I landed in Cairo earlier today a few hours ago expecting to see significant changes. In many ways everything has changed yet on the drive from the airport to the hotel in Zamalek to across the Nile, Cairo is still the same. The wonderful energy, the crazy traffic with cars moving in a slow dance – it was Friday evening after all and people were out and about enjoying the beautiful evening. Traffic was snarled in some places with the Presidential campaign in full swing and supporters out in the streets waving signs and banners in support of their candidates. For life in a very big city it seems very normal. Yet for many their whole world has been changed completely. Many of us hope for the better but not everyone is that sure.
Right after my arrival I met with 25 youth leaders that have been part of the Microsoft Tech Hope program. This is a program where they are using technology to bring about social change. After the initial introductions the conversation quickly turned to the Arab Spring and the revolution. I asked them if they had been part of the demonstrations in Thahrir Square and all but two raised their hands. The other two were from outside Cairo and participated in local demonstrations. I was surprised as the room had equal number of men and women.
I wanted to know their opinion on the revolution and how they all felt. Almost all of them felt that they, the middle class youth, now felt more empowered. They all felt that they can now do something on their own. They do not have to go into just another job. One of them was very clear, he told me ‘before the revolution my plan was to leave the country and study abroad, find a job there and stay there’. There was no future for him in Egypt. Now he is full of optimism and will stay here and work to bring about positive change in the underserved communities.
Every single one of them felt the revolution had impacted them, but for the poor there has been no immediate impact and for them change will be very slow. All of the youth in the room were concerned about this and as a group felt that they should work together towards equitable change.
I also asked them for their experience with the revolution and if anyone deserves any or some credit for it. One of the young men said the Ministry of Interior. I was taken aback and asked him to explain. He said that January 25 started out as a day of protest as it was Police Day - a day to celebrate the police- and what started out as a protest against the Ministry of Interior spun out of control over the next several days because of the brutal force the Ministry used to squelch the demonstrations. His opinion was if the Ministry had not taken this approach there would not have been a revolution as no one started out wanting a change in power.
One young lady put it best, she said it was the ‘butterfly effect’, one butterfly takes off and then another and suddenly you have a whole flight of butterflies. Everyone got involved, young and old, men and women, rich and poor and that is why she believes everyone is a hero. I just thought that was a great sentiment.
The conversation lasted late into the night and they were all bouncing different ideas off each other about how they can continue to drive positive change and how they all can make a difference together.
At one point, someone asked if the women in the room felt they would lose out when the new regime comes into power. They felt that was not the case, everyone participated and even some try people will not go back and not let anyone push them back.
Hope was the common sentiment in the room, though many are wondering how they can ensure that everyone will benefit from this change.
On Sunday we will launch of Innovate4Good@Microsoft for the Arab region and if this conversation was any indication we’re in for a fantastic event. We have young leaders from across the region including Libya, Tunisia, and Iraq attending the event. I cannot wait to hear their stories.
The butterfly effect – what a great way to start the conversation in Cairo.
Akhtar Badshah is senior director of citizenship and public affairs at Microsoft. This blog entry first appeared on the Microsoft Unlimited Potential Blog.