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Some Favorite destinations in the Arab world for Digital Nomads

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Hadi Khatib of IMFInfo.com asks what are some Favorite destinations in the Arab world for Digital Nomads and provides answers that would not be a surprise for anyone who knows the MENA region.
But before we get into Hadi’s thoughts, here are some of Kamel Daoud‘s in his latest article in Liberte. It summarises well our situation at this conjecture, specifically that of the MENA region.

Strange paradox: the journey dies in the very century that has overcome gravity, distance, arduousness. As if after inventing so many Herculean engines, it is the vengeful immobility that becomes our lot.

Flying today? It is a long, expensive act, which requires availability, compelling reasons, health tests, a rare visa and other passage documents.

Go to sea? It goes through death, or shipwreck, or uprooting. It is no longer a journey, but a swim against the current.

Here is Hadi Khatib’s

What are some favorite destinations in the Arab world for digital nomads?

The evaporation of the traditional office workplace last year shifted the spotlight to the role digital nomads play choosing to work from anywhere thanks to special visas issued by a number of countries around the globe

  • Entrepreneurs and young CEOs may be categorized as digital nomads when constantly exploring opportunities
  • Working online and remotely depends on inflation’s stability and low costs of living
  • The Arab world has quite a few places where remote work is possible

The evaporation of the traditional office workplace last year shifted the spotlight to the role digital nomads play choosing to work from anywhere thanks to special visas issued by a number of countries around the globe. 

The UAE recognized this role and issue a special visa to attract those workers. Dubai’s Remote Work Visa provides digital nomads with the chance of mixing business with pleasure. Valid for one year, requirements extend to providing proof of employment with a minimum income of $5,000 per month, or proof of ownership of a company. The fee is $611 and must be accompanied by valid health insurance with UAE coverage.

But, as COVID-19 winds down, is a return to the office imminent?
Airbnb’s introduction of long-term rentals is one indication that this model for work-life balance may have some staying power. Just like desert nomads, digital nomads are not always on the move, and often settle for periods of time before moving on again.

Who are digital nomads?

Digital nomads are mostly freelancers – the likes of bloggers, writers, editors, content creators, web programmers, translators, consultants, and photographers. Additionally, entrepreneurs and young CEOs may also be categorized as digital nomads when constantly exploring opportunities.

Digital nomads are typically drawn to destinations that meet certain requirements and that are anchored by accessible visas that allow them to legally stay in a foreign destination for a good amount of time.

There are some important factors that every digital nomad should take into consideration when choosing a new neighborhood, city, or country:

Quality of Internet connection

While remote and exotic locations certainly are attractive, these places could quickly lose their appeal if they lack strong and reliable internet connections.

Costs of living

Working online and remotely depends on inflation’s stability and low costs of living. When paying the bills, like rent, electricity, groceries, and internet becomes a concern, it’s time to return to nomad life again.

Crime rates and safety ratings

Nomads like the presence of other nomads to hang out and share war stories with. Without them, they could feel isolated and dependent on the friendliness of locals. One thing that must be taken into consideration when choosing a destination is whether locals like foreigners and whether or not crimes rates are high.

Digital nomads in Arab countries

The Arab world has quite a few places where remote work is possible.

Rabat, Morocco

Morocco has multiple cities that are fun to explore, such as Rabat, Marrakech, Fes, and many more. If you’re more of a beach person, Morocco has that too. English, Arabic and French languages are spoken.  It’s pretty safe as a country and visas are relatively easy if you have a passport from a Western country.

You can stay in Morocco for up to 90 days with a tourist visa, which is easily extendible. In the cities, Morocco has pretty good internet access whether it is through cafes and hotels. There are also options to buy data plans for relatively cheap. Outside the cities, though, it might be tougher to find places with strong internet, but they do exist.

Morocco has multiple residence options depending on your budget. There are hostels (the cheapest option) and Riads (hotels typically created from houses in the medinas, and are the most expensive option), and many choices in between. As for the cost of living, Morocco is cheaper than the US.

Tunis, Tunisia

Tunis, the capital, is right on the coast and is a great place for remote work. There are many places to travel to within Tunisia to see beautiful landscapes and historic ruins. People do speak English, especially in cities, but not everyone. Tunisia is also pretty safe. The tourist visa for Tunisia allows for stays up to 90 days and is free for people with US passports. Longer than that, though, and you will need to fill out another application and pay for another type of visa. The visa application is now available online.

