Young Tech Leaders of the Middle East: Virtual Tech Leadership Program Launches with 24 Youth

On July 31, 2021, 24 youth from the Middle East showcased their human-centered design solutions, addressing a range of issues, from minibus transportation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to providing support to refugee communities abroad. The event was a capstone to the Young Tech Leaders of the Middle East inaugural summer program—a 3-week virtual technology leadership program for conflict-affected and refugee youth from the Middle East, hosted in partnership with Re:Coded and Davis Projects for Peace.

Founded on the belief that technology by itself cannot solve all issues, Young Tech Leaders aims to empower youth to become effective leaders in tech by equipping them with leadership skills and a human-centered design approach to problem-solving. Whereas technology programs traditionally focus on technical skills-building, Young Tech Leaders takes a human-first approach by building human skills, human networks, and a human-centered methodology—thus preparing youth who may come from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter the digital economy by connecting them with the tools and resources needed to succeed. Over 40 speakers, workshop leaders, trainers, and mentors were involved in the development of the program. The fellows were selected from almost 300 applicants, marking an 8% acceptance rate.

The cohort was 60% female and 40% male, with an average age of 21. The fellows came from 6 different places in the Middle East (Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey), and 72% of the cohort self-identified as a refugee or conflict-affected person. From July 10 to August 1, 2021, the fellows convened over Zoom to develop their leadership skills, such as communication, teamwork, values setting, critical thinking, and civic engagement; learn the human-centered design framework; and meet leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs from around the world, who spoke on topics such as "Launching a Business," "Tech for All," and "Careers in Product.” They then turned their learnings into action by working in small teams to develop a human-centered design project, localized to meet their communities’ needs.

The projects culminated in a final presentation to a panel of judges. Marcello Bonatto (Co-founder, Re:Coded), Raj Burman (CEO, Techfugees), Giulia Balestra (Innovation Officer, UNHCR), Ahmad Sufian Bayram (EMEA Manager, Techstars), and Idil Uner (Communications Consultant, UNDP) sat on the panel, drawing insights from their own experiences working in social impact tech and humanitarian development to share feedback with the teams. By the end of the program, the fellows had a minimum viable product (MVP) or service (MVS) to showcase their creative problem-solving skills, as well as practical skills for leadership; greater touchpoints for partnership and mentorship in the tech community; and a more innovative, collaborative, and empathetic mindset for leadership. ### Read more about the projects below:

Team 1 - Eunoia created an online platform that helps Iraqi students improve their English skills to set them up for future success. Through interviews with people in Iraq, the team found that 88% (15 out of 17) of respondents said English was one of their main problems.

Team 2 - TECH ambassadors designed the Faky Check app to check for fake news by analyzing the source, author, date, and biases of online articles. Out of 50 people interviewed, the team discovered that 90% of respondents said that they need help spotting fake news.

Team 3 - AUDAX created an app that helps refugees in Germany, Turkey, and Lebanon support each other and build community by connecting them to food, job, education, and social opportunities. In discussions with refugees, the team found that there was a need for shared advice and understanding from other refugees going through the same experience.

Team 4 - MrovTech Wheels designed the Ektos networking app to connect university students so they can have a more meaningful experience at university. Through interviews, the team discovered that there was a lack of community engagement, networking, and non-political clubs at public universities in the Middle East.

Team 5 - Forethinkers built a career discovery tool, GUIDED, that connects students in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria to career specialists in every field. In surveys, the team found that 3 out of 4 students struggle to choose their major, and 73% would consider education or career consulting.

Team 6 - Leos created Pekawa, a ride-sharing app that connects car owners with people who need a ride, providing a cheaper, more reliable method of transportation for university students and workers in areas where Uber doesn’t operate. Out of 15 people interviewed, the team found that 70% of car owners would be willing to pick up other people on their way to work, and 80% of riders would be willing to share their rides with other passengers.

Team 7 - Innovathy designed a mobile app, Uniroads, that enables students to exchange information about higher education and careers. In interviews with 87 high school students in the Levant, the team found that 87% of respondents said their schools did not provide orientations about prospective universities and majors.

Team 8 - BAWSALA created Saferni, a 1-click minibus service in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq that addresses the lack of reservations, reliability, and responsiveness in the local public transportation system.

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