SI Leader Lab – Going back again after 11 years!

I am going back to Sweden in two weeks. This time participating as a coach in the Swedish Institute new leadership program “SI Leader Lab” which aims to connect gender equality advocates in South Asia, the MENA region and Sweden.

I can’t be more excited to be part of this after 11 years of my participation in the Young Leader Visitors Program, which started in 2008 with the aim of connecting young leaders for positive change. I was selected to be one of around 25 participants at the time from Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Sweden. And that was mainly due to my writings on this blog. It was an amazing experience getting to travel to Stockholm, meeting all of those young change makers, who were leaders in their respective communities, getting trained on team building and social media, and build friendships that last for a lifetime.

The beauty of the program lied in the network it built and the connections it paved the ground to. It wasn’t limited to that year, as it continued every year since then, adding more change makers to the network. Some of which I already met and got inspired by their work, but many others whom I am yet to meet.

And this years, it even gets better. The YLVP has morphed into a program that focuses on what I am really passionate about – gender equality. It is also larger, reaching out to young gender advocates in more countries, hosting 60 participants this year from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen. And this time, I am going to give back to the program, co-facilitating a public narrative workshop to help these gender advocates develop their stories.

I actually can’t wait to get to know each and every one of the participants and learn about their work and challenges they are facing. It feels like an entirely different generation, but I understand the challenge. I understand how hard it is pushing the gender agenda in this region and around the globe, and I salute any effort that is put into building and strengthening such networks.

The movement is growing in breadth and strengths, and many laws have been changed in the past few years towards equality. Yet, we are no even close. The challenges are still huge, but we will work, each from his place, to make this world a better place to live for all of us.

I am going back this year with a feeling of pride, as I look back to 2008 and know that my passion hasn’t faded out. I am going back with an arsenal of books in my history log. Books that I wrote with the intention to push social boundaries towards more openness, tolerance and acceptance. And others that are yet to come. It makes me feel that I do belong to this network, and earned my spot here.

How on earth can we live togather?

The most recent science tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the earth.

I don’t know why, but I have always had dead ears when it came to environment issues. Either browsing online or reading an article in newspaper, I used to always skip-it when the title is merely close to the subject of environment or climate. I am not sure whether this a general problem in this part of the world where people don’t realize it as a real threat because they deal with other threats they percieve to be more important, or it is just me being unaware of it.

For me, things has changed in Alexandria, when Carl Mossfeldt from Tallberg foundation presented the damage we are inflicting on our environment and the threats that are heading to our way because of the effect of climate changes.

It was an eye opener for me. I have never really realized the dangers that climte change entails. I have heard about ice melting and the increase of sea levels, but thought that it is happening NOW! I have witnesses the Tsunami couple of years ago on news channels, but didn’t connect it with us damaging the environment. I have heard about the conflictn darfur, but didn’t realize that the main cause of it is drawft where people moved from a place to another ending up fighting over limited resources.

There are threats of environment changes all over the world, and all of us are interdependent. Jordan is one of the lowest countries in the world in term of water resources. Water conflicts is a major threat in this area.

I may not be the best person to talk about these issues, even after the presentation, my information are still very limited. I just want to share Tallberg foundation and with you. I wanted to do so yesterday in the Day of Earth but I didn’t have time for that.

350 is an initiative to help building a global movement to fight climate crisis. Read more on their website

One thing that I would like mention, it is the words of Queen Rania at Tallberg event ‘How on earth can we live togather’ in 2007, she mentioned how sad it is the we are breaking apart at the time we really need to work togather.

Tallberg is preparing a Rework the world event in Sweden next year. It is an open initiative to boost viable ventures that drive sustainability and create green jobs. People with idea and projects along those lines can apply to attend the event. Check out their website for more information

*Measurments* of freedom of expression

It never seize to amaze me how we always manage to busy ourselves in discussing the ‘measurments’ of freadom of speech whenever the issue is brought. We are smart-asses, aren’t we? When there are measurments, then we can always fit our freedom of speech to our own needs.

