Tech can empower refugee communities

Tech can empower refugee communities

Tech can empower refugee communities – if they’re allowed to design how it works.

By Reem Talhouk, Newcastle University; Andy Garbett, Newcastle University, and Kyle Montague, Newcastle University.

In Lebanon, around 350,000 Syrian refugees don’t have access to enough safe and nutritious food. To stem the crisis, the World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations introduced an electronic voucher system to distribute food aid. People are given debit cards loaded with “e-vouchers” that they can use in certain shops to buy food.

But we found that Syrian refugees living in rural Lebanon often have to make difficult choices when buying essential items at the expense of food. Their e-vouchers can only be used in exchange for food, not other essentials like nappies.

Refugees have to engage in “grey-area transactions” that work around the e-voucher system, by asking shop owners to sell them the nappies and instead record on the system that they bought food. This places refugees in a vulnerable position – shop owners often charge higher prices for scanning non-food items as food, but refugees have no choice but to depend on shop owners to cooperate.

Using dialogue cards, Syrian refugees mapped out their experiences of food insecurity and their interactions with shop owners. Reem Talhouk, Author provided

Collective purchasing allows refugees to pool their cash and e-vouchers so that one person can buy non-food items for another and be repaid with food. This allows people a degree of autonomy – they don’t have to rely on shop owners to allow them to buy non-food items using their vouchers. Instead, the community can manage their resources and needs among themselves.

Unfortunately, the e-voucher system prevents refugees from buying goods in bulk. Shop owners are advised by the WFP that purchases by refugees should be typical of buying food for a family. If refugees want to buy enough rice for their community and benefit from a wholesale discount, then the shop owner can refuse the transaction. This makes collective purchasing – something refugees often prefer to do when they have cash available – more difficult.

The WFP is currently piloting blockchain technology to replace this e-voucher system in Jordan and Pakistan. This is an exciting opportunity to alleviate these problems and help to empower both refugees and the shop owners, but only if the refugees themselves are involved.


Food aid designed by refugees

Rather than using a debit card, under this new system refugees would have a digital wallet that is similar to a bank account that you can access online. And instead of it being hosted by a bank, it’s part of the blockchain.

A blockchain is a shared log of transactions, with each user being able to track how much money and goods have been exchanged. This is constantly updated as transactions of food aid and money transfers are agreed between the customer and the shop owner. Each transaction forms a block of new information. The digital ledger is an expanding chain of interconnected blocks of information – hence the name, blockchain.

The WFP is using blockchain technology to cut costs on currency exchange and bank transfers. But the blockchain still allows transactions between refugees and shop owners in the same manner as the e-voucher system. If this new and innovative technology mimics the model that came before, the restrictions on what refugees can do will continue and blockchain will mimic paternalistic aid models that focus on efficiently distributing aid, rather than empowering refugees to leverage their own ways of coping with food insecurity. But if aid is designed with input from refugee communities, the technology could give Syrian people in Lebanon more agency when buying the essentials they need to live.

A Syrian woman’s depiction of her community’s food insecurity. Reem Talhouk, Author provided

Blockchain can write smart contracts, which would allow people to buy items together. These are agreements whose terms are automatically enforced by an algorithm. Smart contracts act like a lock box with two keys that can be used to open it, one key is given for each party involved in the contract.

When the smart contract is created, both parties set the conditions that need to be met for them to be able to use the keys to open the lock box. Both keys need to be used for the lock box to open and for the money to transfer to complete the transaction. Before this can happen, both parties must agree that the conditions of the contract have been met. With this, refugee communities can negotiate collective purchases with shop owners and hold them accountable to the agreements they make.

Negotiating the terms of the smart contract means that refugees have more of a say over what they consider to be a fair deal. Once the smart contract is in place, the agreed sum of money for the purchase will be placed in a digital wallet – the lock box – that is bound by the terms of the smart contract. The value of items purchased by refugees is deducted once they’ve verified their identity with a retina scan, but the money will only be released to the shop owner if the refugees verify that they received the items.

