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Egypt is Google's sweetheart: Spokesperson

VP of Google in Southern & Eastern Europe, ME, & Africa Mohammed Gawdat talks about the cultural challenges facing the Egyptian IT-sector.

“Google is a 12-year-old kid with shorts.” This quote was not brought to life by one of Google’s competitors or haters, but by Mohammed Gawdat, the Vice President of Google in Southern and Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa (SEEMEA). In brief, Gawdat is responsible for managing sales and business operations for Google in over 100 countries.

“And that 12-year-old kid has one mission and one mission only: we organize the world’s information, and make it universally available,” he adds. Precisely interested in emerging markets and the vast degree of cultural diversity and challenges they face, Gawdat joined the Google-team in 2007, after working for IBM and solely starting more than 15 entrepreneurial projects.

Being an Egyptian, he feels a very strong connection to Egypt and the Arab Spring, but he is not the only one in the corporation he works in. “Egypt is the sweetheart of Google – we are fascinated by it because it always proves to us that the mission of the 12-year-old kid actually works. We believe that if we empower people with enough information and knowledge, they will make the right choice and take the right action. The Arab Spring was an eye-opener for Google, because people that we never expected would use the internet to decide on certain issues or actions actually did use it. And the result was 2 million people taking the streets in Egypt for a unanimous goal in January 2011.”

When Egypt Business Directory asked Gawdat about the cultural challenges that are facing Egypt’s technology-sector, he broke it down to three major problems:

1. Attachment to tradition and misunderstanding of freedom of expression:
“We have a very strong attachment to tradition that might be counterproductive in terms of focusing on development. The real issue is that we were not raised to understand what freedom of expression means. We did not understand how to express our views freely and most importantly, how to respect the view of others. I am part of the generation that created and is living this problem. I did not learn how to debate in school, unlike my daughter. So you give Egyptians a huge flood of unprecedented amount of knowledge and information and you see what we have today in the Egyptian society: a lot of talk with very little knowledge. There is a challenge in our engagement model with the flood of information.”

2. Lack of long-term, effective planning and endurance:
“Economically, we are limited in terms of the time we invest in things that do not translate into tomorrow’s bread-and-butter. From a cultural point-of-view, we are not trained for long-term planning. Other than that, a lot of people do not really care what they do, as long as it gets them money. But you should do what you love, and if you excel at it, it will automatically bring you money.”

3. Lack of aspiration and innovative symbols:
“When you are an American, you grow up aspiring to become Bill Gates for example. As an Egyptian, I honestly do not know who to take as an idol. This is a reform-issue – we do not think about what is possible. When I talk to the Ebda2-contestents for example and these young, hard-working entrepreneurs tell me about how they are aiming to get 100,000 users for the application, I ask myself: Why do you not plan to get 1 million and then 10 million users? Why limit yourself? If they only want 100,000, they will get 90,000 and lay back and be happy. This mindset is what is bringing us Egyptians backwards.”

Although it seems like the Egyptian culture might stand in the way of the country’s development, Gawdat remains optimistic about his homeland. Yet, he believes that the young people have to build their country by themselves, without heavily depending on a president: “The president will not bring this country forward; Egypt’s youth will,” Gawdat accentuated.