The web provides a big opportunity for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Egypt to export their services and products, according to Google’s managing director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Lino Cattaruzzi, in an interview with the Daily News Egypt.
Can you tell us about your partnership with the Ministry of Communications?
We’re in constant communication with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to discuss future plans and programmes. We recently celebrated the last graduation ceremony of the two-year Mobile Application Launchpad (MAL) programme, which was set up by Google in partnership with Udacity and the Egyptian Ministry of Information Technology to groom successful mobile app developers in Egypt through training, certification, and career guidance/job placements in the ICT field.
We are very proud of the success of this programme, and the numbers speak for themselves—more than 1,600 enrolled students and more than 1,200 successful graduates.
What led to the high success and graduation rate of the Mobile App Launchpad Program in Egypt?
Firstly, I think that the programme was very well designed. We looked at the local needs in Egypt and partnered with Udacity to offer one-on-one coaching and made sure that it is very inclusive and allowed for everyone to join. More than 65% of the students were from outside of Cairo. Secondly, the students have a high starting base with strong background. For instance, one of the students majored in Physics. Egypt has what it takes in terms of human capital for people to succeed in STEM sciences.
But this not particular to Egypt, this eagerness exists everywhere. The percentage was a little higher in Egypt, but what is striking is that the students are very ambitious and forward looking. For example, the students did not just stop at certification but they were planning what they can do with that certification.
What are your future plans to support entrepreneurs in Egypt?
At Google, we always look to nurture the entrepreneurial talent in Egypt and the MENA region. MAL was tailored specifically for Egyptian developers, and we worked with our partners to determine the best format that would deliver the strongest impact. That being said, we are always looking for new plans and programmes that support developers in Egypt, because inevitably this would lead to a stronger ecosystem. We are currently exploring what the next best steps are, but first we need to make sure we reflect and analyse what we did right and what could be done better.
We have clear areas of exploration, in particular we are focused on digital skills, but the key question here is not just about what we are going to do tomorrow, but more about how we can support this new digital economy to work well for all the SMEs in Egypt and how we can make sure that we maximise the impact of new technology on the life of the average Egyptian citizen.
What are the opportunities that you see in Egypt?
We see a lot of opportunities, considering the size, talent, and potential for development in Egypt. One is in talent specifically; we see an opportunity in building on the talent of the already well-trained population to have a higher impact using technology. The second, is how Egypt can have a higher footprint in the region, the Arab world, Africa, and even globally.
The last one is how you can start your own business or enable SMEs to export and small companies to grow faster.
Egypt and the web are better together. For us, the internet is extremely important; there is a global change in the business, and Egyptians are well equipped to capture this evolution. This is what we are doing by engaging with different players here in Egypt, like the government and associations, to capture this opportunity in order to help businesses grow faster.
For instance, Egypt is filled with incredible artisans producing amazing things, and they should be able to sell them outside of Egypt, and for other people to be aware and for them to capture the value. This is not to sell them to a large company that will take most of the economic wealth, but to enable them to directly communicate with the outside world, to have an easier way of shipping goods and collecting the money directly from the service, and to make them grow their business.
They need to be known and they need to have easy ways to sell what they produce.
What does it take to become the next Google?
I think the first thing to take into consideration is innovation and creativity—creating something new and unique that adds value. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a company; it could be a network of companies or even just an idea that creates value. You need to think big, not small: at Google we call it “10x thinking”. Second, one needs to have the skills to be in the digital world; and third, there needs to be the right environment that can allow individuals and companies to be successful.
There are a number of aspects that will make a simple idea the next big thing and yet it is not just the idea; the key is turning the idea into reality.
Do you think start-ups in Egypt are getting the right funding and support?
