f<a+i>r Middle East and North Africa Hub
Dahab by GabeD is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Middle East and North Africa Hub

The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D), at the American University in Cairo’s School of Business is proud to be the Middle East and North Africa Hub ( MENA Hub) of the A+ alliance network.  A2K4D is a regional hub for research investigating the role of digital technologies and innovation in promoting inclusive development, with focus on Egypt, the Arab World, and Africa. The Center’s activities are interdisciplinary, encompassing the inclusive dimensions of artificial intelligence, innovation, digital platforms, new business models, new forms of digital work, alternative knowledge governance, data governance and open data practices in the digital economy. At A2K4D we adopt a gendered lens across all our research and capacity building efforts.

The Center’s existing and growing partnerships and collaborations strategically position it to foster a sustainable MENA A+ alliance network. A2K4D is an active member of several research partnerships, including Open Data for Development (OD4D), Open African Innovation Research partnership (Open AIR)Fairwork NetworkGlobal Network of Internet and Society Research Centers (NoC), The Access to Knowledge Global Academy (A2KGA),  EQUALS Research Partnership. We also work in close partnership with civil society organizations like Take Back the Tech.  

As the MENA hub of the A+ alliance, A2K4D’s activities will involve knowledge creation and awareness raising about novel technologies and data  for development. A2K4D will harness its local, regional and global partnerships to bring together and grow a MENA wide feminist AI network of multidisciplinary stakeholders including institutions and individuals who are passionate about how applied AI can make positive change in the region. We will host a  series of webinars to synergize efforts by social scientists, economists, data scientists, techies and domain experts who are grappling with unprecedented pace of technological change against a backdrop of growing multifaceted inequalities in MENA, especially with regards to gender, knowledge creation and awareness raising about novel technologies and data for development.  


March 19th, 2024

The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) featured Marwa Soudi for their MENA hub network webinar’s presentation titled ‘Empowering Education: Exploring Generative AI-Based Tutoring Systems for Upper Egypt Community Schools’. 
The topic of the webinar was centered around generative AI-based tutoring systems and how they can enhance the educational experience in Upper Egypt community schools. Marwa will also discuss the potential benefits and challenges of implementing such systems in a resource-constrained environment. 

Marwa Soudi is a serial Entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience in the EdTech industry. Marwa is currently a Junior Researcher of Digital Transformation and Lifelong learning at Tallinn University, and Ph.D. candidate at Tallinn University with a focus on Responsible AI and how to build a trustworthy AI ecosystem for SMEs. She is the co-founder and Technology Capacity Building Manager at IdeasGym. 

Key Issues discussed:

  • There is a lack of female contribution in research work, especially AI and technology. When feeding AI with data, we need to make sure the data is representative of all, including women.
  • Importance of AI as a facilitator in the environment of education, especially when teaching technology. Technology needs to be “explainable”
  • Generative AI-based tutoring systems have the potential to enhance the educational experience in Upper Egypt community schools by visualizing complicated concepts, which can be very beneficial for an environment with little resources.
  • It is key to include different stakeholders when designing such technologies to ensure that the system is being considered from different perspectives and angles, such as human/technological/education/engineering perspectives.

January 30th, 2024 

As the Middle East and North Africa hub of the f<a+i>r Hubs Network Feminist AI Research Network, A2K4D hosted the book launch event with author Laila Shereen Sakr, celebrating the release of her new book ‘Arabic Glitch: Technoculture, Data Bodies, and Archives’. 

Laila Shereen Sakr is Associate Professor of Media Theory and Practice at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research in media analytics and creative scholarship have deployed the idea, experimentation, and aesthetics of glitch to make a series of conceptual points culminating in her single-authored book, Arabic Glitch: Technoculture, Data Bodies, and Archives (Stanford University Press, 2023).

Key Issues discussed:

  • How can we in the new world, conceive of resistance. How can the glitch be used to bring about change?
  • Techies need to be able to understand the systems of economic power, not just the technological system to create a ‘glitch’, which will allow us to reconfigure systems of power (political and economic). 
  • Our data bodies (immigration papers, citizenship papers, tweets, etc.) now have more impact than our real bodies.
  • In the future, our digital bodies may be able to bring out significant change within global political and economic systems.
  • The problem with digital archiving is that we are removing context. This is an inherent problem with archiving, it is a very decontextualized process.
  • We need to teach children about using tech, children are the future. They are the ones that can imagine a world where archives are used in everyday conversation.