We saw how these smart contracts could rebalance the power disparity between refugees and shop owners. Including refugees in the design process of humanitarian technologies and aid models can ensure they incorporate the values and practices of the people they’re supposed to help. Future innovations must be rooted in the daily lives of refugee communities. These technologies can empower people and make a real difference to their lives, but only if they’re allowed to design how they work.

Reem Talhouk, Researcher in Human Computer Interaction and Design, Newcastle University; Andy Garbett, Research Associate in Computing Science, Newcastle University, and Kyle Montague, Lecturer in Digital Civics, Newcastle University


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Read more: Beyond Bitcoin: how blockchains can empower communities to control their own energy supply

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15m Facebook subscribers in the MENA region

15m Facebook subscribers in the MENA region

A new study shows 15m Facebook subscribers in the MENA region; a big increase in Arabic language users. In fact, it was found that not only this platform does help socialise but does also contribute above all to informing on the goings-on in any particular country and/or intercountry affairs.

MENA Facebook users top copies of newspapers

There are more subscribers to Facebook in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) than there are copies of newspapers circulated in the region, a new report has said.

MENA Facebook users top copies of newspapers

The study by Spot On Public Relations said Facebook has more than 15 million users in the region, while the total regional Arabic, English and French newspaper circulation stands at just under 14 million copies.

“Facebook doesn’t write the news, but the new figures show that Facebook’s reach now rivals that of the news press,” said Carrington Malin, managing director of Spot On Public Relations.

“The growth in Arabic language users has been very strong indeed: some 3.5 million Arabic language users began using Facebook during the past year, since the introduction of Arabic support and we can expect millions more Arabic language users to join the platform,” he added.

Five country markets in MENA now account for some 70 percent of Facebook users – Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the report added.

The study said only 37 percent of Facebook users in the Middle East are female compared with 56 percent in the US and 52 percent in the UK.

Egypt’s 3.5 million Facebook subscribers helped to make North Africa the largest Facebook community in MENA accounting for 7.7 million out of a total of 15 million MENA users.

It added that 33 percent of the UAE’s population uses Facebook and it also now stands as the country’s second most visited website after google.ae, according to websites ranked by Alexa.com.

Some 68 percent of Facebook users in the UAE are over 25 years old, flying in the face of perceptions that social media is a ‘generation Y’ phenomenon.

However, much of Facebook’s growth across the rest of the region has been driven by the under 25s, the report said.

Over 48 percent of Facebook subscribers in Saudi Arabia are under 25 years old, with an equal split between English and Arabic users.

However, about three times the number of Arabic users have joined Facebook in Saudi over the past year, compared with the number of English language users.For all the latest UAE news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.

The highest number of Internet users in the MENA

The highest number of Internet users in the MENA

Per a recent Report: Egypt is home to the highest number of internet users in the MENA; an article dated June 24, 2019, and written by an AMEinfo Staff, does illustrate rather well the prevailing situation in the country and the region.

AMEInfo Staff members report business news and views from across the Middle East and North Africa region, and analyse global events impacting the region today.
Report: Egypt is home to the highest number of internet users in the MENA

Over 50% of the population are active internet users, a number that is expected to rapidly increase by the year 2030, as per Admitad’s 2nd annual industry report outlining e-commerce trends in Egypt.

  • Though only 15% of online users in Egypt shop online, the populous is becoming progressively approachable in online communications
  • The e-commerce market in the MENA Region is expected to reach $28.5 billion by 2022
  • “Despite the low rate of internet users currently, we are seeing an exponential growth in the e-commerce market in Egypt” – Artem Rudyuk, Head of Admitad MENA

Admitad MENA, a branch of the Global Affiliate Network Admitad, has released its second annual industry report that has comprehensively researched the increasing growth of e-commerce and online users across Egypt. 
Although the internet is only used by half the population of Egypt, it is still developing at an exponential rate. In fact, by the number of users alone, Egypt ranks first in the whole MENA region. By the year 2030, the growth of e-commerce in the country is expected to be remarkable – the road map includes improved Internet Networks (5G) and the opening of more than 4000 post offices for logistical convenience to aid this active development. 

