BarakaBits got to know Deena Shakir, a speaker at this weekend’s upcoming TechWadi Forum in San Francisco, California.
Deena, throughout your career you’ve been passionate about building bridges between the MENA region and the United States.
“My identity as an Iraqi-American has had a fundamental influence on me from an early age. From the first Gulf War to September 11th, WMDs and the recent fall of Mosul (where my maternal grandfather was born)…the double consciousness of vacillating between ostensibly ‘warring’ worlds has impelled a sense of duty and desire to bridge and better them both, respectively and collectively.”
You co-founded your first company at 18 and self-funded your university studies; now you’re based in Silicon Valley. What is it about technology that you found so compelling over the years?
“It became abundantly clear to me that innovations in technology were fundamentally changing the way humans interacted with each other. I am also committed to the notion that innovation is key to improving quality of life for people around the world. I could see technology was no longer just a separate field, but a way of doing (almost) everything better. And I wanted to be a part of it.”
You did have what could be seen as a “detour” from technology along the way though!
“I started off my post-undergraduate career as a young journalist– I was even on air for the pilot episode of a bilingual news show on Al Arabiya! While interning for BBC News, I helped cover President Barack Obama’s 2009 “New Beginnings” Speech in Cairo. As an Arab- and Muslim-American who had spent my whole life working on these issues, I wanted to be a part of this movement–to help make sure it was done right. I went on to spend some time in non-profits/think tanks, I got a Presidential Management Fellowship and eventually I focused on public-private partnerships for development.”
How do all these threads of your experience combine in your current work?
“I’m now at Google where I’m responsible for strategic partnerships across new businesses. But despite the fact that I’m in the private sector in a heavily technical field, I find myself drawing on those same skills of storytelling from journalism, diplomacy from my time in government work, and partnership-building.”
You can follow Deena on Twitter (@deenashakir). Also, don’t forget to follow @techwadiorg to get updates from their event this Saturday, June 14th. It’s highlighting “the most impressive Arab entrepreneurs from all over the world”!
And that’s #goodnews.