The upper end of estimates sizes the Lebanese diaspora at around 14 million people, while the population of Lebanon itself sits at just around 6 million. Adnan Ammache, born into the Lebanese diaspora, but raised in Lebanon, saw this as an opportunity. In 2018, he founded Presentail, a gift-giving platform specifically marketed to expats looking to surprise their loved ones back in Lebanon with something special for their birthday, or the holidays. In a country that’s only made the world’s headlines of late due to economic crises, Adnan and Presentail stand out with their growth, with lofty goals, and a drive to create more employment inside their country.
A few months back, I shared a spotlight of two fellows from this past summer cohort of Young Tech Leaders of the Middle East. I can’t speak highly enough of the program, so today, I’m back to shine the light on three young women - Dunya, Rama, and Yara - and the project they worked on as a part of this program - Ektos.
Baker Bozeyeh, a sustainability engineer born and raised in Palestine, launched Flowless to address this very major pain point in his home country and region. Born out of Baker’s own work with a Palestinian utility company, he recognized the need for a better water management solution to optimize usage of this precious resource. Born out of Palestine’s Founder Institute Program, Baker and Flowless have been deploying their solution in Palestine and elsewhere in the region since about 2019. I had the chance to chat with him earlier in the summer. I hope you enjoy!
Majd Zkiyah is a man on a mission. Having studied and worked in three different countries, and left his homeland of Syria at 17, he knows firsthand the challenges of building a career in societies where most people equate “Syrian” with a word like “victim.” Majd’s mission is to change that perception, and lift up the image of skilled, qualified, professional Syrians across the globe. He launched Syrpronet, a global network for Syrian professionals, in September 2019 to promote this vision.
On the surface, Zach Finkelstein may seem like an unlikely investor in the Middle East. Having grown up in the U.S. with no personal connection to the region, Zach did his undergrad at University of Pennsylvania, and went into investment banking in New York City. However, after moving into venture capital as his next career step, Zach quickly warmed to the potential lying in emerging markets, including the MENA region. After leading investments in MENA, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere, Zach actually jumped into the operating seat with a particularly well-known and growing portfolio company at the time, joining Careem as their VP of Corporate Development. Since 2018, he’s brought that experience and confidence in emerging markets to Class 5 Global as a Managing Partner.
Hisham Kassim plays that role in MENA’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. As the Managing Partner of Kassim Legal, he runs one of the region’s only (perhaps the only) boutique corporate firms focused on startups, Venture Capital, and Private Equity. As we chatted, his vast knowledge and network in the region were readily apparent. We covered his background, and that of Kassim Legal (spoiler alert: it’s a family firm), but also discussed the similarities and differences in legal structures and approaches between the U.S. and MENA region. I even managed to pry some legal advice for the region’s early stage founders out of him. I’m joking, of course, about the prying part at least. Hisham also donates his time and expertise freely as part of his desire to contribute to a stronger startup community in the region.
يلعب هشام قاسم هذا الدور في النظام البيئي الريادي لمنطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا، بصفته الشريك الإداري لشركة قاسم القانونية، يدير واحدة من شركات البوتيك أي المتخصصة وربما الوحيدة في المنطقة التي تركز على الشركات الناشئة ورأس المال الاستثماري وحقوق ملكية الأسهم الخاصة حيث بينما كنا نتحدث، كانت معرفته الواسعة وشبكته في المنطقة واضحة جدا.
وقد قامت "يلا نحكي" التي أطلقت في عام 2017، بالعمل على التطرق للمواضيع والسرديات التي غالبا ما تترك دون أن يمسها مجتمع الجاليات العربية في الشتات، وزيادة تأثيرأصوات الشباب العرب الذين يعيشون خارج منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا، فعند القيام بتصفح سريع لموقعهم الإلكتروني، ستجدون محتوى رقمي يتراوح بين وصمة الصحة النفسية في المجتمع العربي، والهوية الجنسية في الشتات، وصولا للموارد اللازمة لدعم الأصوات الفلسطينية، فقد وجدت YLT مجتمعا مستعدا للاستماع والمساهمة في هذه المحادثات، من خلال ما يقرب من 70،000 متابع على Instagram.
Launched in 2017, Yalla Let’s Talk has made a mission of tackling topics and narratives often left untouched by the Arab diaspora community, and lifting up the voices of young Arabs living outside of the MENA region. A quick scan of their website, and you’ll find content ranging from the stigma of mental health in the Arab community, to queer identity in the diaspora, to resources to support Palestinian voices. With nearly 70,000 followers on Instagram, YLT has tapped into a community ready to listen and contribute to these conversations.
Last summer, Mays and Hani took the bold step to build a business around this initiative. As a PhD student and corporate lawyer, respectively, in addition to managing Yalla Let’s Talk, neither of them has an abundance of free time. That said, they recognized the importance, need, and potential for the space that they’d built, and realized that to make that space sustainable, they needed to build a media company around it.
Countries in the Middle East and North Africa, especially those currently or historically wracked by conflict and displacement, have generated waves of immigration and refugees across the world. For places like Lebanon and Palestine, this has led to a larger population living outside the historical borders of the country than inside them. Syria may see a similar phenomenon over the course of the next generation. Millions more from the Middle East and North Africa have simply left the region in search of better economic and educational opportunities. As the world has grown more connected, and capital, knowledge, and people can traverse the globe quicker than ever before, some have begun to wonder whether these tragic outcomes can transform into assets for economic development.Marwan Abdelhamid, a Palestinian living, working, and studying in the U.S. right now, is working on an answer to that question. GrowHome is a startup that he co-founded to build connections between the diaspora and entrepreneurs in their home countries.