Digital + Culture = Creative Economy

The future of Egypt is a bright future: Culture Shift results

A challenge

54 people, approximately 1/3 technical, 1/3 creative and cultural, and 1/3 business focussed, came together last Thursday evening with little idea of what would happen.

They’d been asked to think about what challenges and opportunities faced the creative and cultural sector in Egypt. After an evening brainstorming solutions and voting, they got down to work to try to build a proof-of-concept solution to address these challenges.

These teams had a bit of help from both UK and Egyptian mentors, and a prototyping workshop courtesy of Snook and a workshop on investment readiness from FirstPort.

Here’s what they built:

In first place, with project funding of £3,000: Meshabbek.

This is a platform to help creative people find the right talent and skills to make their projects come alive – from mash-ups (I’d like a musician to make a soundtrack to my book) to collaborators to agents and skilled technical specialists, you’ll be able to find the collaborator you need for your project.

In joint second place, with project funding of £1,000 each: Torathna and Tour Story.

Torathna will build tools for communities of readers to find the next book to read – from coordinating offline meetings to online discussion forums, they are targeting high-value readers. They’re working with the Cairo Hackerspace who are working with the open-source DIY Scanner project to get out-of-print and hard-to-find Arabic language texts scanned as well.

The Tour Story team built a working prototype of their app, which will be a location-aware information tool providing information about architecture, art, and public spaces. Tour Story will be a free app over the web, but provide paid-for downloadable contentfor tourists to access offline information.

Honourable mention, with free mentorship from Gemiza: Ididi

Ididi tackled the problem of motivation for artists – building a community to help creatives get encouragement for different types of projects – including using gaming technology and badges to keep artists moving in the face of day-to-day challenges. Several other teams said this was an application they needed themselves!

7eita w Zeita

This means “Walls and noise” in Arabic. 7eita w Zeita wants to challenge the notion of public space and make it creative space, initially preserving and archiving street art and publishing t-shirts, hoodies, and jackets (while splitting the profits with the artists and art programmes) and eventually starting a street art and music festival in Cairo.

This team’s application would give points-based challenges to tourists to find out more about the local culture – from taking public transport (a hard one, as we found out today whilst leaping from the moving platform) to eating Koshari (an easier, lovely simple dish). The app would move you from “khawaga” status to that of a local over time.

If this is Cairo’s future…

Then that future is a bright one – thus spoke Beatrice Pembroke, director of the Cultural and Creative Economy’s team, and she is utterly correct.

The response to these teams was overwhelming – the judges and the audience were blown away and Twitter is alive with discussion about the projects.

Moataz Nasr el din, the founder of Darb17/18, decided on the spot to organise a second pitching session at Darb17/18 in a month’s time so that teams can speak with other potential funders. One of the mentors, Ramy Habeeb, has offered the team mentorship to make their idea a reality. The Cairo Hackerspace offered help and support to any of the six teams – from space to technical assistance.

We’re thrilled with the turnout, and are looking forward to seeing what the team brings forth in future.

Don’t forget to check out (And upload your!) photos on our Facebook page as well.


Preparing for the pitches

It’s day three at Culture Shift.

The teams have had a pitching session with Karen McGregor, CEO of Firstport and are now in the final sprint to develop their ideas for 6pm this evening, meaning that before long, pressure is about to kick in.

We’re going to see if we can get some basic prototypes built today and will no doubt see the teams splitting up into sub teams to deliver the pitch for this afternoon.

They are asked to do 5 things;

1. What’s the problem you are trying to solve?

2.  What solution will you build?

3. How will you get people to use your idea?

4. How will you sustain your idea?

5. What will you do next.

In consecutive order I’ve seen successful pitches execute these points in the following way.

1. Visually show us what the problem is, get it into one sentence.  We need to believe you are solving something not just putting some cool technology together.


2. As a designer, I’m big on seeing what it looks like.  A description (although good to be able to describe in one sentence) doesn’t cut it for me.  I need to see it. Is it a website? Is it a series of interactions or touchpoints that craft an experience for the user?  During my prototyping workshop yesterday we talked about the value of storyboarding, which is in my opinion the quickest and most direct way to communicate how something works.  Furthermore, it helps you to direct your design towards a user(s), pushing the team to design not for themselves or their technical abilities but for people.

To show a story you use a variety of methods.  Perhaps make a quick commercial for your concept, or a filmed re-enactment of your concept.  Drawings and screenshots work well to communicate this also.

One of my favourite prototype videos is from Glasgow’s Global Service Jam.  It was a concept the team developed in under 2 days called TweetBox.  Check it out;

3. In business terms this can be a marketing plan but can also be used to really show why people would interact with your concept.  My advice is to look at a focused, direct set of users or group and show us how you will get them involved.  You can show user groups in the future, using a concentric circle diagram that shows a growing user base over time, but remember, don’t say everyone, you won’t get them onboard when your idea kicks off.

