When I saw the documentary El Gusto (2011) about a group of Algerian musicians who play chaabi music, and then saw the musicians perform live in the Lincoln Center New York outdoors on a gorgeous summer’s night in August 2013, I wanted to visit Algiers.
The opening scene in the documentary with its long shot over the Casbah and the Port of Algiers is stunning. Chaabi music goes back to the 19th century, with roots deeper into the past, and is catchy. Its musicians and singers are ebullient.
In March 2016, I was delighted to find myself in Algiers at the first Women in Computing – Algeria Conference, conducted in collaboration with the Arab Women in Computing group (ArabWIC) to support and promote women’s initiatives in computing and related disciplines. In 2013, the population of Algeria was around 38 million. From wikipedia: “Women make up 70% of the country’s lawyers and 60% of its judges and also dominate the field of medicine. 60% of university students are women, according to university researchers.”
At the conference there were male and female information technology and software engineering professors and students, from various Algerian universities – including a large group of female PhD students specicializing in diverse aspects of computing. Coincidentally the offices of multinational technology corporations such as Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle, in Algiers were immediately next door to the location of the conference. So there was some industry representation as well as academics, students, and entrepreneurs.
The conference consisted of a series of presentations and panels, together with mentoring sessions and opportunities to network. On the first day of the conference, Sana Odeh (Professor of Computer Science at NYU New York and affiliated faculty at NYUAD, and founder of ArabWIC), and Jennifer Olmsted (Professor of Economics at Drew University) presented preliminary results of their research into women in computing in the MENA region. Their results so far show considerable differences between trends for women in computing in MENA region, and women in the US and Europe. We are looking forward to their full report. In the meantime Sana and Jennifer would love for women in the MENA region, or with connections to the region, to fill in this women in computing survey, to further inform their exciting research.
There were so many inspiring speakers including Sihem Amer-Yahia from the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique in Grenoble, who specializes in the social web; Amel Bencheikh from Dow Chemical who spoke about the importance of soft skills ; Ouafa Benterk CEO of MTY Intelligent Software and entrepreneur in Algeria; Rama Chakaki from Techwadi, a non-profit focused on entrepreneurship and building bridges between Silicon Valley and the MENA region; Houda Chakiri CEO of Enhanced Technologies at Al Akhawayn University Technoparc and co-chair of ArabWIC Morocco chapter; Rana El Chemaitelly Entrepreneur and CEO of The Little Engineer based in the Lebanon and moving into other countries; Racha Ghamlouch from Arabnet whose mission is to grow the web and mobile sectors in the Arab world; Rosario Robinson from the Anita Borg Intitute in the US who work on accelerating the pace of global innovation with a particular focus on women – They produce the Grace Hopper conference with > 12,000 participants; Noureddine Tayebi who gave a talk about the impact of ecosystems.
A mentoring session was held on the afternoon of the first day. Participants were split into categories: academic; research, entrepreneurs and industry. Conference panelists and speakers led the group mentoring sessions. Because the attendees were very engaged, the session proceeded without switching the mentors around as we usually do for speed mentoring initiatives so most of the mentees mostly remained in their original groups. Feedback from the mentoring session was very positive.
All the panel chairs, conference organizers and hosts did a fantastic job. A special mention for Majda Rahal, who chaired the panel I was on with Soumow Atitallah, from Microsoft, and Ghida Ibrahim, from Liberty Global, for all the preparations, animated discussions, and conference activities beyond the panel itself.
The event gave us the opportunity to see the National Ballet of Algeria (Le ballet de L’ONCI) perform colorful and energetic regional dances providing a beautiful conclusion to the conference. Many thanks to Meriem Chehih, conference chair, and her team of outstanding volunteers, and to the ArabWIC Algeria chapter for a wonderful conference, arranging a great program, and hosting the international participants at the event. Congratulations Meriem!
Opening Keynotes at the Conference:
Below: Recordings of opening addresses from Meriem Chehih, conference chair, and from the chargÃ©e d’affaires at the US Embassy in Algiers and from Professor Sana Odeh ArabWIC founder and chair. Thanks to Soumow Atitallah for making the recordings and publishing them. Soumow plans to publish more recordings from the conference soon.
— Soumow Ø³Ù…ÙˆÙ‘ (@soumow) March 13, 2016
— rama chakaki (@rchakaki) March 12, 2016
— ArabWIC Algeria (@Arabwic_Algeria) March 13, 2016