There is an abundance of financing for start-ups on a global level; how you articulate them and make them available in Egypt is secondary. If you have the right platform, the challenge is not in the funding but how you scale success and grow it to be regional or global. One of the challenges we have is a lot of talent think that it is easier and simpler to do things in their own country and that reaching other markets means they need to relocate. There are some countries that look to attract these talents and scaling them in order to turn them into big players. Almost every single country is facing that challenge. My recommendation here is make sure that you look at people as part of an ecosystem, and not just as individuals. It’s more about thinking of them as an ecosystem—a number of people that are creating value spills over to create more value for more people. Even if some of them decide to relocate and go to other countries, you still have the ecosystem working smoothly and generating more.
When you think about Google, you need to think about Silicon Valley—there are a number of companies that make it what it is. Think of the ecosystem that provides funding, access to good connectivity and training, exposure internationally, and access to international commerce—all these things that help one grow.
Do you have any plans to invest in local start-ups?
We mainly do this in the US, where we try to acquire some technologies related to what we need as a company, but in the region we believe that it is much more impactful and powerful to invest in developing the ecosystem, because this is where we can positively impact hundreds of thousands of companies.
Google partnered with the Ministry of Tourism back in 2014. Do you have other plans to support tourism in Egypt?
We generally work with different boards of tourism around the world that ask for our support, because we believe that giving users the access and chance to discover different places around the world has amazing value.
Egypt is an icon—a place that I have long dreamt of as a child—so I am happy that our Street View feature has offered people from around the world the chance to get a glimpse of its top landmarks and heritage.
That being said, we recently haven’t been in talks with the government for anything in particular, but we are always very eager to continue this kind of work to make culture and heritage even more accessible to everybody.
Where does Egypt rank in terms of growth for Google in the region?
We generally look at the upcoming growth in terms of people going online, so Egypt ranks very high in that regard. We also focus a lot on KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] and the UAE [United Arab Emirates].
Do you have any plans for supporting Education?
I think the big question is what is the future of education and how can you match what the labour market needs with what students are trained in. Even if we make a very good definition of how that looks today, I can guarantee that in 10 years it will be completely different.
It is not about taking a snapshot and making the decision; it is about how much you can cope with this degree of change. Today education is almost everywhere, you go to YouTube and see all those videos that users create on their own about how to do something—whether that was fixing a faucet or learning mathematics. Education is being democratised with people using platforms to create content and educate others, as well as making this universally accessible to consumers. Then there are all these institutions that we partner with, such as Udacity, who we have partnered with here.
What does success look like for Google in Egypt?
We look at success in Egypt in three ways: one is enhancing the experience of internet users on the web and helping them find what they are looking for in whatever form they want, whether on Search or on YouTube.
The second thing is we want to help and equip all these people to export their businesses around the world. The quality of some things that are produced here in Egypt should be exported almost everywhere in the world.
The third is about individuals; we want to make sure that we are ahead of the curve, because things are changing rapidly and we want to help simplify the adoption of new technologies and the transformation of companies.
What is Google doing to support Arabic content on the web?
Arabic content is for a region, not just for a country. There are a number of initiatives that we are leading.
The YouTube space that we set up in Dubai will cater to the region as a whole and will focus on the creation of Arabic content through online videos.
I am learning Arabic and I can tell you it is a complex language. But it is a rich language, especially with all its dialects. With advancing technology and machine learning, the web will better understand what users around the world are searching for, including Arabic.
Another way we support Arabic content is by helping the network of publishers get funded through ads so they can keep creating more content. Around the world, we have distributed tens of millions of dollars to publishers.
How do you see the growth of digital advertising in Egypt?
I think it is a reflection of how people spend their time. We see more people moving and spending more time on their devices, particularly mobile phones. So when you see the consequence of that, just look at yourself and look at how much time you are spending on your phone, computer, or tablet; so this brings about two things.
One is that the way that content is consumed is different as opposed to the past. People are selecting where to go and what to see, and this creates a movement of revenues to the online world for publishers, platforms, creators, etc… and the Arab world is embracing this big time and it is growing very rapidly.