On the last day of the follow up meeting of the YLVP in Alexandria, we had a press conference at the Swedish Institute to communicate what we have been doing to the Egyptian press. After introducing ourselves and giving a brief information about the YLVP program, the Swedish Ambassador Tommy opened the door for questions.

Most of the questions were friendly. They asked about the program, our projects and the netwrok. One journalist, whom according to Wael Abbas, works for the governments’ official newspaper asked: Did you have any discussion about the measurments of freedom of speech in your program? because as we all know, you have picked Wael Abbas, who is an Egypatian blogger that is known of his dirty language.

Wael answered him in a firm angry tone: When you live under a dictator regime, you don’t discuss freedom measurments, you discuss freedom itself.

In truth, Wael does use a dirty language in his posts. He usually curse and swear public officials and even Hossni Mobarak himself. He rationalize it of using the common language that most of us use in our daily interactions in the streets – which is very true -. While I may not use such language in my writings, I respect Wael’s choices of practicing his expression freedoms.

I was impressed by the level of freedom of expression allowed for the Egyptian press. This is one thing that bloggers managed to snatch and help mainstream media to fill. They really pushed up their freedoms. One taxi driver rationalized it that the regime had to allow this in order to avoid a people’s burst because of the great pressure they face on a daily basis.

In Jordan, we have been talking about *responsible* freedom of expression for a long time now. Shouldn’t we just drop all of those vocabularies and focus on the freedom of expression itself?

Misr ba2at asya awi 3ala ahlaha

OMG! I really miss blogging! I have been in Egypt the past week for a follow up meeting for the young leaders visitors programme with the Swedish Institute. We stayed in Alexandria for the first 4 days of the meeting and then we went to cairo for free two days. In Alexandria I couldn’t help my self but to compare the image I had in my mind of the city from the famous Arabic musical film ‘Abi Fauk al shajara’ (Dad on the tree) to its current state.

I stayed at Cecil hotel, which lies next to the park where Abed Al Haleem ran at the beginning of the film to catch up with his girl friend, both of them running to the beach, wearing only their swim suits, singing and dancing with their friends to celebrate the coming of the summer vacation.

That was around 40 years ago, the repeated song and beautiful scenary from the film got shattered in my mind while walking down the streets of Alexandria, instead a protective state of mind occupied me while roaming the streets of Alexandria with my female friends. Poverty and sexual frustration prevailed. The beautiful light spirit of the Egyptians sounded like a myth for me looking at the grumpy face of men in the streets. Alexandria’s women all covered up with heavy clothes and long veil that covers the area down to their shoulders. Dull colors of clothes and hardship of movement, a faded smile, and worrisome. An image of a sobbing woman at the stairs of Alexandria’s court comes up in my mind. Another image of us concerned for our friend Maha who felt like crossing the street and had a cigarette on the beach by herself while we were having lunch and watching her from the window of the hotel restaurant so that to be able to run and protect her if anyone sexually harrassed her. In Alexandria these days, such stand would be translated as a provocative act from her part.

‘Alexandria used to be a beautiful city’, the taxi driver told me. He said that 40% of its residents used to be foreigners before the revolution. The revolution leaders changed everything, including the names of the streets. Older people in the city know how beautiful Alexandria has been.

Street sexual harassement is a big issue in Egypt. Most women are veiled these days and they still don’t feel safe walking in the streets alone. Wael Abbas, a ylvp participant and a famous Egyptian blogger, was from the very first people talking about the issue and helping in gaining the attention of formal media outlets to talk about it.

Poverty and sexual frustration are not the only problems Egyptians seem to suffer from. Officals and policemen corruption seem to be also a major concern. I have witnessed myself a taxi driver bribing a policeman so that he won’t withdraw his driving licence. Wael has also brought the attention of people in Egypt and the world to the torture happening in Egyptian jails through several videos he posted on his blog. 3 policemen was sentenced to 3 months in prison as a result. It is a terrible thing when the people who suppose to help you are the same people who abuses you and violate your rights. Wael says ‘People in Egypt today fear policemen more than they fear theives’!

