Fifth International ArabWIC Conference Held at AUB
The Fifth International Arab Women in Computing (ArabWIC) Conference was hosted for the first time in Lebanon at the American University of Beirut (AUB) from the 10th to 12th of August. The conference attracted more than 400 participants from over 30 countries and was opened in the presence of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform Inaya Ezzeddine, AUB President Dr. Fadlo R. Khuri, students, professionals, and academics in the global tech ecosystem.
The annual conference is the largest gathering of women in technology in the Arab World, and aims to inspire, retain, and encourage collaboration among Arab women in computing, while increasing their visibility and elevating their status within the field.
ArabWIC, the association behind the conference, connects Arab women in technology and aims to create links with international women in computer science organizations, facilitate women’s reach of their career goals, and bring applied tech skills to the region. With 18 chapters across the Arab world, the organization currently encompasses more than 2,500 members.
Dr. Sana Odeh, chairperson and founder of ArabWIC, spoke about “AUB’s crucial role and suitability” as a partner and host for the international event. Seen as a leader in research and a key player in the tech support ecosystem in the Arab World, AUB facilitated the conference and brought in academics, students, alumna, and speakers who helped in the planning and execution of the conference.
The three-day conference program included more than 100 sessions of keynotes, panel discussions, research talks, applied technology lectures as well as coaching and networking sessions. In a Q&A panel on the future of technology and how the ecosystem can collaborate to support women in computing/tech, ArabNet’s CEO Omar Christidis and seven other key players in the ecosystem discussed the challenges that women in the ecosystem are facing, what inspires them, and what advice they have for female entrepreneurs in the region.
The conference also included a hackathon, which taught 50 girls from refugee camps to create apps that would help them solve problems within their communities, and career booths were set up on site on the 2nd and 3rd day of the conference for on-the-spot interviews.
Today, women are founding one of every four new startups according to a report by Al Masah Capital, and managing assets through SMBs in the GCC, worth $385B. Yet, despite the rise in women-led businesses, according to ArabNet’s latest State of Digital Investments Report (2013-2016), females only represent 14% of all founders. Moreover, although the rate of enrollment of women in computer science is higher in the Arab world (an estimated 50%) compared to that in the US (15%), women’s rate of employment in the field, compared to their male counterparts, is very low.
The ArabWIC conference is one of many initiatives that aim to support women entrepreneurship in the region. Some other initiatives and support units include the Arab Women’s Entrepreneurship Project (AWEP), which aims to eliminate gender inequality by providing training mentorship and other skill-building programs, Gaza Sky Geeks, a seed accelerator and workspace in Gaza, that started a women’s coding club and is focusing on bringing more girls and women in to the fold, and most recently the Lebanese Women Angel Fund(LWAF) by IM Capital and the Lebanese League for Women in Business which will bring together women to invest in Lebanese-based women-led startups.