In a recent report by PHD Egypt, Nour Saleh evidently notes how the Egyptian government is getting involved at all levels to increase awareness of the vast opportunities that digitization can bring to the country overall. As Egypt ventures the translation of their public sector and economy towards a digital platform, the availability of data is voluminous. The country is making prominent efforts to simplify mundane tasks and provide a smooth pathway into a digital era, including encouraging businesses to equip this transformation.

An analysis by Bain & Company estimates that the e-commerce market in the MENA Region is expected to reach $28.5 billion by 2022. As this industry continues to rise, even the small pool of internet users in Egypt is impressively active. Today, a vast majority of Egyptian people rely on social media communities, Facebook being at the top to search for information on goods and where they can find the best deals. Though only 15% of online users in Egypt shop online, the populous is becoming progressively approachable in online communications and are therefore being profoundly influenced by recommendations. Through this conscious endeavour, Egypt is proving that today is the best time to be in the e-commerce market in the MENA Region and advertisers need to start getting ready for an era of digitization.

“Despite the low rate of internet users currently, we are seeing an exponential growth in the e-commerce market in Egypt. As governments get involved and aim to simplify these processes through the addition of updated logistics and easy bank processes, we are already seeing a rise in advertisers penetrating the Egyptian market and expect to see this continue. There is no doubt that more advertisers in Egypt will start to embrace digital transformation very soon and we are seeing many of them jump onto the bandwagon already!” – Artem Rudyuk, Head of Admitad MENA

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How young people really feel about digital technology

How young people really feel about digital technology

Revolt on the horizon? How young people really feel about digital technology. It is already happening but on the other side of the Mediterranean. The 2011 raucous events liberally labelled ‘Arab Spring’ surfing on the then available Social Media did take their respective establishments by surprise in Tunisia and Egypt. Lately, it is Algeria’s as well as Sudan’s that no doubt are undergoing the same treatment. The almost full and deep spread of Digital Technology is definitely for something in the simultaneous and coordinated gatherings, for instance in every single town and village of all and far-flung 48 provinces of Algeria. Moreover, the impact of social networks has given a specific decantation process via all social media seems to help in delineating issues and decide ways to pursue each and to which end. Inevitable progress and/or technological advances in the digital hardware in hand is making it hard to predict where all this is leading.

Meanwhile here are Dr Mike Cooray, Hult International Business School and Dr Rikke Duus, UCL with their views on the matter this side of the English Channel.

File 20190521 23823 1t9fa9p.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
DisobeyAr/Shutterstock

As digital technologies facilitate the growth of both new and incumbent organisations, we have started to see the darker sides of the digital economy unravel. In recent years, many unethical business practices have been exposed, including the capture and use of consumers’ data, anticompetitive activities and covert social experiments.

But what do young people who grew up with the internet think about this development? Our research with 400 digital natives – 19- to 24-year-olds – shows that this generation, dubbed “GenTech”, may be the one to turn the digital revolution on its head. Our findings point to a frustration and disillusionment with the way organisations have accumulated real-time information about consumers without their knowledge and often without their explicit consent.

Many from GenTech now understand that their online lives are of commercial value to an array of organisations that use this insight for the targeting and personalisation of products, services and experiences.

This era of accumulation and commercialisation of user data through real-time monitoring has been coined “surveillance capitalism” and signifies a new economic system.

Artificial intelligence

A central pillar of the modern digital economy is our interaction with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms. We found that 47% of GenTech do not want AI technology to monitor their lifestyle, purchases and financial situation in order to recommend them particular things to buy.

In fact, only 29% see this as a positive intervention. Instead, they wish to maintain a sense of autonomy in their decision making and have the opportunity to freely explore new products, services and experiences.

The agency pendulum swings between the individual and technology. Who will take control? boykung/Shutterstock

As individuals living in the digital age, we constantly negotiate with technology to let go of or retain control. This pendulum-like effect reflects the ongoing battle between the human and technology.

My life, my data?

