How Deena Shakir Is Building Bridges Between Silicon Valley and the MENA Region

Ten years ago, Deena Shakir was working at the U.S. State Department in the office of Secretary Clinton. As part of her role as a Presidential Management Fellow, she was helping launch an effort around diaspora entrepreneurship.

The project was focused on galvanizing first- and second-generation Americans of various backgrounds who wanted to give back and help promote entrepreneurship, job creation and socio-economic development in their countries of origin.

While doing research for the project, Shakir, an Iraqi-American who was born and raised in Silicon Valley, was particularly excited when she came across an organization called TechWadi.

TechWadi is a non-profit that works to build bridges between Silicon Valley and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region by promoting and supporting tech entrepreneurship.


At DRIVE, our upcoming global conference with the Lazaridis Institute on scaleup ecosystems taking place in Waterloo, February 20-22, Shakir will share her experiences working with TechWadi. Get your all-access DRIVE 2019 conference passes now.

At the time, Techwadi was trying to bring together ex-pats from the Arab world who were working in Silicon Valley and passionate about entrepreneurship in the Middle East. As she researched the organization further, Shakir realized that the then-chairman of the board was actually someone she had known since she was a little girl (she went to elementary school with his children).

It felt like fate.

Soon they connected and Shakir started volunteering with TechWadi, eventually joining the board, then later joining the advisory board where she currently sits.

A Career Built Through Global Impact

TechWadi’s central mission to foster innovation and entrepreneurship spoke to Shakir’s life-long desire to make a global impact through her work.

“When I was in college I thought I was going to do a Ph.D. in anthropology focused on the Middle East,” says Shakir. “My career has pivoted multiple times since then but I’ve always been looking for a way to build bridges and make an impact globally, but particularly in the Middle East. My parents are both from Iraq. TechWadi is a way for me to keep doing that.”

Besides working for Secretary Clinton at the State Department, Shakir’s impressive resume includes stints as a journalist, entrepreneur, angel investor and tech advisor.

She currently works as a Partner at GV (formerly known as Google Ventures), where she supports their portfolio of 350+ companies to grow and scale through partnerships.

Shakir says the networks and skills she’s built through her unique experiences, including her current day job at GV, have given her the tactical resources to connect entrepreneurs and help foster global and local tech ecosystems.

Fostering Global Entrepreneurship

While Shakir herself lives and works in Silicon Valley, she says our increasingly globalized world means tech entrepreneurs can and should foster innovation everywhere.

“Where there’s necessity, there’s innovation,” says Shakir. “Oftentimes entrepreneurs who are solving some of the most pressing problems in the world are doing so because they are living and breathing those problems on a daily basis. Some of the world’s best companies were born this way”

Shakir points to the transfer of skills and knowledge happening through organizations like TechWadi and the Lazaridis Institute as examples of how innovation can help support localities all over the world.

The reality is that every region needs job creation and economic growth. By fostering entrepreneurship in ecosystems around the world, that growth can happen outside the confines of Silicon Valley and the Toronto-Waterloo corridor.

At DRIVE, Shakir will explore how exactly we can foster this kind of entrepreneurship and share examples from her work of ways tech companies are making a global and local impact.

#DRIVE19 will host thought-leaders from around the world — including Canada, the U.S., the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Nigeria, Kenya, France, Israel, Ireland, South Korea, and England.

It will be an opportunity to learn how regional tech ecosystems around the world foster innovation and build thriving, liveable communities.

Tickets are still available, get your DRIVE 2019 all-access passes now.




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