4. Business plan.  But don’t put a document in the judges hands, they don’t have time to read it.  At Culture Shift I’ve seen the business model canvas kicking around.  Use this to get a grasp on what value you are delivering, and really think about your revenue streams.  Remember that selling data and using advertising models require medium to large user bases and you won’t have this at first.  If you get time, do a basic excel with some rounded numbers.  The canvas will help you to look at outgoings, your regular business activities and key expenses.

5. Paint the future.  Show the judges you are committed and you have the means to drive this idea forward outside of the 4 walls of the Fairmont hotel.  Show us what you will do in the next 3 months, 6 months, year, 3 years.  Show us who you know, what organisations you can tap to make this a reality.  Use a simple stakeholder map or matrix to display this and don’t overload the judges, they just want to know if they give you the money and support, you will use it to make this real.

And as Glen would say, tell us what your BEHAG is (your big enormous hairy audacious goal).  It’s important that whilst being pragmatic you also have vision.

Finally, and not on the handouts is who is in your team? Now, I don’t think you should introduce every member fully but with a rise in 60 second pitches for low sums of money, judges are increasingly making their decision on gut feeling (with a balance in the concept being sound).  Remember, they are funding YOU.

Day 2 – Friday

Sarah leads us in a great workshop in how to make a prototype. Seeing a room full of people acting out how to apply for an Egyptian driving license says more about Egyptian culture than words can ever describe. We follow this up with each of the groups story-boarding their ideas – and I start to understand what some of the projects are really going to be about.

After the break, work on projects begins in earnest (and in a fun way too!)  One of the mysteries about Cairo is that the word “bus” seems somehow obscene – ask about busses and people give you a strange look and start on a long and complicated explanation about Cairo taxis.  From a group whose project is to help people understand cultural differences I finally find that busses are overcrowded and “inhuman” – but I still have to see this for myself…

Dinner is server, and although people eat, no-one actually stops working (a good indication of the high levels of enthusiasm around).

A group from the Cairo Hackerspace (who I’ll visit before I go home) are working on a project on book scanning to try to preserve some of the old Arabic books in collaboration with a group who are interested in promoting reading collectives.

The energy is still high – and now the problems the groups have to overcome are starting to become clearer.  Nearly all have a different set of problems – how to work on projects that aren’t closely connected; how to concentrate on content instead of technology; how to focus on a key aspect of a project to help their thinking and final presentations;  how do community projects get funding that isn’t business oriented – are just some.

Expecting tomorrow to be full on and exciting.

Day 1 – Thursday

First impressions of Cairo are heat, traffic and extremes of wealth and poverty.  One block away from the opulent hotel are crumbling concrete apartment blocks from a different world.  All this is more or less what the guide books say.

What the guide books don’t tell you is the incredible level of energy and enthusiasm amongst the Culture Shift participants.  People are really eager to chat and explore ideas.  So many people come with new ideas that we schedule an extra session of one minute presentations for people to present potential projects to be voted on.  At least one gets through and several get incorporated with existing ideas.

In some ways, the projects themselves seem less important than the ways people are starting to work together.  Everyone seems really hungry to be creative and tomorrow we explore ways to direct this amazing energy.

Live Blogging Cultureshift Cairo

[View the story “British Council Culture Shift” on Storify]

Culture Shift Cairo: The Ideas

Yesterday evening, 62 of Cairo’s best cultural and creative professionals, business folk, designers, and software & hardware makers came together. Most of them had never met before, but they’d sent in a list of issues, challenges, and opportunities for the creative and cultural sector in Egypt.

They worked ’til nearly midnight, doing a round of brainstorming on over 20 different topics, mixing and mashing up some and excluding others, coming up with 11 well-fleshed out ideas, and choosing 6 to work on at the weekend.

Their task will be to turn these ideas into a reality between 6PM on Thursday evening and 6PM on Saturday evening (For those outside of the Arab world, Friday and Saturday is the weekend in Egypt).

These are the ideas that will be developed at over the weekend:

Melting Pot is an application to help people avoid cultural misunderstandings – a gesture that means “wait” in Egypt means something much more rude in Italy (and other things other places)

Bookscanner is going to combine Arabic-language book scanning technology with tools to create communities around reading – helping people find what they want to read next.

Creative Jam are building a connection platform for artists to collaborate with each other as well as share contacts with agencies, publishers, or other technical support.

Just Do It are tackling the problem of keeping creatives motivated, through building peer- and mentor-support communities.

Street Art investigates the use of public space for visual and performing arts, preserving and printing street art.

Egyptory provide contextual information on buildings, monuments, and mosques.

We’ll be posting photos on Facebook, tweeting from @bccultureshift, and tweeting on the hashtag #cultureshift as well as blogging here.

