Unemployment rates in the MENA region are among the highest in the world. While qualified individuals seek job and further training opportunities abroad, the growing digital economies offer new, flexible ways of working. Can the MENA region become a hotspot for augmented reality? Of course, argues Rania Reda. She is the founder and CEO of Augmania, an augmented reality business.
Last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said: “Augmented Reality is going to change everything.” Is this something to be afraid of?
Rania Reda: No, we need to be happy, because augmented reality (AR) will change the world for the better. Big players, like Apple, Samsung and LG, are aware that AR is important. Therefore, they are preparing devices for it, so freelancers, designers, developers, and engineers can do more with AR.
Augmented RealityAugmented Reality (AR) combines real and computer-based scenes. With the help of a screen – for example, a cell–phone screen –, AR creates a real-world experience by using computer-generated sound, text, and effects. The applications range from information about the immediate environment to games and advertising.
Some are crazy about the augmented reality game Pokémon Go, others love to wear augmented reality glasses: Why is AR most successful in the entertainment field?
Rania Reda: That’s true, AR is very successful in the entertainment field. Unfortunately, this is hurting the industry overall. In the late 1950s, AR first started in the U.S. military. But then, with Snapchat, Pokémon Go, and AR glasses, everybody came to believe that AR is a gaming thing. That diminishes the value of AR because other businesses are not aware of the potential of AR and how it can help their businesses grow.
In which areas do you see the biggest potential for AR?
Rania Reda: We see demands for AR in many different areas, for example, in health care, education, marketing, or architecture. Imagine a building on an empty piece of land where nothing has been built yet. When you see things before they are set up or when you have instructions before you as you are assembling a machine, it allows you to better control your actions and outcomes.
You founded Augmania in Silicon Valley. Your team, however, works not only in Silicon Valley but also in Egypt and Tunisia. Why?
Rania Reda: I was born and raised in Egypt and I know the potential of the MENA region from my previous work. The talented people there are motivated, super-ambitious to learn new skills, reliable, committed, and loyal to their employer. It is unfair, but they do not have the same opportunities as they would have had in the Silicon Valley. I try to give them something back and believe in them so they have a chance.
Rania RedaRania Reda is an internationally recognized augmented reality expert and a serial tech entrepreneur with 22 years of experience in the tech field. Her latest venture, Augmania, is a web-based, interactive campaign builder providing augmented reality. Rania loves to empower women in tech and is a member of the steering committee for the first Egyptian Innovation Cluster, as well as of the Digital Arabia Network and the She Made It intiatives to support youth and women in tech. She participated in a BMW Foundation Impact Session and is part of the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network.
You know the MENA region very well. Why do you see Egypt as a hotspot for AR?
Rania Reda: In Egypt, everybody is talking about AR and Virtual Reality nowadays. My colleagues and I even spoke with the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology about an AR excellence centre. There are also a lot of small and medium-sized initiatives over here. So yes, AR is getting very hot in Egypt.
How can AR drive economic growth and jobs in the MENA region?
Rania Reda: Ten years ago, there were no jobs like social media manager or Facebook page administrator, right? Nowadays, AR is a new technology that requires new resources and people who can understand the technology, manage it, and use it in a good way. Therefore, AR will create new jobs, such as AR content director. In the MENA region, young women do not have the same chance as young men to go abroad or to be away from their families. These young women work as freelancers. There is already a huge group. These women often have all the skills that AR requires: they are imaginative, able to write creative stories and to design something beautiful. With AR they can leverage their skills, for example, from being a classic graphic designer to being an AR content designer.
Where do you get to know your young talents?
Rania Reda: I am involved in some initiatives, which give me access to a pool of talent. I sit on the board of the first innovation cluster in Egypt. There, we manage and supervise graduation projects and offer internship courses for students. Another initiative in which I am involved is the Digital Arabia Network, a lab for the digital future that connects people and projects.
How do you want to facilitate access to AR for people in the MENA region?
Rania Reda: I think the best way is giving the students courses, material, training, and mentorship. We are thinking about starting online courses, for example, by establishing an Augmania Academy. Then students can design AR experiences and develop user cases. As soon as corporates see what they are doing, we would have helped both sides of the market to be ready for AR.
What is currently your biggest challenge?
Rania Reda: The MENA region is very big and too fragmented. We would like to reduce unemployment. But we cannot do it alone. We need powerful partners to work with. So for us, the biggest challenge is to find the right partners with whom we can achieve this goal. Two other things are also missing: awareness and education. So, with partners, we would work on it.
"We would like to reduce unemployment. But we cannot do it alone. We need powerful partners to work with."
Augmania was founded in 2015. What have you achieved so far?
Rania Reda: First, we did a big research to understand the market. That took us a long time. But we deeply believed that it was best to measure twice and cut once. So we kept measuring, measuring, and measuring. After we had launched our platform, we acquired some good customers, like Coca-Cola. We also got an award for the best creative campaign done in the UK in 2017 and we were nominated among the top six platforms at the Augmented World Expo, which is the biggest event for AR.
What would you like to achieve in the next years?
Rania Reda: We are seriously thinking about an Augmania Academy so that students can learn how to use AR and leverage their skills to the next level. For that, we would love to have the right partners. Additionally, we are also planning to have more offices, for example in Europe and the United States. That would raise awareness for AR. It all takes time. But that is what we will be working on in the next years.
What motivates you personally?
Rania Reda: My mother and my daughter are my motivation. My mother is an inspiring person. She was always encouraging me to work towards whatever I was dreaming of. My daughter is looking up to me. I would like to be a good role model and do things in the right way, because she is looking up to me, all the time.