Young Executive: David Munir Nabti

Leaving Silicon Valley “Comfort” wasn’t on the list

There are 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year, and only a certain number of years in a lifetime. That’s the biggest limiting factor we all have. The question of what we do with that time is up to each of us.

I had great work and even greater opportunity when I was living in California. I went to a great university, and had substantial work experience by the time I graduated. Just out of university, I started out with dream jobs (two part-time positions) in world-class institutions, one university and one top tech company.
I was starting to save some money and pay off my student loans. The next few years were looking quite stable and comfortable for me.

So I figured it was a perfect time to quit, leave Silicon Valley, and move to a transitioning country with a slowly improving post-war economy and a stagnant political system. Over the years I’ve reflected on what is important to me, and I’ve decided that I want to live a life of principle, value, love, experience, and contribution. “Comfort” wasn’t on the list, and I wasn’t excited about the idea of trying to do amazing things in an already amazing place. With only so many hours, days, and years in my life, I decided I didn’t want to spend my twenties climbing up the corporate or organizational ladder to do what I wanted to do. Better to take off, leave “comfort” and “predictability” behind, and go learn, experiment, do, and live.

Over the last 15 years, my core interests have been at the intersection between technology, media, activism, social change, and entrepreneurship. I decided to move to Lebanon in 2004 with two questions on my mind:

What could be done to accelerate positive social change, with a particular interest in the roles of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship? And second, what could I personally do to have an impact in that effort?
I spent a few years working as a consultant and journalist before defining the core approach I wanted to take (building community innovation and startup hubs) based on the two core issues I wanted to address:

1. Infrastructure: The challenges of space, facilities, tools, electricity, internet, laws and other factors that inhibit innovation and social enterprise.

2. Community: The lack of strong social networks and communities of practice, minimal collaboration, too much territorialism and negative competition, and too many creative, innovative, concerned people who felt alone and unsupported.

This is what I’ve been working on for the past seven years. I’ve been learning, trying, implementing, failing, adapting, succeeding, growing, experimenting, failing, trying, succeeding, growing… wash, rinse, and repeat until you get the outcome you’re looking for.

One important outcome of that process has been AltCity. Three and a half years after entering a space with bullet holes on the walls, no electricity or functioning plumbing systems and broken windows, we are just about to finish the last part of the renovations and finally reach full utilization of the space. In those three and a half years we’ve held around 1000 events in the space, from small workshops and discussions to large-scale exhibits, conferences, and hackathons*. We’ve worked with hundreds of partner organizations, and have seen dozens of startup ideas emerge out of the events, workshops, and hackathons we’ve organized. We have regular coworkers and startups working at the space, plus a fantastic café. And we’re just getting started.

In the coming months we are launching large-scale startup programs around Lebanon, on and off university campuses, and are also part of a core startup ecosystem that is working to transform the startup landscape geared toward expanding opportunities for people to build and do amazing things in Lebanon.

So now I’ll knock the ball into your court. With only 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year, and only a certain number of years in a lifetime, what is important to you in your life? What do you hope to achieve? How are you working to achieve it? Moreover, how can we at AltCity help you? We invite you to visit us online, write to us, or come visit us in Beirut.

*Hackathon: An event in which computer programmers, graphic designers, interface designers, and others collaborate intensively on software projects.