Goodbye 2019. Hello 2020.

As the year comes to an end, every person should take a moment to reflect and review what they have achieved during the past 12 months. In the tech world, planning for the future seems to be the norm, yet it doesn’t show what exactly is working and what’s not, and where can we better employ our energy.

No, I am not referring to those end-of-year appraisal reviews that provide a narrow view of how we have fared professionally. Instead, I suggest we focus inwards to identify strengths, acknowledge weaknesses, and plan for change.

One easy way I have been ‘reflecting’ is by asking myself these questions:

  • What didn’t work for me during the past year?
  • What worked?
  • What (and how) could I change to improve on the professional and personal level?

Before I look back at how we, at MITEF Pan Arab, will be ending this year, I want to start with myself, in hope that it would inspire you to do the same.

This year has been quite emotionally taxing as I had to tackle numerous challenges and take difficult decisions that have added to the self-induced anxiety and the constant worry that things could always go wrong.

As some might already know, I am currently based in Beirut (Lebanon), where a revolution has been taking place for the past few months, as a result of the crippling economic crisis that was created by decades of government corruption and political instability. I have been protesting and taking part in the public outcry for change, which eventually led to me somewhat becoming discouraged, especially as the popular movement became politicized and lost momentum. That was a reality until I came to the realization that the revolution (just like life) is less of a race, and more like a marathon. I had a myopic attitude towards the revolution and, as a result, wasn’t able to see the big picture: I need to take things slowly. Change takes time.

Do yourself a favor, as you’re reading this, and take a deep breath to remind yourself of a happy memory. Technology has accelerated all aspects of our lives, and will one day lead to our demise. We have become hyperconnected, always trying to squeeze in more work on the go, always trying to prove that we can get ahead in life by replying to that email before heading to bed. In recent years, I have grown heavily dependent on coffee as an anchor to take a break or socialize (all while constantly checking my phone for notifications and emails). While I was able to pick up the pieces and reorganize my working schedule, I still was not achieving that ‘work-life’ balance that everyone keeps talking about.

Caffeine and the constant impulse to check my phone has dehumanized me overtime. I knew what I needed to do: prioritize my wellness and mental health, reconnect with my surroundings, improve my sleep, and find a purpose to thrive.

On the flip side, the revolution gave me a fresh view on the importance of emotional intelligence, particularly what it means to be part of something big and communal. With the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, more people recognizing the need for human skills, that cannot be quantified, measured, or predicted.

Meeting new people on the streets of Beirut, gave me the privilege to listen to their stories and become more empathetic to their suffering. No machine has been able to be fully sentient (yet).

Furthermore, the past year has been incremental in my pursuit of professional development, mainly as I have increased my Linkedin ‘capital’, networked with stakeholders, and caught up with previous colleagues. As I started approaching people on Linkedin, I was baffled to realize just how much people are willing to help and give you their time. One lesson I learned is that you will not get what you want unless you ask for it.

Beyond whatever changes I have experienced throughout the year, MITEF Pan Arab as an organization has also shape-shifted and transformed itself.

For the first time since our launch, we have changed our motto from ‘Lead with bigger steps’ to ‘Lead for a better world.’ This slight change in perspective aligns better with our strategic vision for the foreseeable future. Many organizations around the world are focused on fostering a culture of innovation, though very few are truly working toward the common good and public benefit. We at MITEF Pan Arab have realized that innovation and tech-based businesses within today’s socio-economic contexts are not sustainable and that innovation must address human needs before term sheets and financial returns.

While reflecting, we realized that we didn’t want to simply ride the wave of innovation, but rather be part of shaping the future as a shared project alongside entrepreneurs, governments, other non-profits, and the community. We started this as an internal exercise where we constantly asked ourselves ‘why are we doing this?’ with every decision made - staying true to our founding DNA: transform ideas into world-changing companies.

As new technologies continue to shape and control society, innovation could be seen as a force of evil rather than good, creating further problems for us as an organization that truly believes in the power of creativity, imagination and novel ideas. We have learned to trust the data while staying in touch with the community. Empirical metrics are not everything when it comes to decision making and being true to our values.

Also, the way that we operate at MITEF Pan Arab is through partnerships with stakeholders, which entail financial contributions (it’s no secret). Though, the lesson that we learned throughout the years is how we pass that gift on through the Arab Startup Competition, Silicon Valley Program, and other initiatives that we run. Our team has developed a skill to maximize the impact created with each dollar spent. With every program we organize, we get the tremendous opportunity to engage with creative and committed people from the MENA who are working in startups, social enterprises, or universities. There is so much potential around us, we just need to keep looking.

Now is the time to lead to a better world.

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