Internet speed in some places in Tunisia is slower than in other countries, which does make it harder for remote work, but there are places with faster internet.

Hotels there could be expensive, but there are renting options from locals in Facebook groups and hostels. For transportation, Tunis has a large public transportation system consisting of buses and light rail/metro. The average cost of living in Tunis for a digital nomad is $1000-$1200 a month.

Amman, Jordan

With amazing places to visit like Petra or Aqab, Jordan makes an amazing country for digital nomads to work from. Jordan has a lot of places to visit, food to try, and sites to explore. Many Jordanians in Amman speak English and overall, Jordan is safe.

In Jordan, the visa process is simple. You can get a visa at the border for single entry, two entries, or multiple entries. The single-entry visa is $56.50 and is valid for 30 days.

The prices of the visas increase from there. If you want to stay longer than 60 days, you have to register at a police station.  

For internet access, there are many cafes in Amman that have internet. In addition, data plans are available to buy and are somewhat cheap.  

Airbnb, hostels, and renting from locals is available. To get around in Amman, taxis are probably the best option.  

The cost of living in Jordan is more expensive than in Morocco or Tunisia, although the food is cheaper than in the US. On average, the cost of living is about $1330/month.  

Dahab, Egypt

Egypt has many places to visit including Alexandria, Luxor, Dahab, and more. Not every place in Egypt has Ancient Egyptian sites, but there are places that have beaches and are fun to explore. Not everyone speaks English but you’ll find help with the language very quickly. Egypt is relatively safe.

The visa process for Egypt is different than the other countries. A tourist visa for someone from the US costs $25 and is good for 30 days only. Beyond that, you will probably have to get a visa before traveling, which is available either online or at an embassy.  

Internet in Egypt is typically pretty slow. It would be hard for digital nomads to use the internet, but in some places, like in Dahab, Egypt, there are good spots for the internet. Beyond that, though, it might be better to get a modem or find a “coworking space” to work in.

Hostels are good options for long-term stays.  

As for the cost of living, Egypt is much cheaper than the U.S. The average cost of living for a single person in Egypt is $750/month, with some variance in cities. 

The anxiety list for MENA entrepreneurs is long, as is the one curing it

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Hadi Khatib on AMEInfo of 18 September 2021 came up with this deep statement on the anxiety list for MENA entrepreneurs that is long, as is the one curing it

The anxiety list for MENA entrepreneurs is long, as is the one curing it

A research report on the mental health challenges and wellbeing of entrepreneurs due to COVID-19 in the MENA region revealed anxiety has several facets in the minds of these leaders. But all of these insecurities have cures.

  • 55% of startup founders said that raising investment has caused the most stress.
  • More than 95% of entrepreneurs view co-founders as family members and/or friends.
  • Research finds that entrepreneurs are happier than people in jobs.

EMPWR, a UAE-based digital media agency dedicated to mental health and an exclusive mental health partner for WAMDA and Microsoft for startups, published a research report on the mental health challenges and wellbeing of entrepreneurs due to COVID-19 in the MENA region.

The research indicated that startup founders undergo higher levels of stress than the rest of the region, with twice the likelihood of developing depression issues.

55% of startup founders said that raising investment has caused the most stress; the pandemic was the second most-cited reason cited by 33.7% of respondents.   44.2% spend at least 2 hours a week trying to de-stress. 

Other insights, uncovered by the report, include:

  • A good relationship between co-founders can help startups navigate the pandemic-hit market. More than 95% of entrepreneurs view co-founders as family members and/or friends
  • Many entrepreneurs live well below their means to fund their ventures, leading to stress that is detrimental to their health

With only 2% of healthcare budgets in the MENA region currently spent on addressing mental health, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young entrepreneurs and achievers could lead to an economic burden of $1 trillion, by 2030, according to the report.

EMPWR’s MENA partners shared special offers on their mental health services for the region’s entrepreneur community.

From Saudi Arabia:

Labayh is offering the technology ecosystem a 20% discount on their online mental health services for 2 months. Promo code: empwr, with the offer valid until October 29.

From Egypt:

O7 Therapy are offering 50% off their online mental health services, for 50 Entrepreneurs in the MENA region. Promo code: Entrepreneur50, valid until December 1, 2021.

From the UAE:

My Wellbeing Lab is offering 20 one-on-one coaching sessions to entrepreneurs that wish to be coached and helped; alongside unlimited access for any entrepreneur to their “Discovery Lab”, a platform that gives entrepreneurs and leaders insights into their mental wellbeing as well as their teams. Promo code: MWL21.

