SafirLab brings together young people with media and/or civil society initiatives from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). SafirLab is a joint effort by l’Institut Français and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs through its media cooperation branch, CFI. The 2013 SafirLab edition was its second one, taking place 18-29 November 2013 in Paris. SafirLab sees itself as an accelerator for projects that youth from the MENA region aims to drive forward.
Rayna Stamboliyska, the founder of RS Strategy, was invited by SafirLab programme coordinators to mentor, with a focus on technology for transparency and better governance. Other mentors, we were happy to interact with include Tariq Krim, the founder of Netvibes and JoliDrive, and Morgane Tual, a blogger and journalist interested in ‘ethical tech’. Mentoring was a key point in the whole programme, as a skill-acquisition enabler for youth. During our session, we were delighted to hear the interesting questions which emerged as many of the participants were searching to identify current means of implementing Open Data and Open Gov values in countries with stable power structures.
Mentoring is important, but what one gets to immensely enjoy in such encounters is the diversity. SafirLab’s ambition is indeed to bring about a true diversity, both of mentors and participants. The 2013 edition was a success for diversity: we met an Egyptian who works to enable a social entrepreneurship network to emerge in the country; a Lybian whose desire is to see free press overtake the embattled country; two Yemenis whose ambitions are to fight disinformation and to launch a photojournalism school in Yemen; and a Tunisian who founded a ‘social network’ between researchers and doctors working on rare genetic disorders.
The importance of MENA-wide networking was reflected through participants’ impressions and the connections they could establish, throughout the intense two weeks they spent in Paris. We observed this quite clearly during the training sessions we led: individuals often ignore political and economic developments of their neighbours. They struggle to meet each other in person, a hurdle mainly due to costly transportation means across MENA and restrictive visa regulations.