August 2nd, 2023

The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) hosted its third webinar as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) hub of the f<a+i>r Hubs Network (Feminist AI Research Network) on August 2nd, 2023. In this webinar, Aliah Yacoub, AI Philosopher and AI and head of techQualia at Synapse Analytics, discussed the connection of feminism, social justice, and AI in the region from a philosophical point of view. She also provided examples of the challenges associated with the use of applied AI in the region and the role of feminist theoretical frameworks in promoting gender equality and mitigating discrimination and biases.

Key issues discussed:

  • Feminist epistemology is excluded and neglected in the process of developing AI meaning AI is not a neutral but a gendered intelligence. Male epistemology is dominating the AI field since the way we historically recognize patterns and obtain knowledge is gendered.
  • The theoretical & the socio-technical exclusion of women’s knowledge is also exacerbated by their underrepresentation in the tech workforce, where on average women represent less than 20% of the occupants globally. 
  • Structural challenges facing women in STEM include STEM education carrying over to the workforce, socio-cultural norms and gendered labor, internet penetration, the digital divide and financial exclusion.
  • Gender gaps in the tech world are deeply entrenched despite positive trends. We need to break down the structural (societal, economic, or political) barriers that prevent the integration of women in the tech world.
  • Contemporary injustices are rooted in historical inequalities in power. Data feminism aims to avoid the repetition of these inequalities.
  • There has been an increase in female-led tech startups in the MENA region with a focus on FemTech. There have also been initiatives across the region attempting to to mitigate data biases by updating datasets and addressing female underrepresentation, offering AI-curated tech training programs for women and campaigns incentivising quality investments in women in tech. 

February 8th, 2023

Speakers: Manal Jalloul and Nadine Weheba | Moderator: Nagla Rizk

The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) hosted its second webinar as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) hub of the Fa+ir Hubs Network titled “Algorithmic Decision Making (ADM), Feminism and Inclusion in MENA: Unpacking Concepts and Call for proposals” on Wednesday February 8th via Zoom. Joining the webinar as a speaker was Dr. Manal Jalloul (Founder of AI Lab and NVIDIA Deep Learning Institute, Certified Instructor and University Ambassador at the American University of Beirut). Dr. Jalloul unpacked concepts of ADM and discussed how it can be harnessed for gender inclusion in MENA. We also discussed the project’s latest call for proposals, titled: “Incubating Feminist AI: Call for Expressions of Interest Algorithmic Decision Making Systems”. The call focuses on harnessing ADM for more equitable outcomes and models deploying more effective and inclusive social protection in MENA.

Key issues discussed:

  •  It all goes back to data. Due to historical norms and gender discrimination, there is bias in the data available that is used to create and train ADM systems. Data needs to be more inclusive and representative for ADM systems to work fairly.
  • Bias exists in the design of the algorithms themselves; algorithms are designed by people with gender-biases. The teams that develop these solutions need to be diverse in order to prevent human biases from impacting the technology.
  • ADMs have the potential to help meet SDGs such as equal health, gender equality and ending domestic violence.
  • AI can be used to identify inequalities in data and ADM systems. AI and ADM systems must be tested prior to deployment and before using them on a wider scale. We can use AI to test new technologies to ensure that there are no biases of treatment.
  • AI policy-making in MENA needs to be data driven in order for policies to inform our unique needs as a region. AI can be used to extract insights from data such as correlations, gaps, inequalities and areas that need attention. We can also use AI to gather data on the impact of policies implemented and make modifications accordingly.
  •  Once datasets are diverse, they can then include the scope of women who are usually outside of national statistics and data sets such as those in the informal economy whose data cannot be found in national statistics. 

Wednesday, Dec 14th 2022

Speakers: Soraj Hongladarom, Caitlin Kraft-Buchman, Nadine Moawad, Nagla Rizk and Amira Salah-Ahmed | Moderator: Nadine Weheba

The first Middle East and North Africa (MENA) f<a+i>r Hub’s network meeting was held on Wednesday 14th Dec 2022 at 3.30pm Cairo local time via Zoom. The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) at the American University in Cairo, School of Business introduced the f<a+i>r Hubs Network and brought together key stakeholders in MENA in an action-oriented conversation on how new technologies such as AI can be harnessed to address MENA’s most pressing developmental problems with focus on gender inclusion.

