Maryse Liburdi, an innovative tech entrepreneur and adviser to US Vice President Joe Biden recently participated in Egypt’s International Economic Forum aiming to discuss the importance of technology as a tool for transformation. The Daily News Egypt sat down with Liburdi to discuss the technology Pokeware introduced, her participation in Egypt’s economic forum, and her insights into how technology can be used to aid economic development.
Tell us about Pokeware.
I started the company 17 years ago, right out of university. What we do today is very similar to what we started when we had the vision for Pokeware. It’s really simple we’re exactly like Google but instead of typing keywords, you can actually poke on the object of interest when you want to learn more. So we’re a search tool and a discovery engine for objects in images and videos.
So while in a video steam, you can just pace the cursor of an object and search it?
Exactly. So as soon as you click on the object, you’ll be directed to the destination page or you can locate that item. It may or it may not be available for sale. If it’s a TV or a movie character, users can be directed to Internet Movie Database (IMDB) or Wikipedia.
We know you’re participating in the Egypt’s International Economic Forum. What’s the objective of your participation?
We’re going to talk about technology today and how it influences the next generation in Middle East and North Africa, how it has been a transformational tool and how it can actually help grow the economy. One of the things that I really enjoy learning about now is the internet concept of things where everything is connected and helps with everything from safety to efficiency. Barcelona is an internet marked city. Every street light in the downtown area is maximised for efficiency and for safety. So if someone is walking down the street and a behavior that suggests that they’re maybe in a desperate situation or stressful situation at hand with people, the light would illuminate brighter and if that behavior is measured to be a little bit more traumatising, it directs a police call to the destination.
How do you see this being applied in Egypt?
I think my concept of what could work and what is realistically possible in the short and long term require further examination and I am really excited to visit FlatLabs to see what the entrepreneurs are doing and what their vision is for Egypt. But with such a strong population under 25, I think 60% under 25, this means [there is] so much potential in this country. I don’t know enough about the city to comment.
As an entrepreneur yourself, how do you see governments encouraging entrepreneurs to help economically develop the country?
I think governments need to co-invest with entrepreneurs, no matter what the government is. It really requires the government’s participation for a number of reasons – initially, for the economics of how this potential could work and how information can be shared.
Protecting citizens, protecting privacy is important because people do need their privacy and people do need to protect their own identity, especially now more than ever. It’s so easy for information to be misused, and we’ve seen it in every country in the world. That needs to be insulated and protected and treated as a priority. But the overall economic benefit to a country, especially when they implement new technology, is profound and measurable, and it is efficient. And you really can track everything and everything is much more transparent. And I think the lack of transparency is really what incites populations to become angry with the legacy institutions that have benefited from abuse from circulating this information. So technology really becomes the central nervous system to the benefit of everyone.
Having free and clear access to the internet, where you don’t worry about being cutoff, is a priority. People who are on computers or mobile devices, including tablets, they are very aware and they know how to use technology and they know how to access information and it’s also dangerous when any government limits access to websites and limits access of the freedom of circulation of information. That become dangerous and it’s actually worse for the government than it is beneficial.
Governments need to focus on entertaining conversations with its citizens and entrepreneurs to figure out working solutions that apply to everyone. The larger population is very, very young and the people who work in governing bodies are much older and that disconnect is one of the things that causes a lot of static.
So you think it’s the government’s role to increase the number of people who are allowed access to internet?
What is really great about the internet and all the smart devices that are out there is that if you give a smart device to someone, something kicks in intuitively. If you give a tablet to a two year old, you’ll be so surprised of how quickly they can navigate around it. Ultimately, they learn how to read whatever is on the screen and go to the second and third step to get to what interests them. So with e-learning and creating more information for some of the basic things, from healthcare to making medical tools more sanitary, those are things that become helpful to a population. There are a lot of things that people don’t have access to because they don’t have information. So I think, for people who don’t have access to the internet or limited connectivity, this is a problem and it needs to be a co-investment between private companies and the governments.
Also when you think about the number of websites that are available in Arabic, it’s less than 1% in the world. That also needs to change. Governments need to participate in that but they need to convince the private sector and the general population that information is not going to be misused and not going to be generated just to control [populations].
You formed a partnership with PayPal in the MENA region. Can you tell us more about that?
One of the things we learned, about a year and a half ago, was that there was less than 4% credit card penetration in Middle East and North Africa. On top of that, I learned from the CEO of Souq.com and the CEO of Aramex, at a conference, that it takes around 6 attempts by an Aramex delivery person to successfully deliver a package. I had no idea about the lack of efficiency and the opportunity that exists in the tech sector. It doesn’t cost a lot today to develop tech solution. So I started to think that PayPal had the perfect solution.
In 2012, Pokeware was selected as a global growth company by the World Economic Forum. The company partnered with international brands and companies including, Gucci, New York Fashion Week, the UEFA Champions League and English Premiere League), the Olympic Games, National Basketball Association (NBA) and Elle magazine.