Takalam is offering 10% off for 3 months. Promo code: Impact.

Mindtales is offering the MENA ecosystem 50% off their services for one month. Their App can be downloaded here.

H.A.D Consultants is offering 20 one on one coaching sessions to entrepreneurs. Promo code: HAD_SME01.

From Oman:

Nafas, a meditation app focused on reducing stress, anxiety, and help with insomnia, is offering access to its platform. Register as a user via this link to redeem benefits. 

Entrepreneurs’ mixed emotions

Entrepreneurs must grapple with uncertainty and being personally responsible for any decision they make. They likely have the longest working hours of any occupational group and need to rapidly develop expertise across all areas of management while managing day-to-day business.

Yet despite all this, research finds that entrepreneurs are happier than people in jobs.

To understand this, a comprehensive and systematic review of 144 empirical studies of this topic, covering 50 years revealed:

1. It’s not all about pay

Work on the economics of entrepreneurship traditionally assumed that entrepreneurs bear all the stresses and uncertainties in the hope that over the long term they can expect high financial rewards for their effort. It’s false.

2. Highly stressful, but…

High workload and work intensity, as well as financial problems facing their business, are at the top of the entrepreneurs’ stress list.

But some stressors have an upside. While they require more effort in the here and now, they may lead to positive consequences such as business growth in the long term. Some entrepreneurs appear to interpret their long working hours as a challenge and therefore turn them into a positive signal.

3. Autonomy is both good and bad

The autonomy that comes with being an entrepreneur can be a double-edged sword. Entrepreneurs can make decisions about when and what they work on – and with whom they work. But recent research into how entrepreneurs experience their autonomy suggests that, at times, they struggle profoundly with it. The sheer number of decisions to make and the uncertainty about what is the best way forward can be overwhelming.

4. An addictive mix

The evidence review confirms that, by any stretch of imagination, entrepreneurs’ work is highly demanding and challenging. This, along with the positive aspects of being their own boss coupled with an often competitive personality, can lead entrepreneurs to be so engaged with their work that it can become obsessive.

So the most critical skill of entrepreneurs is perhaps how they are able to manage themselves and allow time for recovery.  

Stress management tips for entrepreneurs

Identify what the actual source of your stress is. Is it tight deadlines, procurement issues, raising capital, managing investors’ expectations, building a talented team, or delay in landing the first sale for your new startup business?

Even if numbering more than a few, break them down because unmanageable tasks look simpler when broken down into smaller segments. Then, list down how you plan to successfully tackle each issue. Meanwhile, exercising multiple times a week has been rated as one of the best tactics for managing stress.  

Another technique for handling stress is to take a break. Rest as much as you can before going back to continue with the tasks.  It’s also a good idea to reach out to friends, family, and social networks because they are likely to understand what you’re going through and offer words of wisdom and courage.

Stay away from energy-sapping junk food. Eating healthy keeps you fueled for the next challenge. Finally, get enough sleep, and power naps. Sleep helps your body and mind recover.   

Hadi Khatib is a business editor with more than 15 years of experience delivering news and copy of relevance to a wide range of audiences. If newsworthy and actionable, you will find this editor interested in hearing about your sector developments and writing about them. He can be reached at:  hadi.khatib@thewickfirm.com

“New Normal” brings Digital Transformation in the Built Environment

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Construction Week of September 8, 2021, shows us how the “new normal” brings digital transformation in the built environment in an article by Mina Vucic. It is no more than a step however small but lucrative and most importantly in the right direction. Here is how it is.

How the “new normal” brings digital transformation in the built environmentan article

Asite speaks on changing the ways in which cities operate by “using technology to enhance collaboration through data sharing”.

Middle East cities have been leading the way in smart city development, acting as pioneers in implementing innovative, sustainable, and integrated solutions to become greener, more efficient, and better places to live. 

Disruption and innovation have changed the way specialists think and operate across sectors, particularly in the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed most industries out of their comfort zone and into digitally-enabled environments.

Nathan Doughty, CEO of Asite Solutions, commented on the topic at the BIM Middle East 2021 Conference & Expo, held on 6 and 7 September at the Crowne Plaza Dubai hotel.

Doughty said that in order to effectively drive the digital transformation of cities, the industry should focus on enhancing the precision of structural data.

He added: “The number one method we should be prioritising in order to achieve our goals at corporate, governmental, and global levels is using technology to enhance collaboration through data sharing.”

