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Internet's Future 16 May 2019

Envisioning the Future in the Middle East

Layal Jebran
By Layal JebranFormer Regional Community Engagement Manager, Middle East

How can the brightest minds help transform the Middle East for the better? The MIT SciTech Conference hoped to find answers. The annual three-day conference, which took place 19-21 April in Boston, Massachusetts, brought together students and professionals from across North America and the MENA Region. This year’s theme was “Envisioning the Future: Cities of MENA,” and included an IDEAthon on Energy, Innovation, and Infrastructure.

Many people from all over the globe attended the conference, mainly Arabs who were also successful tech entrepreneurs, leveraging the Internet to reach communities across the world. They also spoke about their innovations and inspired the young participants, who included MIT students, through panels, keynotes, ideation processes, and SciTech talks.

The first day started with a tour of MIT Labs and the launch of the IDEAthon. After initial sessions and introductions, participants were left for the night to work on their ideas. Those ended up being presented at the end of the third day to judges, with cash prizes awarded to winners so that they could turn them into reality by implementing them throughout the Arab world.

Infrastructure is a challenge in the MENA region, especially with a rapidly growing population, and the conference showcased projects that use the Internet to address this. For instance, Swivl is a bus ride sharing app that’s making people’s lives easier in Egypt. The platform Womena enables women’s empowerment by showcasing success stories, mentoring women, and helping ideas to fruition.

The Internet Society was a sponsor of the event and fielded many questions about Internet infrastructure. People were keen to learn. For instance, the more the history of the Internet was shared, the more questions arose. To my surprise, many people don’t know much about the beginnings of the Internet, as well as how the Internet works. To some peoples’ awe, it’s not fully connected by satellites, but also by marine cables.

The Internet Society’s participation in the MITSciTech conference resulted in the following:

  • Establishing a connection between leading organizations in the Arab world and Arabs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Sharing our vision for an open, globally-connected, secure, and trustworthy Internet for everyone.

The event had a huge turnout, with more than 300 people attending. MIT SciTech was a platform for over 20 accomplished speakers and panelists and featured keynote speeches from the dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Urban Planning as well as high-level executive attendees, such as the chairman of Orascom.

An innovation exhibition followed day three of the event that showcased 15 organizations from the Arab world as well as our very own booth for the Internet Society. Next year, we hope to see that the ideas incubated at this year’s MIT SciTech Conference have made a positive impact on the Internet.

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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