The Aalto Middle East Initiative, now called incobeyt, is a 4-period study project in the course New Media Concepts for the third sector at Aalto University’s Media Lab. The project was initiatied by Nina Martin and Anna Asikainen.
We work for an outreach to the Middle East to establish lasting partnerships with media labs, academic institutions and entrepreneurs in the Arab world by introducing a scheme that aims to bridge the gap between the existing notions of business thinking and activist culture. The educational and entrepreneurial potential of that region has not yet been unlocked within Aalto.
The first step towards long-term fruitful engagement is the study project that brings together master students from different Aalto campuses under the guidance of lecturers Joanna Saad-Sulonen, Andrea Botero and professor Teemu Leinonen in a two-part course with both an academic and a hands-on aspect.
Our partners in Beirut who joined us in working out ways for organizational innovation, were the MENA Design Research Center (www.menadrc.org), Lamba Labs Beirut hackerspace (www.lambalabs.org) and entrepreneurial hub AltCity (www.altcity.me).
In multidisciplinary teams, the students learnt about the Finnish social entrepreneurship, design research and open source/DIY scene through case studies and expert interviews, which formed the basis of the work with the Lebanese partners. Experts from NGOs, public-private institutions and academia shared their insights with the students to inspire further discussion around the welfare state, the role of entrepreneurs in socioeconomic development as well as mixed spheres in a deliberative democracy.
A trip to Beirut would have introduced the students to the local scene in the Arab context and allowed for design research to take place not only with the partners but also the communities active within those spaces. Unfortunately the trip had to be cancelled due to security concerns within Aalto University. As an alternative, the partners were invited to Helsinki for a few days in March to participate in a workshop with the students as well as to meet some of the local experts for knowledge exchange and potential future collaboration.
Suomenlinna, a peaceful island just a short ferry ride away from Helsinki, served as a great workshop location and let us all focus entirely on designing strategies for our partners from the MENA Design Research Center and AltCity. Unfortunately the timing did not allow LambaLabs founders to attend.
Having all 16 of us in the same room, away from daily routines, gave us the chance to dive deep into the challenges the organizations are facing and the goals they have set themselves in the future. Since we were out of context, the results were more higher-level strategies rather than detailed solutions through co-creation. However it was a stepping stone towards further engagement, both with us, Anna and Nina, as well as the department and the individual students. At the same time, the meetings in Helsinki were fruitful for our partners and have led to scheduled visits between Finland and Lebanon.
The strategies designed by the students will support our upcoming Middle East Seminar in Helsinki in May, feed into the Beirut Design Week exhibition in June as well as support further project plans around building a sustainable ecosystem through design, technology and entrepreneurship.
We would like to thank the Media Factory for funding our initiative, the Media Lab and its staff for hosting the study project, our hard-working partners in Lebanon and of course every single participating students. We sure hope to continue the work with them and hope to get another chance to not only run a study project but have students join us in the field!
Nina Martin ( firstname.lastname@example.org )