Some of the examples Doughty shared in the real world include COVID-19 track and trace systems, satellite-based navigation, social media in smart cities, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and most importantly off-site construction and BIM.

Placing his focus on the modern construction methods Doughty emphasised: “In order to retrofit and repurpose the assets we must focus on creating energy-efficient buildings, decarbonise the built environment, and improve digital infrastructure’s operational efficiency.”

According to Asite’s CEO, one of the key methods to achieve those goals is to drive the circular economy, designing out pollution, keeping materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

Doughty added: “We must emphasise the use of digital technologies on smart buildings, embedding sensors, gathering data, and analysing the information received to make informed decisions.”

Although the pandemic has challenged the traditional methods of construction, many organisations are now adopting BIM in the industry, providing a platform of know-how that can be built on for future technologies and more sustainable cities.

Middle Eastern countries ramp up their scientific publications

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Science‘s Middle Eastern countries ramp up their scientific publications by Jeffrey Brainard, at a time when they all seem to be still looking for a growth model especially needed in these times of pandemic. Here we have a whole region south and east of the Mediterranean whose elites had not been stranger to social mobilization and street politics in the past, presently sparing a little time to research better ways of life.

The picture above is for illustration and is of Al-Fanar Media.

Iran’s Sharif University of Technology has helped drive an increase in the country’s published scientific papers. MASOUD K/FLICKR/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (CC BY-SA)

After years of lagging scientifically, countries in the Middle East and North Africa have significantly boosted their share of scholarly articles in international journals—as well as citations to those papers—during the past 4 decades, the Clarivate analytics firm said last week. Further growth could occur if the region’s countries boost their low rate of scientific cooperation with each other, it said.

From 1981 to 2019, the region quadrupled its share of research articles and reviews to 8%; among regions and large countries, only China grew by more. Clarivate’s report, based on its Web of Science bibliometric database, notes the “outstanding relative growth” of papers from the Middle East and North Africa came despite international sanctions against Iran and violent conflicts in Iraq and elsewhere.

The report covers 19 countries stretching from Morocco to Iran, but only six accounted for 80% of the 150,000 papers by the region’s scholars in 2019: Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Tunisia.

Iran led the way with 188,163 papers from 2015 to 2019; its output from 2000 to 2019 rose 30-fold. (Despite reports of paper mills and fake peer reviews involving papers by Iranian authors, the study notes efforts in Iran to tame the problem). At least some of Saudi Arabia’s expansion may have come from non-Saudi researchers affiliated with Saudi institutions.

“The notion that science and technology are essential for economic and societal progress, one of the pillars of the current policy in the European Union, applies to [this] region as well,” said Henk Moed, editor-in-chief of Scholarly Assessment Reports, a journal that covers research metrics, who was not involved in the Clarivate report. “The valuable trends presented in the Clarivate report, therefore, have a certain predictive value for economic and political relations in the region, especially in the somewhat longer term, and provide evidence that Iran’s economic and political role in the region will only grow stronger in the years to come.”

Clusters of the region’s papers focused on sustainable development, including soil erosion, and other areas of applied science, Clarivate said.

These and other publications have attracted growing attention: In 2019, 15 of the 19 countries had a citation score higher than the world average (when adjusted for differences across scholarly disciplines); in 2000, almost all had been well below.

The region’s international collaborations also increased, with 45% of its papers reporting co-authors from other countries in 2019; most often, the co-authors were in the United States. By comparison, the percentage in Western Europe was 65%. Worldwide, articles with such collaborations tend to attract higher citations. But countries in the Middle East and North Africa collaborated little with each other: Only 5% of their articles in 2019 had a co-author from a different country within the region.

Skirting the challenge of bridging long-standing tensions within the region, the Clarivate report encourages the countries to forge closer research ties, which “could improve competitiveness between the region and the rest of the world by focusing on shared needs and priorities.” One mechanism for encouraging regional collaboration could be a joint research-funding organization, similar to that of the European Union, the report said. Focusing on research might also “create more robust educational and social transformation through human resource capacity.”

“This would do much,” the report concludes, to “visibly rebuild the international reputation of Islamic, Arab, Persian and Turkish learning and scholarship that sustained the Western world for centuries.”Posted in: 

Jeffrey Brainard

Jeffrey Brainard joined Science as an associate news editor in 2017. He covers an array of topics and edits the In Brief section in the print magazine. 

What does it take to be smart?

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James Rowntree, vice president at Jacobs, asked this question in Infrastructure Intelligence blog: What does it take to be smart? It is in everybody’s mind these days.