He himself suffered from such corruption two days ago when his policeman neighbout attacked him in his own house for a stupid internet problem and hit him and his mother. He lost a teeth and had several bruises. He filed a complaint to the police department. Let’s hope he gets some justice.

While ‘Misr ba2at asya awi 3ala ahlaha’ (Egypt became so hard on its people) Hind Sabri said it in Yacoobian building film, Egyptians still say ‘Misr om el donia’ (Egypt is the mother of the world) – a common Egyptian phrase -. As hard as life seem to be for the Egyptians, Cairo never sleeps, and despite all the hectic and traffic, people spend their nights in coffe shops chatting and smoking shisha.

Will Misr be easier on its people? Will a brighter future emerge for those people? I certainly have much hope in my young Egyptian friends. Misr needs change, a major one….

Donia Al Mahabba – Voices of the world

Spiritus Mandi is a cultural organization that aims to bridge the gab between cultures through music. The Swedish Institute planned a weekend for us – the YLVP participants – at Spiritus Mandi in Malmo where they lead us into creating our own song.
They divided us into groups and asked us to come up with some lyrics. They had some beautiful music and added it to our lyrics. We then went into their studios and recorded it. The result was this very beautiful song. Check it out here. (go to the bottom of the page and click on Voices of the world link).

“Togather we find a way, we are voices of the world, togather we find a way to make our voices heard”

I love how it sounds when different young people from different Arab countries work with Swedish people to come up with this. It is true that we – togather – will find a way to make our voices heard.
One of our groups came up with:
“Donia al mahabba t2ool, 7ob o salam 3ala tool…. 3adel o sa3adah o khair… lel 3alam…lel 3alam”
(The world of love says, love and peace for ever…. justive and happiness and goodness… for the world… for the world.)
I love this part the most. It may sound too cheesy for some, but I do enjoy singing it. It gives me a lift of positive energy where I feel that I really love this world.
Our group decided to a bit darker and came up with an arabic rap section:
Mamnoo3 mesh masmoo7
3eb… 7aram
la t2arrab… la tfakkar
2ossetna el 3arabeieh
3onf o 3onsoreyye
ma fe democrateyye
3aysheen dictatoreyye
bedna ensaneyye
o n3eesh fe 7oreyye 7oreyye 7oreeye
It means:
Forbidden… not allowed
don’t come close… don’t think
our arabic story
bruitality… discrimination
no democracy
living in dictatorship
we want humanity
and to live freely.. freely.. freely
Strong words, no? Guess where shameful and sinfule line came from? 😛
and then you have those powerful slang sentences in the backgroud like ‘ma tekhteshi ya bet’ (aren’t you ashamed of your self girl?) and ‘endabbi wen ray7a?’ (stay home girl, where are you going).
It is really a beautiful song. Miss you all YLVP participants. Hope we can work togather really to make our voices heard and help our societies live freely.

Our Habits, our Traditions… and our imaginations!

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” Albert Einstein

Another tip from the idea book.

Learn to ignore what you have learnt

How many of us can do that?

Fosbury did. He was a high jumper and medicine student. He participated in the Mexico Olympics in 1968. The point of the high jump is to jump over a horizontal bar. The one jumping the highest is the winner. At that time, there were two ways of jumping over the bar: Dive over or Hurdle over.

Forsbury began to study how the human body works, and realized that the smartest way of jumping over a high bar is not diving or hurdling but in fact jumping with his back to the bar!

BUT how much creativity is appreciated in our culture?

People have this tendency of sticking to familiar things. New ideas and ways of thinking do threaten the norms that people made peace with and are accustomed to. In Europe they had the tendency to burn creative women at stake and call them witches. They might have break off this kind of mentality as the human perspective matured and realized the importance of creativity for the progress of human being societies.

but what about us? How much are we still bind to that way of thinking? Doesn’t *our culture* consider *our habits* and *our traditions* SACRED?

