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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.


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.

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!

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!

Culture Shift Kenya – results!

Over the past three days, a team of 45 of Kenya’s premiere creative, cultural, design, technical, and business talent came together for an experiment: to explore the challenges faced by the creative and cultural people of Kenya. The teams began with an analysis of the challenges these creative groups face – from musicians and fine artists, to traditional craftspeople and graffiti artists.

What they did

They built new business ideas with the stakes forming an investment of £5,000 along with help turning their prototypes to reality, ranging from mentorship and access to Nairobi’s iHub to space on a Creative Entrepreneurship course being created by the British Council in partnership with the GoDown Arts Centre.

The judging

The standard set by the teams was rather high: the judges had great difficulty choosing a winner, the judges tore up the rulebook, splitting the first-place investment prize into two prizes, and reaching into their own pockets to provide a modest investment for a pair of runner-up team.

The winners: Pakacha

Pakacha (chest, or kit, in kiSwahili) is a platform to help artists find and sell art supplies – from paint to theatre lights to camera lenses. Sellers can list art supplies for hire, barter, or sale, and buyers text an SMS shortcode at 5 Kenyan Shillings (about £.04) to contact the seller. Art supplies are irregularly available in Kenya, and the barter and hire economy is critical for a range of arts.

Pakacha will receive £4,000 in funding for their idea, plus mentorship, 6 months’ access to the iHub, and a place on the Creative Entrerpeneurship course.

Second place: Rubiani

Rubiani sought to connect buyers of local, handcrafted goods directly with the makers of those goods, by building a mobile application with information on local crafts in different areas. They will start with the Maasai Mara, a highly sought tourist destination and will seek to partner with tourist agencies and target the over 1 million tourists coming to Kenya each year.

Rubiani will receive £1,000 in funding for their idea, plus mentorship, 6 months’ access to the iHub, and a place on the Creative Entrerpeneurship course.

Runner-up: artivism

artivism is working to coordinate on- and off-line activism with artists. They will start by documenting a current campaign of street art in Kenya to encourage a conversation about the upcoming elections, adding QR codes to those street art works and encouraging online conversations.

Runner-up: creatory

The creatory team thought that the stories created through the creation and experience of visual artists was critical to the arts’ appreciation. They are building a platform to help artists share the stories of their creation, and using some clever social engineering to get users to share their stories.

creatory and artivism will each receive £r00 in funding for their idea, plus a place on the Creative Entrerpeneurship course.

Rule of Thumb

Rule of Thumb built a working prototype of a ratings site for events organisers’ service providers – by collecting and presenting information on service providers from both events organisers and event attendees, they want to increase service providers’ reasons to provide top customer service.


e-Kwality is seeking to bring Kenyan musicians to the international stage. They will act as a music label and management company for Kenyan hip hop and r&b music, curating up-and-coming talent and marketing them abroad.


The C-Fund aims to connect artists, investor, and industry through an online community. They will create an on- and off-line community where performing artists can meet, collaborate, and find resources to help them build solid business plans around their work. These business plans can then be showcased to industry and investors.

Congratulations and thanks

The standard of projects was particularly high in Kenya – several teams worked through at least one night, and at least two teams performed well under particular challenges, including losing team members.

We’d also like to thank our judging panel, our mentors, the British Council in both Kenya and London, the iHub, and Social Innovation Camp for all their help.

We’re off to a well-deserved night’s sleep.

Culture Shift Nairobi Pitching Day!


The Culture Shift teams are preparing their pitches – the mentors have just seen all the draft pitches, and we don’t envy the judges the task ahead of them – to choose the top pitch from amongst the seven ideas being developed this weekend.

Several teams have pulled all-nighters, and teams are currently grabbing food to take back to their pitches – which start in 45 minutes.

Good luck to all 7 teams. We expect only the best.

Culture Shift Kenya – the ideas


About 50 professional designers, developers, creative, and business people came together at the iHub in Nairobi, Kenya yesterday afternoon, not sure what to expect. The teams met each other over breakfast, and covered each other with labels like “Designer”, “Doer”, “Thinker”, and “Troublemaker”.

After a rousing morning of samosas, tea, ideas generation, tea, post-it notes, lunch, and tea, these were the 7 ideas that our teams settled down to work on:

–          Creatree is a way to engage audiences and other artists with the stories of creation of the artwork

–          BlackThumb a way to rate service providers for events & creative

–          Tupo is a repository of local creative content online

–          C-Fund is there to bridge the gap between creative entrepreneurs and capital

–          Robini wants to even the playing field for rural craftspeople in the market

–          F!Act wants to coordinate arts with on- and off-line activism

–          CreativeMe is an online marketplace for hard-to-find creative industry supplies in Kenya

Good luck to all the teams, they’re deep in working at the moment, and we’re excited about the direction in which they’re moving.

Creativity in context

We had a high-energy day at the iHub in Nairobi yesterday, thinking of problems or “itches” that need scratching in the creative sector, and ideas for sustainable solutions. Forming groups, getting to know one another, talking across the business/tech/creative sectors. Eight ideas/groups emerged, from finding creative materials such as canvas to paint on, to connecting creative start-ups with investors. Discuss, drift, re-focus, encounter a gotcha and take a different path. All of this could be happening anywhere.

But this isn’t happening anywhere. It’s happening in Kenya, full of entrepreneurial spirit and creative energy but a place that is more “developing” than “developed” in some respects — like the difficulty of obtaining canvas and other basic arts supplies.

The longer I spent talking to the groups about their ideas, the more it seemed that working to the specifics of the Kenyan context was critical in developing their value propositions. Their concern, by and large, is about making Kenyan businesses to meet the particular needs of Kenyans, not (necessarily) for the global market. They want to fix the problems and grasp the opportunities they see around them in their everyday and business lives.

Appropriateness and appropriation are both important. “Obvious” questions came up for me like “Why wouldn’t someone just use Amazon for this or Kickstarter for that?” Amazon doesn’t exist in Kenya, whether that’s because of the very different means of payment or distribution networks or warehousing opportunities — or something else — I don’t know. Kenyan ecommerce does exist, however. And no doubt many new ideas are to come that will originate from here, and which the West will find itself appropriating.

There are plenty of ways of appropriating technologies, to provide solutions for the local context. Equally, there are road blocks due to lack of infrastructure. It’s great to see creatives working on exploiting technology to create value for Kenya. Not only do the solutions need to be imaginative, but creatives thrive on dealing with constraints and gotchas. At the same time, they have expectations of technology that tend to pull technologists out of their comfort zone. And that is a good thing. Technologists are  creative in their own ways, too – more than many think.

What are these teams going to come up with today as they advance their ideas?

Tim Kindberg

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