame, and help you cash in, hopefully sooner than later.

I do not claim to be an expert on entrepreneurship and startups, but if there is one thing that I can deduce by common sense, it’s that every successful business needs a COMMUNITY!nAn interesting definition of a community is by Michael Wu, the Principal Scientist of Analytics at Lithium Technologies Inc.:

A community (both online and offline) consist of people from all walks of life that seem to have no relationship at all but is a very robust social structure. What holds a community together is common interest. It maybe a hobby, something the community members are passionate about, a common goal, a common project, or merely the preference for a similar lifestyle, geographical location, or profession. People join the community because they care about this common interest that glues the community members together. Some stay because they felt the urge to contribute to the cause; others come because they can benefit from being part of the community (source).

Building a community may or may not be a long daunting task depending on what your product is, but it is a known fact that it is never as easy as “Build it and they shall come”. Growing Facebook from a small college community to the largest global community did not happen in a day. It wasn’t that the idea of Facebook was so revolutionary, in the simplest terms, it succeeded in capturing a fraction of a community with common interests (college students who wanted a social way to get to know each other), then gave way to that community to create other sub-communities with other common interests that others joined in, until everyone else felt they MUST be part of that community. According to Matthew Shampine, a serial entrepreneur, as a startup founder, you should not “be too focused on your product, because if you’re not building a community for it, it may never get off the ground.” He gives 2 successful case studies on how building a community the right way can help your idea or product (Source).

As a startup in the MENA region, your best chance is to find opportunities where early adopters, fellow entrepreneurs and potential investors... For you, that means the digital MENA event of the year, ArabNet Digital Summit. It’s the biggest event for web and mobile in the region! Last year’s summit brought over 1000 attendees, 100 speakers, featured 18 panels and 17 talks, in addition to 20 entrepreneurs pitching their ideas and startups. And this year’s summit is less than 2 months away so you better start working on your pitches and hone your skills in building your community! This year’s event is going to be even bigger. Cutting-edge panel discussions, specialized workshops, exciting competitions, focused networking sessions, social activities and more, spread over 5 action packed days including:

  • Two Developer Days with technical discussions and workshops for programmers. Even though I am not a developer, but I did enjoy this day as you can read in my post from ArabNet Digital Summit 2011.
  • An Industry Day about how web and mobile are transforming traditional industries like healthcare, travel, education and banking.
  • Two Forum Days, the largest gathering of digital business leaders in the region featuring over 100 globally renowned speakers covering the latest trends and technologies in web and mobile.
  • A Community Day raising public awareness about the the power of digital.

The Digital Summit will also include ArabNet’s annual competitions: the Ideathon and Startup Demo. The Ideathon aims at turning bright ideas into functional products will introduce the top 20 entrepreneurs and startups in the region, exposing the latest in digital entrepreneurship and giving entrants the chance to win big cash prizes and the attention of investors, incubators, and developers, not to mention the media! You’ll for sure have a better chance at exposure if you actually participate in the Ideathon. So you put your entrepreneurial hat on and get ready to network!

As one of the official bloggers of ArabNet Digital Summit 2012, I'll be bringing you more news about the conference and will be live covering it from March 27 till March 31. So don't forget to subscribe to my RSS, and follow me on Twitter if you aren't already ;)