Key issues discussed: Digital and analogue divides are intertwined and can be exacerbated by AI ; Feminists need to invest their efforts in proactively creating the future that we want to live in rather than just reacting ; AI can play a role in promoting awareness of the way technology can be intertwined with socioeconomic problems and can be utilized for achieving equality and justice ; What is coming for humanity is impossible to predict, but it is necessary to try all approaches to ensure the future is fair for women ; There are high level plans on investing in AI for smart cities, pensions, healthcare etc. in the region and in Egypt in particular however there are not enough women or youth present at these tables. No one is currently looking at AI with a feminist lens ; There is a huge disconnect between those working in feminist spaces and those working in tech. We need to bring both groups together to share knowledge and have discussions. We also need to include major stakeholders involved in decision and policy making ; There is an urgent need to build an open data platform that hosts data sets from the MENA region to produce AI models for the MENA region instead of relying on tech produced by the West

“Towards a Responsible AI Tool for SMEs” A2K4D x Dr. Marwa Soudi

As the Middle East and North Africa Hub of the Feminist AI Research Project (f<a+r>r Project), the Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) at the School of Business at the American University in Cairo (AUC) is hosted a workshop titled “Towards A Responsible AI Tool for SMEs” on May 12th 2024 at AUC Tahrir Campus at 10am.   

Dr. Marwa Soudi presented a tool she developed together with her  research team at Tallinn University, Estonia, that aims to assist companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in evaluating and adopting responsible artificial intelligence (AI) practices.  The aim is to support SMEs in evaluating their AI systems from a responsible AI perspective. 

The workshop serves as a practical resource that enables SMEs to identify areas of improvement and implement responsible AI practices within their organizations. The workshop was held at AUC Tahrir Campus. 

"Generative AI-Based Tutoring System for Upper Egypt Community Schools" nominated for the best research paper award during HCAI Education and Practice 2023 Conference.

December 14th, 2023
Congratulations to Marwa Soudi, Esraa Ali, Maha Bali and Nihal Mabrouk for being nominated as co-authors for the best research paper award during the Human Centered Artificial Intelligence (HCAI): Education and Practice 2023 Conference.
The research paper was supported by A+ Alliance and IDRC / CRDI through the MENA Hub Feminist AI Research Network f<a+i>r: Incubating Feminist AI: Paper to Prototype to Pilot model. The conference paper titled “Generative AI-Based Tutoring System for Upper Egypt Community Schools” has also been published in the ACM digital library as part of HCAIep’23: Proceedings of the 2023 Conference on Human Centered Artificial Intelligence: Education and Practice.

'Artificial Intelligence and Development in MENA: Inclusion or Inequality?' hosted by the London School of Economic and Political Science (LSE) Middle East Centre ​

February 1st, 2024

In this webinar, Nagla Rizk, f<a+i>r MENA hub leader and Professor of Economics at the American University in Cairo School of Business, explores the potential opportunities and challenges of artificial intelligence, with an emphasis on the future of work and questions of knowledge production in relation to development. More about the webinar here


The Fourteenth Anniversary Workshop of the Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) titled “Artificial Intelligence, Data and Platform Work: MENA Cases Studies & AI Observatory.” ​

February 4th, 2024

On February 4th 2024, A2K4D celebrated its Fourteenth Anniversary by holding a workshop titled “Artificial Intelligence, Data and Platform Work: MENA Cases Studies & AI Observatory” at the American University in Cairo (AUC)’s Tahrir Campus. The purpose of the workshop was to share outputs of A2K4D’s research over the past year, where they continue to work towards bringing the voice of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to global debates on issues related to the governance of data and artificial intelligence, new forms of work, social justice, and the digital economy- all from a developmental perspective.

The workshop served as a particularly special occasion with the launch of the MENA AI Observatory a platform the A2K4D team has been developing for the past few years. The MENA AI Observatory is a locally-driven platform aiming to make key contributions to global narratives on responsible data and AI. The Observatory will serve as a regional hub championing MENA voices, providing varied resources in both English and Arabic, and fostering a collaborative network of AI researchers, legal experts and advocates, policy-makers, civil society, and the general public.