MENACatalyst Sweden: Bringing enterprising young minds together to learn, grow, and innovate across the MENA region

MENACatalyst Sweden: Bringing enterprising young minds together to learn, grow, and innovate across the MENA region
20 Apr 2022
MENACatalyst Sweden: Bringing enterprising young minds together to learn, grow, and innovate across the MENA region

MENACatalyst Sweden (MC) is an impact-driven nonprofit creating the conditions necessary for the marginalized to emerge as leaders of positive social impact and effect lasting economic growth across the MENA region. Our goal is to build a bridge between the region’s at-risk yet enterprising youth community and Sweden-based networks of support to help develop the region’s digital landscape, foster inclusive economic cooperation, and strengthen youth’s access to the skills needed to overcome socioeconomic challenges and emerge as today’s innovators.  We collaborate with our global donor community and leading organizations on the design and implementation of tailor-made interventions that address the various challenges faced by marginalized communities throughout the MENA region.

To address the growing disparity between the youth and digital opportunities, MC Sweden launched MENACodes in early 2022. The program was designed to ensure that the region’s youth are not left behind when it comes to digital skills and have access to learning opportunities within this field. MENACodes provides the region’s enterprising youth with a fully integrated virtual incubator that combines programming modules with innovation and entrepreneurship skills building, along with courses in life-skills. Afterward, a region-wide hackathon will then bring youth from a diverse range of socioeconomic backgrounds and countries together and innovate solutions to the challenges they face daily. In 2022 alone, the program is well on its way to supporting 120 youth across the region.

MENACodes’ latest digital and entrepreneurship training program attracted enterprising young innovators from across the Middle East and North Africa. As one of the region’s few integrated virtual programs that combine high-level programming skills with entrepreneurship and life skills, the appeal of MENACodes cannot be overstated. To attest to this, over a thousand prospective students applied to join the most recent cohort to become part of a growing community of changemakers overcoming boundaries and grasping new cross-border opportunities.

From Syria, Rana: I love all things technology. Through this program, I learned the language that makes technology work. The courses were very engaging, and I had so much fun throughout the program. I am definitely going to continue this journey and learn as much as I can about the world of coding.

Applicants were received from Yemen, Tunisia, Syria, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Oman, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, and Morocco. Suffice to say, once word got out about a new virtual program that integrates programming with entrepreneurship and life skills, young learners across the region were eager to apply.

From Iraq, Yousef: I actually knew a bit about programming from before, which is why I was so excited to join this program and continue to build my skills. I learned so much more from this program and realized that the world is wider than I ever imagined. There is so much to explore. I would advise all of my friends and classmates to join MENACodes.

Despite the high demand for the program, limited resources allowed for the selection of only 120 applicants. The selected applicants were then split up into three cohorts consisting of 35 to 40 participants. Each cohort will then participate in a three-month intensive virtual incubation program that incorporates programming, entrepreneurship, and life skills training. Mentorship will be provided to participants throughout the incubation process.

After the incubation phase, participants from all three cohorts will then team up and join the region-wide virtual hackathon. Teams will be composed of participants from different countries to help participants break out from the familiar and engage with a diverse range of young innovators from neighboring countries. This will help expose participants to new experiences, get acquainted with their peers from different countries, and lessen the ever-widening gap between the region’s youth. Teams will then virtually work together on innovative digital solutions that address one or many of the socioeconomic and humanitarian challenges they collectively face daily. Top teams will then pitch their innovations to a panel of judges.

From Lebanon, Sergio: Sometimes coding can be confusing and a bit tricky, but with MENACodes and our trainer everything was crystal clear as I learned the basics and more advanced coding techniques. I am looking forward to learning more about coding and entrepreneurship with MENACodes.

MENACodes is delivering an integrated digital literacy program like no other. As one of the only virtual digital literacy programs offered in the MENA region, the opportunity to bring students, trainers, and stakeholders together is impactful in and of itself. Based on the impressive number of applications received, there is a growing demand for the program, especially amongst students from Yemen, Iraq, Tunisia, Lebanon, Palestine, and others.  The region's youth face many persistent challenges such as ongoing political instability, poverty, unemployment, lack of quality education, and limited access to strategic resources, to name a few. As such, there is a real need for programs that can bring disparate communities together and empower them with the digital skills that continue to remain overlooked by policymakers and the private sector alike.

From Yemen Raghad: This is one of the best courses I have taken, to be honest. I learned the basics of programming and am interested in the upcoming courses like entrepreneurship and the hackathon. I want to study computer science when I get to college, so I am trying to get a head start and learn as much as I can about programming. MENACodes really helped me do this, especially because it is online and there aren’t many coding programs available where I’m from.

Based on the ongoing success of MENACodes, MC Sweden is eager to sustain impact and partner and collaborate with committed global stakeholders to build on the momentum and success and impact of the program. While our goal is to build the foundation needed to transform the MENA region’s digital landscape, we are committed to fostering a new generation of skilled youth that can tap into the power of digital technologies, innovation, and entrepreneurship to build a more prosperous, equitable, and resilient future for all.

From Tunisia, Ibtihal: This program was amazing. I always thought of learning to code more as a hobby than anything else. After participating in this program and getting to know my peers, I really want to take the field of programming more seriously as a possible profession to pursue later on.

Through the MENACodes, the region’s enterprising youth can access these skills, embrace the power of innovation and entrepreneurship to challenge ongoing socioeconomic inequities that systematically persist, and forge a new resilient future for themselves with endless global opportunities.