For the past seven months, our company duo, SYNTAX and Spring has been working on their most revolutionary web project to date. What was just a sketchy idea by early 2010, has become a groundbreaking, living, breathing web venture: Wamda.com, a hub that, for the first time, creates a focal point for the Middle East’s entrepreneurs, creative industries, change-makers and social innovators.
Wamda is being launched by Riyada Enterprise Development, the small and medium size enterprise investment arm of Abraaj Capital, the region’s leading investment powerhouse. With an unprecedented amount of original content from all over the Arab region and beyond, a full suite of online community and social networking tools and dozens of brand-name partners and supporters, Wamda represents the most comprehensive and deep effort to date to celebrate the enterprising spirit of the region and connect its islands of entrepreneurship.
As we started working on this project I found myself on a plane from Beirut to Amman, after attending the vibrant ArabNet web conference. I was reading the late Samir Kassir’s book Being Arab. This book starts with an uncompromising critique of the contemporary Arab condition, but yet ends on a hopeful note: that an Arab Renaissance is indeed possible despite borders, limitations and suppression. Kassir saw in the emergence of new media a possibility of connecting the region’s simmering culture of creation to its mainstream social reality. I see no better way to describe our work for Wamda. Here is team that brings together Middle Eastern talent with global talent to brand, architect, design, program and develop the content of what will become an exciting new arena of inspiration, empowerment and connections.
A new generation of entrepreneurs
What the new breed of post-real-estate-bubble Middle Eastern entrepreneurs need is a place that reminds them that they are not alone, and that in every corner of this wide region there are people who are sparking ideas, initiating change, growing businesses and engaging with society to create a better future. Entrepreneurship in this region is not a new invention or an imported concept. But many in this region may have forgotten that there are more ways to create value that the simple extraction of the earth’s riches or the building of skyscrapers. Wamda ultimately wants to empower a new class of leaders, change-makers and connectors and help weave an ecosystem of support that allows a culture of creation, innovation and prosperity to flourish.
On Wamda you will see a Jordanian owner of a home-grown coffee shop chain talking about her experience of transitioning her career from media to retail, two Emirati brothers reinventing the shawerma sandwich, a tech entrepreneur who stuck with his idea for over a decade to finally strike it big, a Kuwaiti theater maker whose plays tackle society’s taboos, a consultant from Palestine who can write the book of how to do business under occupation, a father who turned personal grief into effective social action, a publisher who is using cartoons to challenge stereotypical perceptions of Islam. Those and many others will tell stories that inspire, excite and inform.
Designing a new media experience
A decade ago, a project like Wamda would have been probably conceived as the Arabic Fast Company or Inc magazine. But being born today, in the age of social networking and the real-time web, Wamda is more than a magazine, and it is wider than a website. The Wamda team at Abraaj, Riyada and SYNTAX has scoured the web for every regional entrepreneurial spark. As the Wamda.com hub launches it will aggregate hundreds of feeds from blogs, Twitter, company sites and mainstream media outlets, bringing together some of the best minds of the region into one vibrant conversation.
In building Wamda we have taken creative risks. We asked ourselves, how do we create a web interface at a time where the web is bringing together text, images, video, audio and that is increasingly reflecting the real-time life of people, companies and organizations.
Driven by the client’s mandate to innovate, we threw out the manual of conventional web design. Navigation, content display, layout, sharing, authoring and connecting on Wamda have all been reinvented. In doing so, we expect some user bewilderment borne out of unfamiliarity. But then, nothing great has ever been achieved by only sticking to the rules. A website is a living being that can change and mutate. We expect a lot of feedback from Wamda’s users which we will work back into the product to create a more refined experience.
The building of Wamda has also brought together our various disciplines at SYNTAX and Spring in an unprecedented manner. Beside the strategy, branding, user interface design and technology skills we usually bring to the table, our team has also developed the Wamda’s content strategy, researched the sources of potential stories, coordinated the actions of various content and production partners and produced massive amounts of content in-house. Our work on Wamda will usher in a new era at SYNTAX where we transition from a design-led to design and content led innovation firm. It’s an exciting time for us.
The realization of the vision of Wamda, which originated at Abraaj Capital and Riyada Enterprise Development, required a constellation of companies to work closely together: SYNTAX, Spring, SP Productions, The Online Project, Kharabeesh Creative Content and Bila Hudoud Translation, supported by LemonTree, 7iber and others.
The beta launch of Wamda today is the beginning of a journey. The idea, the brand, the experience, the code, the videos and the articles where in the brains and computers of the Wamda team for the past seven months. Now we’re setting them free. And in the process Wamda will acquire thousands of owners, namely its users.
The only way Wamda will turn from a flash of an idea to a living reality is through the engagement with the region’s entrepreneurs, facilitators, creatives, investors and activists. We are totally excited to have been part of conceiving and building Wamda. We hope that everyone out there can share the sense of excitement and possibility that this project holds.
A BIG thank you..
Projects like Wamda only come together through true partnerships. The concept and commission came from Abraaj Capital and Riyada Enterprise Development. We worked with a sharp, demanding and innovative team of executives including Tom Speechley, Khaldoon Tabaza and Ovais Naqvi who practically became a permanent resident at our offices!
SYNTAX and Spring’s team has been working really hard on Wamda. We never had such a big team on one project. A heartfelt thank you goes to everyone who contributed to Wamda, in alphabetical order
Ahmad Sabbagh / Senior Designer
Aseel Haddad / Project Coordinator
Eddie Taylor / Chief Communication Strategist
Elia Haj Elias / Quality Engineer
Ibrahim Oweiss / Designer and Animator
Khalil Majdalawi / Lead Technologist
Lina Abdelhadi / Senior Designer
Mamoun Othman / Web developer
Mohammad Assaf / Senior Designer
Mohammad Sabbagh / Designer
Nina Curley / Content Curator
Rana Obeidat / Office Manager
Razan Khatib / CEO, Spring
Sana Batayneh / Web Developer
Tareq Abu Rahmeh / Designer and Musician
Supported by almost everyone else in both companies!
Check out the public beta of Wamda now..