Our research also reveals that 54% of GenTech are very concerned about the access organisations have to their data, while only 19% were not worried. Despite the EU General Data Protection Regulation being introduced in May 2018, this is still a major concern – grounded in a belief that too much of their data is in the possession of a small group of global companies, including Google, Amazon and Facebook. Some 70% felt this way.

In recent weeks, both Facebook and Google have vowed to make privacy a top priority in the way they interact with users. Both companies have faced public outcry for their lack of openness and transparency when it comes to how they collect and store user data. It isn’t long ago that a hidden microphone was found in one of Google’s home alarm products.

Google now plans to offer auto-deletion of users’ location history data, browsing and app activity as well as extend its “incognito mode” to Google Maps and search. This will enable users to turn off tracking.

At Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is keen to reposition the platform as a “privacy focused communications platform”, built on principles such as private interactions, encryption, safety, interoperability (communications across Facebook-owned apps and platforms) and secure data storage. This will be a tough turn around for the company that is fundamentally dependent on turning user data into opportunities for highly individualised advertising.

Facebook is trying to restore trust. PK Studio/Shuttestock

Privacy and transparency are critically important themes for organisations today – both for those that have “grown up” online as well as the incumbents. While GenTech want organisations to be more transparent and responsible, 64% also believe that they cannot do much to keep their data private. Being tracked and monitored online by organisations is seen as part and parcel of being a digital consumer.

Despite these views, there is a growing revolt simmering under the surface. GenTech want to take ownership of their own data. They see this as a valuable commodity, which they should be given the opportunity to trade with organisations. Some 50% would willingly share their data with companies if they got something in return, for example, a financial incentive.

Rewiring the power shift

GenTech are looking to enter into a transactional relationship with organisations. This reflects a significant change in attitudes from perceiving the free access to digital platforms as the “product” in itself (in exchange for user data), to now wishing to use that data to trade for explicit benefits.

This has created an opportunity for companies that seek to empower consumers and give them back control of their data. Several companies now offer consumers the opportunity to sell the data they are comfortable sharing or take part in research which they get paid for. More and more companies are joining this space, including People.io, Killi and Ocean Protocol.

Sir Tim Berners Lee, the creator of the world wide web, has also been working on a way to shift the power from organisations and institutions and back to citizens and consumers. The platform, Solid, offers users the opportunity to be in charge of where they store their data and who can access it. It is a form of re-decentralisation.

The Solid POD (Personal Online Data storage) is a secure place on a hosted server or the individual’s own server. Users can grant apps access to their POD as a person’s data is stored centrally and not by an app developer or on an organisation’s server. We see this as potentially being a way to let people take back control from technology and other companies.

GenTech have woken up to a reality where a life lived “plugged in” has significant consequences for their individual privacy, and are starting to push back, questioning those organisations that have shown limited concern and continue to exercise exploitative practices.

It’s no wonder that we see these signs of revolt. GenTech is the generation with the most to lose. They face a life ahead intertwined with digital technology as part of their personal and private lives. With continued pressure on organisations to become more transparent, the time is now for young people to make their move.

Dr Mike Cooray, Professor of Practice, Hult International Business School and Dr Rikke Duus, Research Associate and Senior Teaching Fellow, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Mission to teach Kids how to Code

Mission to teach Kids how to Code

Entrepreneur Middle East‘s Education Tech published this fantastic story on May 14, 2019, on a certain Hadi Partovi who “Having built (and funded) great startups, this entrepreneur and investor opens up on his mission to teach kids how to code.

Here is his story.

Transformative Change: Code.org Founder Hadi Partovi

By Tamara Pupic Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East.

Transformative Change: Code.org Founder Hadi Partovi
Hadi Partovi

Sitting in a corner of The Third Line Gallery in Dubai’s arts district of Al Serkal Avenue, Hadi Partovi, a tech entrepreneur and angel investor known for his early bets on Facebook, Dropbox, Airbnb, and Uber, is quietly tapping away on his laptop prior to an invite-only fireside chat organized by VentureSouq, a Dubai-based early-stage equity funding platform.