“An idea is fragile” Charle Browe said… “It can be killed by a scornful smile or yawn. It can be mowed down by irony and scared to death by a cold look”

How does a new idea stand against a culture that demonize innovation and trash creativity? Is this part of why we are trailing behind other nations at this point of time where there are much restrictions on our imaginations that kills any attempt of bringing up new things that help us progress?

Would our new generation break up from the bondage of our current culture and fly in the sky of their imaginations?

Social Arena – Social Media Networking of 2010

Our biggest assignment for the young leadership program in Sweden was to come up with ideas for a social media networking solution for 2010. My group, The Frozen 5, contained a Palestinian human rights activist, a Swedish journalist, a Syrian architect, am Egyptian media teacher, and me – Jordanian web developer/blogger.

Inspite of the horrible lengthy debates that took place between us, and the hardship we faced trying to communicate between each other, we were able to deliver an excellent idea, nice prototype and wonderful presentation at the end of the program.

What would we do to help increasing freedom of expression as a social media networking solution that isn’t already out there on the web?

It was a challenging question. We started thinking of what draws us to the internet, and what is the common trait of us – the young leaders participants of the program -. The answer was simple and clear: It is OUR PASSION to defend our VALUES. Isn’t it the same thing that we all share? Isn’t it what made blogging popular?

And so, the idea of creating a “facebook” based on values popped up. A social media network solution where people gather based on their values or issues they are interesting in.

Ofcourse, that was not enough for originality. We needed more, and so we asked ourselves. How do people communicate their values now on the web? What forms of debates are taking place? We looked out there and found message forums, email groups and blogs! All work in a linear form, where someone post a topic and people reply. There is no real HEAD to HEAD debate anywhere on the internet.

That is how the Debate Arena emerged! A place where two people (for now) can go head to head in debating a certain issue/value (see climate change scenario image below). I have always wished to go head to head against Qwaider (:P). Two people challenging each other while having all the resources that they can gather to support their views, and they can invite their friends to support them right below their debate. Supporters (like in blogs) can add comments, they can add videos/images/audio that would help the argument of each contender. And finally, they can vote! A voting that would decide the winner of the debate (if they want a win/lose debate). The winner gets a small icon indicating his win in a debate of a certain issue along with the number of votes he got. Eventually active people in different issues would be collecting many winning icons that would distinguish them as leaders in that area.

We also introduced the friendly arena module which would work as a group arena where people sharing the same values would group themselves, add group feed, and check out which group members are engaged in a debate so that to go and give support.

The project wasn’t meant to stop at this stage. They asked us to think of a potential sources of funding and methods of developing it. We haven’t yet started searching for funding. Today the Swedish Institute Project manager of the program – Wonderful Sweed Javeria – sent us an email telling us that she started looking into this issue to help us (Thank you Javeria).

I personally think that no one would develop this better than people of itoot/ikhbis/watwet…etc. I so admire your work people. I don’t know how much money we would need, and if you would be interested working on this. Maybe I would have to contact Ahmed Humaid? I am just too excited about this project and can see a lot of potential to it.

I personally believe that social arena would grow to help future generation of leaders to emerge.

PS: Don’t steal this idea! 😛

I hate museums!

Okay Hiba, here we go, I declare it on my blog, I hate museums!

Why the hell do I have to walk all that stupid distance to check out a couple of ancient tools, some stones, and some skulls and skeletons for the vikings? Yes, I do find it interesting to know more about the history of Sweden, and yes, it is so cool to know more about the Vikings, but I would prefer to get those information through a documentary film.

Do you people really like to go to museums when you visit a country for tourism? I mean what is the point? getting to know the culture? but wouldn’t a historical museum represent an old culture of the country rather than the one exist now? what about going to bars and restaurant? going into the metro station and mingling with people of the specific country? wouldn’t that give you a better insight and better perspective of the cultures of people of this country?

