A spirit of collaboration prevails at Misk Forum

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Saudi Gazette report

THE Misk Global Forum 2017 concluded on Thursday in Riyadh following two days of interactive, collaborative, and innovative discussions and workshops on ‘meeting the challenge of change’ with direct engagement by participants on the main stage, alongside inspiring figures from the worlds of technology and creativity. The forum provided 70 keynote speeches and sessions to more than 5000 participants and 110 speakers from 75 countries.

Over the course of the two-day event, delegates, speakers, and guests from Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East took part in collaborative discussions, workshops, and panels that examined some of the key issues and challenges facing young people and the world today. Together, ideas and best practices were exchanged and opportunities and solutions identified with young people steering the conversations, including members of MIT’s media lab.

Stefania Druga, 31, from Romania and a graduate student in the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab, spoke of her excitement at seeing so much change in the country and the opportunity to teach people how to program their first robot through Misk Schools. Commenting on the forum’s theme and Saudi Arabia as a whole, she said: “It is the first time I have visited the country and I was not expecting to see so many changes and to see how driven people are to make these changes. I believe change is a constant, so it is something we will have to learn how to do around the world. I’m hoping that Saudi Arabia with this new initiative will help pave the way and inspire many other countries and governments to do the same.”

Randi Williams, 23, from the United States and also a graduate student in the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab, said: “We came here to get to know the culture, to try our robots out in a different environment. We worked with children who had grown up their entire life here, and I’d grown up my entire life in the United States so it was interesting to see both the similarities and the differences between the way they approached the robots and the way that children in the United States would approach them.”

After spending time with students from the Misk Schools, she also noted that, “these people are quite equipped to meet the challenges that change always brings, so I’m excited to see where this goes in the future.”

In addition to these collaborative discussions, those in the audience and watching online heard keynote speeches from leading global innovators such as Jonas Kjellberg, co-creator of Skype and Gopi Kallayil, chief evangelist for Google. In addition, young ‘Hidden Heroes’ took the stage, including Saudi inventor Meshal Al Harasani, and Nanxi Liu, CEO and co-founder of Enplug from the United States.

Tillmann Heidelk, 31, from Germany and the co-founder and president of Young European Leadership, said: “The forum last year was very interesting, but the Forum this year is focused on engagement, exchange, interaction, and encouraging people to get out there and not stay on their seats in a big panel and be passive, but to really go deep – as the session says: Deep Dive – to go in Skills Garages and build robots. People can take something home and make a change with the new knowledge they gained. This is why we’re here and it’s exactly the theme of the conference – ‘meeting the challenge of change.’”

Salman Bahabri, 25, from Saudi Arabia, operations manager at the Nota Nota cosmetics start-up, spoke about the growing innovation coming from Saudi Arabia and hopes that the forum would be a step toward reaching the wider world.

Bi Huang, 27, a degree student from China at Harvard University’s Wharton School who has previously worked in management consulting and investment told how, on her visit to the region, “the people I talked with here, the people I interacted with, demystified Saudi for me. It made me extremely hopeful for what will happen in this region.”

The forum also saw the Misk Foundation and its subsidiaries sign a number of agreements with leading international companies on a range of initiatives aimed at providing training, experience, and opportunities to young people in Saudi Arabia. These included agreements with Siemens and Virgin Hyperloop to provide training and experience to young people in the Kingdom, in addition to Misk Foundation’s Manga Productions unveiling agreements with leading Japanese companies Square Enix, Toei Animation, and SNK to bring Saudi creativity to the world. Those attending the Forum were also treated to an exhibition of Saudi art through the Misk Art Foundation’s display of the works of Yusef Alahmad and other young artists from the Kingdom.

The conference opened with a keynote speech by Queen Rania of Jordan who spoke of the importance of “technology with a heart” which brings benefits to all. The first day also saw addresses from speakers such as Diane Greene of Google, Allen Blue of LinkedIn, and David Kenny of IBM. The government of Saudi Arabia also announced a new small and medium enterprises license for the Kingdom to encourage entrepreneurship and foreign investment.

The Misk Global Forum was first held in 2016 and is the flagship ongoing platform of the Misk Foundation, a non-profit philanthropic foundation established by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, to discover, develop and empower Saudi youth to become active participants in the knowledge economy.


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