He is here, wearing his signature baseball cap, to present Code.org, a Seattle-based education non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools around the world, of which he is the founder and CEO. The main reason for founding this global social-impact initiative is his belief that mastering computer science is no less than a life-giving skill.

Sonia Weymuller, Founding Partner of VentureSouq, introducing Hadi Partovi at a VSQ Talks event at The Third Line Gallery in Dubai. 

Yet, before we expand on that, I decide to focus on his approach to investing in early-stage tech startups, knowing that I will hear something different from a phrase that gets thrown around by every startup investor out there: “I invest in people, not ideas.” Partovi also has a people-first investment philosophy; however, not only can he specifically point out to what “investing in people” actually means for him, but he can even measure it.

The Partovi twins, Hadi and his brother Ali, currently the founder and CEO of Neo, a community of young engineers and the world’s top programmers, were jointly investing in startup founders for 17 years (since 2018, they have decided to focus on individual investments), but only in those who passed their coding test. It started with the founders of Dropbox, Partovi explains. “The best tech companies don’t hire a single technical person without putting them through a lot of tests, so why would an investor consider giving hundreds of thousands of dollars without even one test to show that they can do something?” he says. “Most VCs don’t do this because they themselves don’t know the technology, so they just think whether they like the idea or not, and they just take it for granted that a person can do it. If you look at the companies that have succeeded, the idea often isn’t unique, it’s the execution.” He points out that Google was not the first search engine company, Facebook was not the first social networking platform, and Microsoft was not the first company building an operating system- but what set all three of them apart was having the strongest engineers on board.

The Partovi brothers know this from their own entrepreneurial experience. Partovi may come across as being humble, quiet, and almost reticent, but he is a man who was part of the team that founded and sold Tellme Networks, a voice recognition software developer, to Microsoft for US$800 million in 2007. A decade earlier, in 1998, Ali Partovi was a co-founder of LinkExchange, an internet advertising company, that also got acquired by Microsoft for $265 million. The brothers’ website has a page listing their 34 ongoing investments, which include Airbnb, Classpass, and Uber, and 23 successful exits: Dropbox (IPO), Facebook (IPO), and Zappos (acquired by Amazon), to name just a few. If you scroll down this page, you will also find a list of 10 of their unsuccessful investments, and Partovi is open to say that there had been a few bruises before the brothers developed their investment muscle. “I did invest in a bad idea when I liked the person, but if I look at all my investments, the worst ones were the cases where I liked the idea but I didn’t like the entrepreneur, and also there are investment decisions that I chose not to invest even though I liked the entrepreneur,” he says. “And, I’ve made other mistakes too, such as when one of my college classmates wrote to me in 1998, saying that he had just joined a group of friends from his graduate program to start a company, and he was like, ‘They are the smartest people I know.’ I remember thinking that nobody needs another search engine, and that I wouldn’t invest in this company, that he was just the first employee, and that it was going to be a complete failure. Turned out that the company was Google, and he was their first employee and the Chief Technology Officer. He was also in the top of my class in computer science at Harvard. So, if I could go back and invest in all the best computer scientists I had graduated with, I would have made a lot more money, although I have done well, but I wouldn’t have missed the opportunities like this one.”

A key element of his stressing the importance of the engineering talent is that it was a key factor in how the Partovi brothers came to be where they are today. Born in Tehran, Iran, the twins taught themselves to code on a Commodore 64, which has fueled their passion for programming ever since. The family fled to the US in 1984, following the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Upon earning a master’s degree in computer science from Harvard University, Hadi Partovi rose up the executive ranks at Microsoft, before he went about launching his own startups. And now, he believes that every young person around the world deserves to be propelled forward in life by learning this specific skill. “This is a story about opportunity, and how we can expand who has access to that opportunity, what the jobs of the future will look like, and how we can ensure that everyone gets an opportunity,” Partovi says, on why he advocates computer science training, and why Code.org provides coding curriculum for schools around the country. “In the world of accelerating technological change, the most important thing everybody can learn is how to adapt to new technology. Many schools teach technology, but they teach kids how to use it, whereas we want to teach them how to create technology. And learning to create technology is important, not only because it leads to an opportunity, and not only because of the future of the job market, but because for kids, it’s fun and it teaches them creativity. Creativity is such a natural human desire, something that drives adults, and especially youth, but it doesn’t really exist in the school system.”