Even that won’t really help in getting you to know the culture of a country. Every major city in the world is becoming a conspolitan place. There are many nationalities in Stockholm, and many people coming from different backgrounds, some are more open than the other, but some are so close so that not to lose their identities in the new society they live in. It is the same in most modern cities. This is more of a universal code of a modern life.

It leaves me with a big question, what is the most essential thing you need to experience when you visit a new country? I really have no clue…

Question the un-questionable

A thing is not right because we do it

A method is not good because we use it

Equipment is not the best because we own it

I copy those quotes from ‘The idea book’ they gave us to day as a part of the program. We had a very interesting lecture on creativity where the lecturer told us the story of this book.

He said that they had published a creative book before and wanted to publish another one, but it won’t be creative if they did it the same way, and so they tried to do it in another way. Instead of writing the book and send it to a publisher where they would get little chance of getting it accepted and printed out, and then being sold for at most as 7000 copy in Sweden with 20% royalities only for them which would generate only little money that won’t reach 10,000 euros. They decided to be creative, and so they thought that they would sell a creative book for companies instead of publishers/bookshops. So they called several companies telling them that they have this book who they didn’t write yet. They get several orders from companies and had the many to print the book themselves, and thus have 100% of the profit for themselves instead of the 20% when a publisher do it for you.

Then they thought, why why not writing half a book instead of a full one? and so you can find many blank pages in the book! It is a good idea because they left it for you to write your own ideas! Then they said why not to write a quarter of a book than writing half of it? They had an email list and sent emails to many people asking them for ideas of how to be creative, and they paid every good idea that found itself in the book 100 Euro, and so they were bombarded with many many ideas where they filtered and picked the best.

Then they thought that hotels may like to buy those books. Hotels in Sweden usually have the bible in the rooms next to the guests bed. They were able to convince them to add The Idea Book, and sometimes it became instead of the bible!

They ended up making 2 million Euro instead of 10,000 non guaranteed Euros if they followed the traditional way.

He then had this old stream train picture. He said that for a hundred of year or so, people had both horse carriages for transportation, and stream engines for industrial purposes. No one though of combining them except one man! and the result was.. the train!

You gotta draw lines and combine things up.

Question the un-Questionable!

The pluto story! I bet that most of you have studied the solar system in school, no? They have taught us that the solar system contains 9 planets. They taught us *THE* 9 planets of the solar system. They didn’t say that scientific studies or devices pointed that we have 9 planets. They taught us an absolute truth that we have all believed in.

Suddenly in one day, pluto stopped being a solar planet! In one day our absolute 100% believe that pluto is a solar planet turned into a 100% believe that it is not!

What got into that scientist to question that fact? and how did she manage to convince the world otherwise?

Group dynamics!

It is almost midnight here in Stockholm, I just got back to my room after having a good dinner at an Italian Restaurant (Michel Angelo) in the old time. I am very sleepy, but I have several assignments to take care of. First documenting today’s activities, then researching social media network solutions trends, and finally coming up with an idea for a new solution.

Today it has been tough at the beginning, we are still having a hard time trying to regulate the communication between us the Frozen 5. We are discussing every single irrelevant detail while letting the time to pass without any real work.

It is natural in a way, as we had a lecture today about group dynamics and the need of the group members to open up to each other and put some trust in each other. It was interesting the notion of opening up in a work environment, something that I have always believed in, and is in the contrary of the spread notion that in order to be professional at work, you have to keep your personal issues out of it. A lot have got it wrong, in order to achieve better, you ought to feel comfortable and relaxed with the group you work with.

We then had another a marketer and branding guy lecturing us about new marketing trends in relation to social median. It was a long interesting presentation. One of the issues that sticked ot my mine is his saying that the world has changed, and the classical marketing methods of a source of broadcasting of a single medium to an audiance has changed to a mutual interaction between entities because indiviuals themselves became broadcast sources. Marketers are trying to re-evaluate their ad campains and build on cultural and social causes to gain more value.

I am learning a lot! I wonder how much I would be able to carry with me.