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sun, December 6, 2020

A Sustainable Future in the Making

Today marked Day 2 of Vested Summit 2020 and with that the last day of the e-summit. The conscious techies in attendance were served up a mixed palette of topics catering to an expansive range of concerns – from concerns about the technicalities of secure business-financial transactions through Blockchain technology to concerns about the future of work; from concerns about human-centered designs to concerns about modern-day capitalism. In way of roundedness, the palette of sessions incorporated a morning mindfulness meditation and a late-evening dose of esotericism about money. But such is the ethos of the conscious tech movement, which the Vested Summit pays homage to: an appreciation of the richness of existence, where harmony between the material and the non-material is not only possible, but necessary.

In a panel discussion titled “Inclusive Design-Thinking & Technology are the recipes for thriving businesses of the future”, Gordon Suttie, Director in Ernst & Young Technology Consulting and Coaching Director in Mohammed bin Rashid Innovation Fund, Bacely YoroBi, CEO at ConnectX Global, and Hala Gabr, Partner & VP at S[k]aleUp Ventures Inc., the panelists discussed the virtues of fusing the principles of design and engineering in the development of products and services. This could be facilitated by bringing the engineers to work together with designers in synergy. The understanding shared by the panelists is that designers are better-equipped than engineers to propose values associated with relevant customer or client segments. Synergetic working relations between designers and engineers could therefore potentially culminate in human-centered designs. The challenge for the engineer then lies in the ability to translate these values to technical specifications. Gabr mentioned how S[k]aleUp Ventures Inc., the venture capital initiative powering the Vested Summit, recommends to the start-ups it supports to reach out to design mentors for support with the development of not only their products or services, but of their business architecture, production relations, etc. Design-Thinking is after all a paradigm that potentially conceives of all problems as design problems, to which design principles could be brought to bear.

In another panel discussion, the notion of remote work in the post-pandemic world was discussed with panelists Liam Martin, Cofounder at Running Remote and at TimeDoctor, and Iwo Szapar, Remote Work Advocate & CEO at Remote-how. At this inflection point in history, it is by now almost taken for granted that future work – at least for a certain special class of jobs (IT jobs among them) – will assume a hybrid form mixing and balancing office and remote work. A case in point: Facebook and Twitter. Szapar listed a few virtues: the freedom to choose where to work, the development of potentials otherwise suppressed by factors like long commute times, happiness, and equality across the workforce in question. On the other hand, Szapar acknowledges the challenges of remote work. How to ensure employee productivity when working remotely? How to guard against employees overworking when away from office? How to ensure frictionless “re-wiring” as employees alternate between office and remote work? How to keep employee burn-out at bay? As a way to think about and address these challenges, Martin draws attention to the dynamics of an asynchronous management philosophy. One is thereby invariably forced to rethink work structures, effectively modeling work around KPIs in such a way as to drive collective productivity despite asynchronicity. As a consequence, managerial positions are often revealed to be redundant – a realization that may pave the way to hierarchy flattening. As for the problem of mutual trust among employees in the absence of the transparency normally afforded by the office environment, Martin reframes the problem as one of lack of transparency about KPIs as well as employees’ tendency towards distraction and inefficient working habits when working remotely, eventually leading to burnout.  His recommendation? Clearly communicated KPIs and the creation of boundaries between the remote work environment and living or leisure spaces.

Then, a profound conversation ensued between Salma El Hariry, Founder & CEO S[k]aleUp Ventures Inc., and Jed Emerson, Founder at Blended Value Group, revolving around themes from the latter’s book “The Purpose of Capital”, published in 2018 and available for download free-of-charge. Emerson’s insights give theoretical grounding for the conscious tech movement’s attitude with respect to capital – an attitude that acknowledges the multi-faceted nature of capital and capital’s indispensability for social entrepreneurship.  The promotional video for Vested Summit 2020 includes after all a proclamation of appreciation for the material as well as the spiritual. Escapism has no place in this narrative. In today’s conversation, Emerson narrated his journey towards his present stance on capital in broad strokes. Starting out working exclusively with non-profit organizations and touting a mindset dismissive of business culture, with time he pivoted over to a standpoint of building bridges. He draws insight from business culture, utilizing the business world’s investment if “mission-driven”, even if “for-profit”. He became agnostic as to the source of funding. Lending support to this stance is his theory of “blended value”. Value is multi-faceted, “blended”. Understanding value has historical, cultural and personal dimensions. This complex view of value is liberating in that it prompts questions like: What are the best paths to value creation? How to structure capital for multiple returns? Thus, capital emerges as a social construct, with communities defining its purpose. Whatever the context, communities are ultimately seeking to navigate variations over Martin Luther King, Jr.’s problem of “guided missiles” and “misguided men”: “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

The two major sessions of the evening were the launch event for a surprise new S[k]aleUp Ventures Inc. service for the support of social entrepreneurship, and the exciting “Shark Zone Startup Pitching Competition”. Salma El Hariry, Founder & CEO at S[k]aleUp Ventures Inc., Hala Gabr, Partner & VP at S[k]aleUp Ventures Inc., and Walid El Guindy, Partner & Head of Biz Dev at S[k]aleUp Ventures Inc., introduced their new service that consists in setting up a digital pitch for conscious start-ups and crowdfunding for conscious investing. This service is an exemplification of El Hariry’s oft-repeated motto, “Better than predicting the future, we build it and invest in it.” One of their clients is CHITOSAN, featured earlier today in a fireside chat. CHITOSAN is a biotechnology company specialized in transforming waste shrimp shells into organic agricultural fertilizer.

In the “Shark Zone Start-up Competition”, 18 start-ups presented their pitches to a judging panel for a chance to be among three top start-ups to be granted investment from S[k]aleUp Ventures Inc. to develop their projects. Eventually, four start-ups were awarded, the first prize having been awarded to Agrona for their project, which boasts an environmentally-sustainable, economically-efficient process for manufacturing particleboard wood out of agri-residues – also promising support for rural communities.

The two-day e-summit concluded with a closing ceremony. A posthumous tribute was given to H.E. Dr. Tarek Kamel, who passed away last year. He was former Egyptian Minister of Communications and Information Technology and he was an international expert on issues of global Internet governance. Concluding, the Vested Summit team looked back on their journey putting together this summit in this novel format in this year of firsts despite all odds. Event statistics were shared, and they are mind-blowingly impressive! (See slide snapshot!) This is the power of Vested Summit 2020’s theme – “Believe!” – in full display.








Sara Al-Sayed was born in Cairo, Egypt. She studied electrical engineering at the German University in Cairo, Egypt, and holds a PhD degree in electrical engineering from Germany. Fascinated by the pivotal role technology and technical systems have on shaping our lives and existence, in positive and not so positive ways alike, she picked up a master’s program in the philosophy of technology, in Germany. She currently resides in Princeton, USA, where she is writing her thesis. She is interested in making contributions to the #ConsciousTech movement.

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