Since launching in 2013, Code.org has created the most broadly used curriculum platform for K-12 computer science in the United States. Its computer science classes have reached 30% of American students, while its Hour of Code initiative, a global campaign offering a one-hour introduction to computer science, has reached 10% of students around the world. Furthermore, the Code.org team informs that the nonprofit has more than 100 international partners and supports 63 languages in 180+ countries, with students having created 35 million projects on the platform. Importantly, they also state that 48% of Code.org students are underrepresented minorities. In addition to all of this, Partovi is a firm believer that among the future codingskilled founders tackling the world’s biggest problems, we will see many more women than today. According to a teacher survey by Code.org, 46% of users on the company’s Code.org Studio are female. “There is a misconception that this is for boys not for girls, which is totally not true,” Partovi says. “When girls reach 13 or 14, and if they haven’t tried computer science yet, there are too many other things to do and a pressure to be cool, and that this is not cool for them, because of that social stereotype that this is for boys. So, as a girl, if at 13, you haven’t tried it yet, you have to go against that social stereotype. However, for a boy, the social stereotype is that this is for you, that’s fine. It’s hard to go against the social stereotype for anybody, but it is especially hard for a 13-year-old, when you’ve just started learning how to be secure yourself.” To illustrate, Partovi mentions that Google search results for “software engineers” will mainly show the images of men, whereas the results for “students coding” will show men and women in almost equal numbers.

When it comes to other misconceptions about learning computer science, Partovi mentions the notions people falsely have about its scope and complexity. “I’ve probably made this worse, because of the name of our non-profit, but computer science is more than coding,” he says. “Code.org is about a whole bunch of fields that all are technical, and they are all part of computer science, and I believe that all of them belong in primary and secondary education. Just like you think of science, science has biology and chemistry and physics; you don’t teach just one of them.” Partovi adds, “The other misconception is that this is just for rocket scientists. People imagine that computer science is as hard as calculus, but they don’t realize that six-year-olds can start learning it. If you think about math, first grade math is easy, but 12th grade math could be more difficult, and university math is extra hard. Computer science is the same, the first-grade level of stuff is very easy.”

Code.org founder and CEO Hadi Partovi speaking about the importance of teaching computer science in schools.
Source: Code.org

For all these reasons, Partovi, despite coming across as a quiet man, is ready to make some noise with the recent announcement of the single largest expansion of Code.org’s computer science curriculum. Code.org’s Computer Science (CS) Fundamentals course, geared toward primary school, will be translated into the 10 most widely spoken languages in the non-profit’s database – Chinese (traditional and simplified), French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish- while it will also offer a new offline version of CS Fundamentals to empower schools in low- and no-bandwidth environments to teach computer science to all students.

Expanding into the MENA region is on Partovi’s agenda too. He says, “There are already 500,000 students and about 20,000 teachers in the Arab world using Codeiorg, despite it, for now, being only in English language and only on internet connected computers, meaning that we haven’t done almost any work to overcome the obstacles in the region, we haven’t properly transitioned into Arabic, we don’t yet support use on disconnected computers, we don’t yet work well on smartphones and tablets. Most of the students are in private schools or international schools, because they are using it in English, but it shows that the interest in what we do is already high.”

Region by region, Partovi hopes to achieve Code.org’s mission of changing the educational system, making computer science a permanent part of school curricula. “The education establishment especially doesn’t recognize that this is a field that is as fundamental as mathematics or science,” Partovi says. “Everybody understands that technology is the future, nobody needs to be explained that, and nobody needs to be explained that there is money in technology, and that it is changing everything. What people don’t realize is that when you start learning the alphabet, you can also simultaneously start learning computer science. Nobody questions why we are teaching math or science, but what they do question is whether they should teach computer science. They are not even asking whether they should also teach computer science.”

