To mentally marinate is to allow your brain to laterally mix thoughts, facts and impressions and find new ideas from the patterns. I spent the weekend in Istanbul with the aim to hang out with friends and indulge in aubergine. But I found myself inspired and compelled by conversations to think about our role in the evolving Middle East during a time of game changing technological innovations.
The basic premise is 500 million people in MENA, median age is 26, mobile penetration is around 100% and roughly speaking the region has $2.3trillion in GDP… Youth unemployment is in double digits and it’s hard to ignore the disaster of Daesh (ISIS) and other conflicts.
Interestingly the conversations over the weekend started from a different angle – What happens after the conflicts? How does one build or rebuild places we now call Syria, Libya, Kurdistan and Iraq? What could it look like? How does one leverage and harness the power of tech and entrepreneurship to build the next generation of society. And maybe more importantly – Who does this? Important men, wearing important suits, discussing important stuff in place like Geneva or Washington? That’s partly an unfair comment I know, but I’m thinking it’s time to try a new approach.
I’m going to be consistent and true to my own motto – Crazy and Naïve – and make the bold assumption that all the people living in, roots in, travelling to, connected with MENA will want to be a part of building the future. Granted, we don’t always want the same thing but we want to be asked our opinion. The beauty is that we actually live in a time where tech and smart people can provide a platform to question and understand what we want and to work together bottom up to build key aspects of our society. City architecture, recycling facilities, school systems, parks, legal institutions… you name it.
When you start thinking about the power of bottom-up, you’ll quickly face lots of challenges. If we park those challenges, and just for a moment enjoy the thought of actually approaching these huge issues in a new and innovative way.
Breath, count to 10 and let's take small steps in the right direction.
One of the ideas that came to us this weekend was to create a pan-regional movement, maybe in the form of an online or TV show, which collates ideas, meets bold thinkers, implores the tech community and discusses disruptive change and innovation to solve tangible challenges?
Another thought was maybe I should write a book. What would my main message be? I’m thinking it starts with my personal insights from a hyped silicon vally startup…. Leads to a realization of the power of entrepreneurship from a macro level… leads to a realization that the challenges for a startup in the Middle East aren’t too different from anywhere else… spice the story with crazy anecdotes from my daily circus, amazing meetings and some aubergine dishes… and end with an open Question: How do we use technology and entrepreneurship to (re)build a prosperous and peaceful Middle East?
Who am I to tackle such a magnificent challenge? After mentally marinating that question a few days I’m convinced nobody is in a perfect position, which effectively means we all are a position to do something. That’s my plan.
Feedback is welcome.