Names are my weak point. I knew this already when I lived in Belgium and could not recall names when I saw people again, even after multiple times. In Turkiye it became even more difficult as most names are very new to me, as a name but also as a sound. Some names I can not even pronounce properly. My next experience in names was Iran, another amazing experience and then came Sudan. I read a post on Facebook that the local organisation was looking for a facilitator for Startup Weekend Khartoum. I answered, why not me, but did not really expect them to contact me. I imagined there are facilitators more close by or more impressive coming from an exotic place. Before I knew I was chatting with Asma Hassan and she told me they are interested in working with me, but instead of just Startup Weekend, why not the whole Global Entrepreneurship Week. We agreed and so I was off to Khartoum before I even realised it.
There I met an amazing team led by Innovation and Entrepreneurship Community-Sudan or short IEC Sudan. Mutaz Mohamednour and the ever smiling Khansa Alhag got an amazing team of volunteers around them and every day I got amazed by the quality and enthusiasm. What they had on their plate: AINAC 2017 Conference & GEW Opening; Networking Track and Startup Grind Khartoum, Entrepreneurs Summit & Future Agro Challenge Sudan competition; Investment Track & Get in The Ring Sudan Competition; Women Entrepreneurship Day; Startup Weekend Khartoum and GEW Closing Day. I asked to fill my agenda and that is what they did. Or I was doing a speech or part of a jury, they always found a way to get me going. I even did a talk about the importance of startups and universities. Big room, over 300 people, government and academics, listening to my opinion, not part of GEW Sudan but another great experience. I can only be grateful.
There are 2 things that kept bugging in my head. The first one the sponsoring for such a week. Sudan is not the most wealthy country. It ranks the 61st place on the International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook and I couldn’t find big support for education or entrepreneurship from official side. This means that the organizers have to rely fully on the private sector. So next to attracting people to be part of this full week, from startup participants to enthusiasts, assuring venues, food and different sponsors for media, printed material and all. Quite a challenge, and they achieved it all. Even in Turkiye with more possibilities, it is not better done and on top you have people with a smile and a willingness to help each other that I have not often seen. Many countries claim to be very hospital, but they should first visit Sudan and then see if they can still claim it.
Secondly, they are very eager to convince organisations, mainly US-based to work with the Sudan ecosystem. Definitely a good idea as I myself always promote to look further than your own country borders. At the same time, I am still surprised that not even in Europe or MENA there are programs that are as attractive to work with. Why is there not a Get in The Ring or Startup Weekend platform in our region? Indeed FAC (Future Agro Challenge) is based in Greece but acts like a global organisation. I have no problem with this, only thing is that the only difference is self-confidence and being brave. When I work with the IEC team, I work with smart people who understand what is to be done. They also have the solutions. In their heads. But somehow, especially in MENA, we are too impressed with what is happening in the developed countries. Looking at IEC Sudan, they are doing what we do with Stage-Co. Building a better future by focusing on startups and entrepreneurship. The biggest difference is self-confidence. And of course, less possibilities seen the contextual situation like economy, politics etc. Apart from that I always struggle with these international organisations who use our work to raise sponsorship for themselves but not much (nothing to be honest) comes in the pockets of local organisations. I have been hammering on this nail on many occasions but no result until now. This really needs to be fixed.
When I went to Sudan, I didn’t go with the idea that I knew more, or that I am part of an aid program. I was going to see like-minded people and together we were going to create an amazing week. To be correct, they made it an incredible week, I just tried to add some pepper and salt and my experience. I am convinced that with the collaboration between MENA region and African countries, we can create our own programs that are based on our own needs and our own vision. Nothing to be afraid of, just change our mindset to: “Yes we Can (too)”.
Before I forget, we also had an amazing Startup Weekend Khartoum! The reason why I was asked. With over 400 subscriptions, the organising team selected around 120 persons who went through the weekend with 17 teams. Or was it 19 :-) The first evening we had over 50 persons with an idea that they pitched for 1 minute. Endless, but we voted, created teams, included everyone. A unique experience for me, an understatement. The rest of the weekend was nothing but smiling faces and hard work. The winner was The Thrifters, led by Lamia Eltayeb. A team of all ladies. Smiling :-D
There are too many people to thank during this weekend, actually for the whole week. They became my friends, as I added in 1 day over 100 persons on my Facebook with the nicest comments one can image. A special note for the lady on the left though. Yousra Ahmed had a great startup idea and worked hard with her team. What I didn’t know was that she would get married right after the pitches! Talking about dedication. She told friends and family she was preparing for the wedding but was the whole weekend among us!
Thanks, to all these wonderful people I met, who helped me, who gave me smiles and kindness like I rarely experience. We will meet again with some of you next year at GEC and FAC in Istanbul and I hope we find a way to continue the collaboration with the IEC Sudan team. I miss you all and looking forward to return to your wonderful country. You have everything to be loved.