Code.org founder and CEO Hadi Partovi teaching students. 
Source: Code.org

However, some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent leaders did not need much persuasion- so far, Code.org has been backed by Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Infosys Foundation USA, and many others. Furthermore, Partovi recently helped Pope Francis to write a line of code for an app, during an event organized by the Scholas Occurrentes foundation in Vatican City. “Computer science belongs in primary and secondary schools as a fundamental thing, not just for the students who want to become coders, but for those who want to become lawyers, nurses, farmers, because understanding technology is going to be important,” Partovi concludes. “It’s because building the creativity that computer science teaches will be important, and learning the digital skills that will be required in every career will be important. The biggest obstacle for us is this education administrative mindset. Individual teachers and parents recognize this, but nobody thinks that this should be a part of schools. They want their own child to learn to code, and they don’t think about why schools are not teaching it.”

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Construction digitisation to  weather difficult times in the MENA

Construction digitisation to weather difficult times in the MENA

A MEConstructionNews ANALYSIS by Andrew Skudder, CEO. CCS, Guest Author, warning construction firms of the risks of not digitising operations, posted on April 25, 2019, is republished here for its obvious benefits to the MENA’s development.


Construction industry should look to proven tech to weather difficult times

With the Middle East construction sector under growing pressure as a result of a tightening economy, construction companies should be looking at ways to streamline their business processes, improve cash flow management and tighten risk management. Those that sharpen internal processes and systems today will be best positioned for an upswing in government and private sector investment in the years to come.

The sector faces numerous challenges – challenging economic growth, shrinking margins, skills shortages, rising resource and labour costs – which means it’s under pressure to start innovating.

Investment in tech is behind the curve

The challenges the industry faces are compounded by the fact that many construction groups have not digitised operations such as cost-consulting. This means they lack visibility into – and control over – the many variables, changes, people and equipment involved in any construction project.

Middle Eastern construction companies should be looking for ways to use technology to drive higher productivity, achieve cost-savings and improve project management to weather a tumultuous time for the industry. However, the lean years of late, have seen IT spending in the construction industry stagnate, despite the accelerating pace of innovation around the world.

For example, adoption of wearables, 3D printing, driverless heavy vehicles, drones and building information modelling is rising in the global construction sector. To take full advantage of these advanced technologies, many local construction companies will first need to modernise their core back-office systems.

They should be looking towards tried and tested solutions for estimating, project control, enterprise accounting and operational costing. These solutions will enable them to drive down the costs of maintaining legacy applications, help them to become more agile and give them clearer real-time visibility into business performance.

Breaking down silos

Construction performance and progress cannot be monitored on financial data alone; engineering information is just as critical. Engineering control includes generating and managing allowable and actual quantities of resources, wastages, manhours of labour, production of equipment and time for construction activities.

Without digitisation, an organisation has no clear indication of the status of the contract because it doesn’t have real-time visibility into these factors. Today’s business solutions can break down the silos, enabling estimators and accountants to produce real time-reporting, and yet continue to work in the language that is meaningful to them.

Integrated back-office systems spanning procurement, project control, cost estimation, sub-contractor management and accounting give construction companies one source and view of the truth, enabling them to manage an entire project with real-time visibility into costs and performance.

Using this data can help construction firms make better strategic and operational decisions. Data-driven insights can enable them to better manage cashflow and project risks, so they can better predict and mitigate payment delays, rising costs and other challenges. It can also help companies to drive higher levels of profitability through better project planning.

Building a foundation for the future

Looking to the future, a robust business solution is also a foundation upon which construction companies can layer drones, robots, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and other advanced digital technologies. Such solutions enable construction companies to manage and analyse big data produced by sensors, devices and workers so they can drive productivity and innovation – AI, for example, can help them rapidly process the data to find key insights.

Construction companies should embrace digital transformation to drive higher productivity, improve efficiency and gain a competitive advantage. Transforming their core business with a proven solution will help them prepare for the future, with a possibility that infrastructure spending will show signs of life again in the near future. Now is the time to lay the foundation for the next wave of growth.