SyriaConf2019 was launched in Brussels under the banner of supporting the future of Syria and the region. The decision makers and specialists at this conference will discuss all aspects and angles of interest to the Syrian society in all its spectra over two days (12-14 March).
It is known today that Syria’s future, and the region’s in general, is one that is fraught with dangers. Therefore, Syrians are working with the help of the international community to find a way to avoid the unknown future and to work to improve the current situation as a working ground to reach the desired goal, which is a better future for Syrians. To achieve this mission, a large number of politicians, decision-makers and entrepreneurs have been invited to this year’s conference.
The conference began on 12 March, and the opening event was SyriaDigitalLab, an activity that sought to focus on technological innovation, demonstrating its ability to build peace, improve education, and work on the economic growth of Syrians worldwide. You can visit the event website at the following link SyriaDigitalLab, and we invite you to register for the newsletter so you can receive all the updates.
SyriaDigitalLab’s aimed to bring Syrians together in digital space, with the support of a large number of Syrian and international digital innovators.
The event started with an opening speech by Ms. Hilde Hardeman, who said that we need to take advantage of the power of technology in entrepreneurship to address the root causes of conflict in line with our values, which is critical to address conflicts in Syria and around the world.
Having been invited by the European Institute of Peace, SIBA participated in the conference. The meeting was attended by Mr. Samer Shamsi Pasha, Chairman of the Board and Mr. Nasser Yousif, Board Member.
Several issues were discussed at the event, such as ways to allow Syrians to become more informed and involved in the future of their country. Issues of housing and land issues were also discussed.
Some entrepreneurs and digital creators shared their projects at SyriaDigitalLab, such as Mr. Muhannad Ghashim, founder of ShopGoME, Mr. Malad al-Madani, the founder of Arageek, Mr. Tamim Imam, founder of Mapping Syria, and Mr. John Jaiger, founder of Hala Systems. Among the participants was also the creator Ahmed Sufian Perm, who was hosted by the Syrian International Business Association in an interesting dialogue.
In the conclusion of our coverage of Syria Digital Lab 2019, we share some of the views and comments of some of the participants. In explaining the idea behind Syria Digital Lab, Malik Al-Abdeh pointed out that he was primarily interested in designing sustainable solutions in the field of digital interventions moving away from the traditional forms of finance. Mr. Malik Al-Abdeh added
“The digital realm provides a space for bringing Syrians together regardless of their political orientation, and this space proves the value of rebuilding social cohesion and empowering civil society.”
In her turn, Ms. Emma Bills identified the context of digital space in Syria, stressing that since 2011, the size and the number of users has increased rapidly. United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and civil society have used technical tools throughout the conflict to map and monitor the distribution of aid and to establish mechanisms for the exchange of information to assist refugees. Ms. Bills added:
“The preference for digital solutions is due to the widespread use of smartphones among Syrians, no matter where they are. With nearly two-thirds of mobile phones able to access the Internet, most users benefit from messaging through WattsApp and other social media”
Because Syrians use smartphones at a high rate, Ms. Bills pointed out that websites must be optimized for smart devices, targeting at WhatsApp and Facebook, and modifying content such that it can be shared. Furthermore, she emphasized that the digital space has offered great opportunities, allowing us to transcend our physical existence. This enables us to address housing, property, documentation and access to reliable information, including conditions for return or future elections, through digital means, as has been the case previously with initiatives such as Syrbanism, which attempts to solve the housing and property problem, or Shiffer, which is trying to solve the problem of documentation.
During the launch of the discussion on entrepreneurship in the digital domain, Ms. Rama Chakaki emphasized that the majority of investments in the ecosystem of emerging companies in the Middle East has moved in recent years to entrepreneurs in the field of technology. She added:
“Many Syrians are successful in their entrepreneurial endeavors because of their perseverance, support for the ecosystem and continued investment, especially in the initial financing phase, the most dangerous phase in which most niche companies fail because of lack of funding. This challenge can be overcome by angel investors, who are at high risk of investment but who also guide entrepreneurs while the company grows to the ultimately accrue profit.”
Ms. Chakaki shed light on the fact that the added value of digital entrepreneurship lies in security, speed and size, catering to the wide variety of needs of dispersed individuals. She added that these factors make the digital space key to the stability and well-being of the country affected by the conflict in the future, and that many Syrian entrepreneurs who left the country face challenges, most importantly, insufficient guidance and funding in a competitive environment; it is therefore necessary to involve the Syrian business community in the diaspora, which is largely lacking in the current ecosystem. It is important to encourage investment in emerging Syrian technology companies through partnerships between the public and private sectors with the donor community.
The event ended after discussing an important number of issues, but the road is not yet over. The sponsors hope for this event to be a starting point on the road to improving the situation using the available digital tools, which everyone should be a part of.