12 March 2021

Collaboration between city leaders, asset owners, investors and the tech sector is crucial in realising the benefits of smart cities says James Rowntree of Jacobs.

The term ‘smart’ has been used for some time now to broadly describe the adoption of technology by a city or infrastructure owner. The expression has begun suffering from overuse, particularly where the public experience of the result has been anything but smart, in the literal sense. 

Many cities and infrastructure owners have made technology investments over the years to automatically monitor or control things such as streetlights, water levels, utility distribution and traffic flow. However, these are relatively modest interventions when put in the context of ‘Industry 4.0’, the much-heralded fourth industrial revolution and the impact that real-time data and advanced analytics could have on how our cities and infrastructure assets operate in the future. If the hype is to be believed – and there’s good reason for it to be – then the future of smart is potentially transformational. The big challenge though is how to get there – and who pays? 

The use cases for smart cities are multiple, varied and growing, as anyone who has visited any of the international smart city exhibitions will be able to testify. It’s clear that relatively benign sensors that periodically transmit data today will be replaced tomorrow by real-time interactions which will allow for advanced applications, such as connected and remote healthcare, and connected ecosystems for things like autonomous vehicles.  

Whilst many of today’s use-cases will operate on current networks such as LoRaWaN and 4G, 5G is widely seen as the tipping point technology that will enable a lot of the next generation, disruptive use-cases to be realised. However, a challenge for cities and infrastructure owners is that predicting these use-cases is a little like trying to predict in the early 2000s the vast array of applications we now use on our smart phones. Creating a business case for a ‘smart’ entity is therefore not easy.

Connecting people and place

For anything to be smart it needs to be digitally connected and whilst satellite technology is developing, this invariably means hardwiring everything back to fibre. This then introduces the value of connecting people as well as things. Both local and central governments are actively encouraging reliable fibre-to-the-home connectivity for all citizens, recognising the value of closing the digital divide and giving people better access to 21st century jobs, opportunities and services. 

There is now a very good body of evidence that points to the positive social and economic benefits of fast and reliable digital connectivity. Cities in particular have an opportunity to promote digital connectivity as a platform for creativity and innovation that in turn is attractive to inward investment and growth. 

Unlocking the value of infrastructure

Similarly, owners of linear infrastructure assets see the opportunity to use their networks to promote the laying of fibre, unlocking not only operational use-cases and additional revenue streams for themselves but also providing a social value benefit through connecting people in harder to reach areas.    

The starting point is therefore to be clear on the outcomes to be achieved. The challenge for any city or infrastructure owner is to get digital connectivity where they need it and to build use-cases around the technology they intend to adopt.

Both urban and rural communities are generally reliant on the established telecom network providers expanding their fibre and mobile networks, although the timing and geographic reach of these plans is principally driven by their own commercial considerations rather than the specific priorities of a city or infrastructure owner. 

More recently, given it can be highly revenue generative, there are increasing numbers of private investors seeking to realise value from fibre ownership and governments are actively encouraging this in certain jurisdictions. The good news is that there’s a lot of cash available for investment in digital connectivity if only the right business cases can be established. 

Infrastructure Intelligence

Putting forward the case for change

To be both smart and to realise the benefits of connected citizens, public authorities are highly reliant on this private investment from either established or new telecom network providers. In turn, that private investment depends upon being able to secure anchor revenues to justify an investment case. 

For public authorities who can navigate state aid and public procurement regulations, they can attract this investment by either providing a future anchor tenancy commitment or encouraging others to do so. This all comes down to being able to develop their own credible business cases that clearly capture future connectivity benefits.

Defining and banking these future benefits is therefore key to being able to attract investment.  Whilst technology companies are spending billions on research and development and there’s a highly impressive array of technologies on the market, cities and infrastructure owners need to understand those that will truly add value. Technology remains nothing more than an interesting idea until such a time that it becomes accessible and deployable in a way that creates tangible value for the end user. 

For a city or infrastructure owner, it’s the consequences of this technology on business processes, people and training that needs to be clearly understood as part of the overall business case. These important points are often lost in the excitement of the technology but matter hugely to the ultimate buyer.

To realise the benefits of becoming truly smart – where city and infrastructure operations are a fusion of the physical and cyber worlds – is highly complex and requires the alignment of interests across the technology, telecommunications and investment sectors in collaboration with the city leadership and asset owners.  

James Rowntree is vice president – telecoms and digital infrastructure – at Jacobs.