Developing an app from scratch in a year

Meet Anas, the first graduate of the WFP’s digital skills programme to find work in the global tech world

Edward Johnson
Sep 15, 2017 · 3 min read

As an 18 year old, he fled from Damascus to Beirut. Desperate to find employment to support his family back home, his lack of skills meant he ended up disappointed.

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One hundred Lebanese and Syrian youths like Anas completed the digital skills course. Photo: WFP/Edward Johnson

Last year, Anas joined the World Food Programme’s (WFP) pilot digital skills programme in Beirut. Through a series of intensive computer-based trainings in collaboration with the American University of Beirut (AUB) and WFP’s Innovation Accelerator, Lebanese and Syrian participants learned a variety of portable digital skills.

They are tech skills that can be used anywhere, from Beirut to Bangkok, wherever the participants moves. It is a project that equips participants with skills for the international online job market.

After graduating from the pilot basic course, Anas moved straight into the advanced class. There, he built his digital literacy and image annotation skills — assigning key words to digital images — then focusing on app and web development.

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One year ago, Anas had never used a computer before. Now he is launching an app. Photo: WFP/Edward Johnson

Along the way, Anas built basic but functional websites for his friends. He brought in his sister and together they applied for a local innovation design award. They did not win, but the judges’ feedback spurred the two on.

One day in spring, Anas was on a bus, commuting to class at AUB and wondered why he was carrying his laptop. Surely image annoation could be done on a mobile he thought.

Flash forward to summer and Anas is about to launch an app which allows image annotation on the move.

“You can do it anywhere: at home, on the bus, on the beach,” Anas explained. “Everyone has a phone with them anyway, so why not make money out of it?”

Quite simply, companies upload images onto the app, then members with accounts can tag, re-name or edit the images. Then they are sent back to the company and the user gets paid.

Anas is opening up the app to companies around the world which need image annotation. So far he has worked with agencies in Russia and America but expects his app to go global once launched.

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The phone that launched Anas’ global aspirations. Photo: WFP/Edward Johnson

“I am optimistic that this will be a success — there is a gap in the market and we are filling it,” he explained.

In under one year, Anas graduated from two digital skills courses, built his app and is planning a second — the details are being kept secret for now. But his graduation is bigger than a certificate. Now, he is also free from living off United Nations handouts, and finally able to support himself and his family in Syria.

Read more about WFP in Lebanon and its innovation team in Munich.

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