BDL Accelerate: Steve Wozniak & My Take-Away Lessons For Lebanon

Early last month, Lebanon made conference history by attracting over 23,000 people from every corner of the world to participate in BDL Accelerate. In its third year, the Central Bank-backed affair ran for three days and featured an array of talks by entrepreneurs, techies, designers, creatives and more. Those in attendance counted government agencies, start-ups, venture capitalists, banks, university and even high school students who more and more are showing interest in alternative paths to the traditional 9-5 employment.

You could say that one of the unique selling points of this year’s Accelerate summit was Steve Wozniak, who flew from Silicon Valley to deliver a one-hour narrative to a crowd of thousands. For me, being in his presence and hearing the humble words he had to relay was nothing short of a revelation. 

Steve Wozniak -- does he need an introduction?

The man is all engineer, a hands-on designer and builder who from a young age was bent on making people’s lives easier through products. He reflected on his interaction with Steve Jobs, who lacked a technical background but was headstrong on leaving a legacy and changing the world. Undoubtedly, both Steves did, each in the way they imagined and aspired to.

My personal involvement in Accelerate revolved around meeting and greeting a variety of professionals and entrepreneurs in diverse industries. Representing my company Bank of Beirut, an avid supporter of the entrepreneurship ecosystem, I welcomed folks who had flown in from as far as Brazil and Poland.

Interviewing six individuals in total, three of whom are Lebanese (and only one of whom is local and partly so), I could grasp the magnitude of concentrating so much know-how, so much drive, under one roof. The Forum de Beyrouth, playing host to Accelerate, was abuzz with hype and excitement for innovation, funding, and the world of opportunity Generation X dwells in.

Manal Khater, a 30-something female executive at Leo Burnett MENA and filial brand Atelier, struck a chord with me. She accepted my invitation for a quick fireside chat, elaborating on the challenges inherent to advertising and communicating across diverse cultures. Splitting her time between Beirut, Dubai, Paris, and New York, she is acutely aware of the cultural niceties within each social fabric and incorporates them in every project she takes on.

Manal Khater is Regional Strategy Director at Leo Burnett MENA and Head of Strategy at Atelier

Asked about whether she’d ever felt sidelined or suppressed on account of her gender, Manal answered in the negative, crediting the caring community within Leo Burnett for her growth and promotion. In fact, I learned that a number of women occupy key managerial positions at the leading advertising agency, which is certainly not the case in other corporate microcosms.

One entrepreneur I cozied up to is a graduate of ALBA (Lebanon) who now finds herself in Santiago, where she helps connect qualified creatives with relevant jobs. Noelle Ghanem and three peers co-created The Bridge, a global jobs network for people in digital, advertising and design. The idea is to offer subscribers a wealth of information, job posts, knowledge events and guides to effectively bridge the gap between their dreams of working abroad and reality.

Noelle Ghanem is co-founder of two different startups

Noelle’s motivation is not as tech-centric as it is human-centric. She’s more interested in the social impact of new technologies on the world, which compelled her to launch a second startup called Food Swapp. Here’s the gist: you’re sitting at your desk, moping silently over your Tupperware lunch for one. Why not partner up with a colleague or total stranger in your proximity and share in the social ritual we call eating? Connect via the app, and swap food and stories while engaging in chitchat with another human being.

Ultimately, it was both empowering and ennobling to rub elbows with the vibrant international community BDL Accelerate magnetized to Beirut. Hopefully in years future, we as Lebanese will be able to discern tangible outcomes and societal betterment realized by this high-potential assembly. 


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