Culture Shift Egypt starts this evening

We’re finalising preparations for Culture Shift Egypt, which starts at 1800 local time.

We’ve got a cracking list of 62 people who are coming, with a good balance between creative people, technical experts, and business brains.

We’ve done things a little differently in asking people to articulate some challenges and opportunities for the creative and cultural sector that they think are important, timely, or useful.

The Culture Shift Egypt team met up earlier and went through those, and we found a list of about 11 themes in common. The groups are going to narrow those 11 themes down to 6 that they’ll work on over this weekend to make real live projects and ventures out of these challenges.

Most of the panel who will be selecting the final winners will be in tonight, to offer some advice and encouragement. We’ve got a group of international and local mentors coming in to work with the teams…


It’s all about to kick off, and we’re excited about the next few days of sleepless nights and hard work to see what new ideas will come of this – a high standard was set in Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya, but we’re confident that the six Egyptian teams will easily reach that standard.


Watch this space, our Twitter, our Facebook page, and the #CultureShift hashtag on twitter for updates throughout the weekend!

Culture Shift reaching Cairo!

The British Council’s Culture Shift event’s tour is reaching Cairo, Egypt in May 2012. After a great journey of exploration and innovation in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, we are looking forward to discover what Cairo has to offer.  No doubt it will be a rich experience of collaboration, exploration and initiation.

We are now receiving the applications as the deadline is on the 21st of April,2012. Already we’ve received a number of applications from a diverse range of interesting people, which implies that Cairo has the efficient caliber for the success of this event. We are excited to witness the amount of energy, creativity and productivity when all of these great minds collaborate to address different cultural challenges. The expected projects will be digitally based which is strongly connected to the evolvement of the technology era we’re living in.

In two weeks, magic will be happening in Cairo’s Culture Shift. Stay tuned.

What next?

As the dust settles on the three events in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, it’s time to think about what is next for the teams.

Firstly, take a week or two away and relax. These events are mentally hard work and it’s been some long days for everyone.

Have a meal or a drink with your team mates and chat about the experience, and what you like or don’t like about your final pitch. You’ll probably find after some time to think about it calmly, you’ll change some details.

As you decide what to do next, be honest about how much everyone can commit to the project. Let those who can carry on run with the project without hindrance – trust them to do the right thing.

Make sure there are no hard feelings between the team about what happens now as these could become problems later – especially if it’s going to be a profit based company.

Going forwards, there are no rules as to what happens next. You don’t have to follow what you said in your final pitch; take the idea and run with it. The journey is just beginning!

Keats, Negative Capability and Digital Ideation


John Keats died very young (at 25) and a very long time ago (1821). To his contemporaries he was a sickly Romantic poet (Tuberculosis) whose lyrical genius (his dying wish was that his gravestone be engraved with ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water’ – how great is that?) was deeply underappreciated in his time (Shelley insinuated Keats’ ‘fiery particle’ was extinguished by a particularly critical review).

Keats was born a hundred years too early.

Alive today, he would be out-Mark-Zuckerberg-ing Mark Zuckerberg. He would have more Twitter followers than Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber and Jeff Koinange…combined. Klout would be renamed Keats.

Here’s why.

In his letters, Keats – who died too young to have a real shot at developing the sort of comprehensive, mature poetic themes you see in older poets – was a giant ideas machine, churning out moment after moment of inspired thought. One of these moments – his idea of ‘Negative Capability’ – convinces me he would thrive, if not dominate, a digital world.

Negative Capability is a state of mind where we are ‘content with half-knowledge’, ‘capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’. For Keats this state of mind was critical to the creative act. To create, a creator needs to live in the shadows of his mind; to accept a lack of definition as temporary and, counter intuitively, helpful.

In other words, Negative Capability perfectly describes the attitude of the Hackathon expert. To deal with the preposterous timescales, delicate relationships and the constant destabilizing influence of mentors and facilitators that are Hackathons, a Hacker needs a nimble mind au fait with uncertainty, mystery and serious doubt.

The only way to get from zero to Hackathon hero is to accept that the ideation process is long and it starts with nothing. That the temporary frustration which defines the early creation process – where so many participants seem drop away physically or mentally – is hugely significant and, weirdly, crucial to the end result. In other words, a mind prepared to accept mystery and uncertainty is primed to succeed.

Here at the Culture Shift Hackathon, all 6 groups have been perfect examples of the Keats philosophy. Each of them struggled in the beginning with the squishiness of their ideas. As I move through the iHub talking to each of them, I hear a lot of frustration, understandably, at their circumstance. But I have noticed the most flexible participants, the ones who embrace the fickleness of the process are the ones, three days later, who have the clearest, cleanest and most exciting ideas. Sometimes the practical needs a dose of impractical to get going.

Also, Keats for Internet President!

-Ryan Bowman (ryan (at)

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