The Middle East and North Africa Information and Communications Technology Forum, MENA ICT, began at 8 a.m. today with hundreds of participants from around the world registering and meeting one another.
Opening Ceremony and Keynote Speech
At 10 a.m., the conference officially kicked off with an opening ceremony and keynote speech. Opening comments predicted that transformation driven by ICT trends would soon begin in the MENA region.
The State of Arab ICT Transformation
Next, at 11 a.m., an hour-long panel covered the state of the Arab IT revolution. One main point by Usama M. Fayyad, Ph.D, CEO and Executive Vice President of Yahoo! Inc., reverberated across the Twittersphere: e-commerce should grow by 400 times in the Arab world. In my opinion, this is because the Arab world is 400 times behind where it should be in e-commerce right now! Dr. Fayyad also emphasized the importance of focusing on opportunities that have been missed so far, like data analysis and e-commerce, but warned entrepreneurs not to depend on the government to drive innovation.
Global ICT Innovation: Big Data, Mobility, and Cloud
The panelists in the “Global ICT Innovation: Big Data, Mobility, and Cloud” session included CEO and Founder of Wikitude Martin Herdina, Microsoft’s Middle East Vice President of Sales, Marketing, Services, and IT Charbel Fakhoury, and IBM Senior Client Technical Advisor Tarek Saeed. All panelists emphasized the importance of creating new and interesting technologies in the region.
Global ICT Innovation: Consumerization, Games, and Social Media
After a 15-minute coffee break, the next event started at 1:15 p.m., titled “Global ICT Innovation: Consumerization, Games, and Social Media.” One surprising message from this session was that the focus on monetizing everything ICT-related has actually hindered the development of entrepreneurship in the region.
Next followed a special address by Lorraine Hariton, Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
“Jordan is a model among Arab countries in terms of entrepreneurship,” said Hariton. She also said that women in the Arab region in general are highly educated, making ICT a great area of focus for women in Saudi Arabia especially.
How ICT is Transforming Sectors: Education, E-commerce and E-payments, Health, E-government, and Energy
Conference guests took an hour-long break for lunch before splitting up to attend 5 different panels focusing on how ICT is transforming various sectors.
Held over a span of 2 hours, these 5 panels covered:
- E-commerce and e-payments
- Health trends
I participated in the e-commerce and e-payments panel as one of 5 professional panelists. I shared my views using entrepreneur Mazen AlDarrab and fashion-oriented company Vanilla Shop as examples of Saudi Arabian entrepreneurship in e-commerce.
I will be publishing a summary covering the e-commerce and e-payments panel in a separate post. In terms of attendance, this was the most popular panel: the door had to be locked due to lack of space!
Realizing Arab ICT Potential
Finally, the conference goers came together again to attend a session titled “Realizing Arab ICT Potential.” This event again highlighted the importance of innovation in the region.
Invest in ICT
It is important to note that a planned side event had also been occurring all throughout the first day: Invest in ICT. Starting at 11 a.m., Invest in ICT provided an opportunity for entrepreneurs running small-to-medium businesses to meet angel investors. More than 30 investors were in attendance, including:
- Global Investment House
- Y+ Ventures
- Abraaj Capital
- Dash Ventures
- OT Ventures
- European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD)
- International Finance Corporation
- MENA Venture Investments
- Middle East Venture Partners
- Plug and Play Tech Center
Since Invest in ICT was happening at the same time as most of the events above, I wasn’t able to participate. However, I did follow the news throughout the day.
After all of the day’s events concluded, the night ended with a two-hour long gala dinner at the luxurious Mövenpick Resort and Spa. This outdoor event featured live music, networking opportunities, and a presentation by DJ Shadia Bseiso, all right on the shore of the Dead Sea.
Tomorrow will be the second and final day of MENA ICT 2013.
Please check back for a summary of the second day’s proceedings.