Bringing empowerment to youth in the Middle East: a story of collaboration
Originally published December 11, 2017
Several times I was asked why I am building TaQadam in the Middle East. Years ago I traveled to Lebanon to volunteer in Shatila refugee camp. A country of ongoing political challenges and social complexity, it surprised me with its rich human capital —the educated, talented youth. That applies to the whole region. But, there are limits for youth here. Wars in the Middle East produced the largest number of refugees globally, detrimentally affecting economies, causing mass displacement and exacerbating youth unemployment. Many individuals I met back in Shatila have diplomas, certificates but did not have an access to economic opportunities inside the country. Now with the Syrian exodus, the number of talented youth — trapped in the cycle of underemployment — is millions.
But digital economy knows no borders. The borders become bridges — thanks to ubiquitous technology. Technology does not eliminate supply chains, it morphs them and companies are open to hiring the talent — from engineers to data training from other geographies.
But let me tell you a challenge. Doing this from the Middle East is particularly challenging.
Earlier this year I learnt about the efforts of Recoded — pioneer to bring the curriculum of the US coding school to launch the very first coding bootcamp in Iraq. But learning the skills is not enough. The youth is hungry for validation. Both Recoded and my own social enterprise TaQadam — aspire to bringing the outsourcing concept to the area where professionally, culturally this is virtually non-existent. We want to demonstrate how digital training will materialize into career and economic opportunities.
While Recoded runs the training for the high caliber software engineers , TaQadam brings outsourcing workforce for data collection, content moderation and augmenting machine learning algorithms — to virtually anyone. We both know that we have a talent and perseverance among youth, but we also compete in the global market. Building up a client pipeline and portfolios means also breaking through stereotypes built up over time.
As we plan the launch of TaQadam portal for data work early next year, Recoded deployed a team of the recent graduates of the bootcamp to work on development of our mobile application — image annotation tool for computer vision tasks. TaQadam mobile application is a tool to make the data work — labelling and data enrichment — accessible to everyone. Our Recoded team — digitally savvy millennials themselves based in Iraq — are the best not only to write the code, but also contribute to the UI design with their understanding of the context on how to make it intuitive for the Arab youngsters.
And I am proud of this choice of collaboration. First, we share the similar social mission and ideals. Second, I believe that MENA-based companies like Recoded and their developers are best suited to come up with the product and service well designed for the people in the areas of their influence. Third, I am happy to bring our expertise and exchange ideas with the team of Recoded. By designing the mobile app that practically applies the technology in the domain of computer vision — we are also bringing new learning opportunities in the domain of the Artificial intelligence industry to our Recoded team. Fourth, it only pushes me harder — to make sure we succeed.