BEIRUT: The Changemaker Festival officially kicked off with an opening ceremony at the Grand Serail with the first ever Lebanon Impact Awards.
Lebanon’s top impact leaders were recognized at the elegant Gala Dinner, which was held Under the patronage of caretaker Prime Minister Saad Al Hariri, who was present to show his pride in those being honored.
This year, the Changemaker Festival –A MENA-wide event has chosen Lebanon as its Middle East regional hub. The event aims at operating at the intersection of youth, education, entrepreneurship, and impact; its goal is to bring together university students, decision-makers, educators, global experts and many others.
In the beginning of the ceremony, one of the attendees started singing the national anthem out loud. Thus, the rest of the participants sang along and organizers didn't need to play the musical track. Everyone was singing their homeland’s anthem.
Following that moment of unity, Ahmad Ashkar, founder of the Hult Prize foundation, gave a speech and later on hosted the night.
“Over the last 12 months we have inspired thousands, and I want to give a big shoutout to the college students who are here. Through this event, we will bring together 5,000 university students, hundreds of corporations, and thousands of entrepreneurs to work together to reshape the economy again, not just here but in the whole Middle East,” he said.
Afterwards, he welcomed care-taker PM Saad Al Hariri on stage, who gave a forward looking speech noting that young people are “a dose of oxygen” for the country’s development.
“I believe in your capability of developing the economy to offer opportunities for all the Lebanese. Due to our combined efforts, the percentage of investments in Lebanon has increased from less than 10 million dollars in 2013 to more than $50,000 million dollars in 2017,” he said.
Additionally, he indicated his point of view towards the formation of the government which he believes will be a government of national consensus which joins all the main political parties. He also added that it will be able to execute the program of reform and investment that will facilitate the official release of the over $11 billion of funding pledge during the Paris Cedre conference earlier this year.
Back to the Changemaker Festival: it was time for the Impact award- distribution which included seven categories: corporate leadership, sports, and leisure, youth, health and wellness, celebrating impact, arts and culture, and diaspora.
Winners were: Saad Haziri,chairman of BlomBank ,for corporate leadership; Michael Haddad,a professional athlete, for sports and leisure; Maya Hijazi, an influencer and activist ,for youth; Yorgui Teyrouz ,founder Of Donner Sang Compter for health and wellness; Zeina Daccash,Lebanese actress and director,for arts and culture;Nayla Fahed ,founder of Lal ,for celebrating impact;and Aya Bdeir,founder of Littlebits for diaspora.
Awardees received a strong round of applause for their distinctive inspirational work and were given the opportunity to express their thoughts in short speeches.
“We can get the money we need and we can build our country again. However it is essential that we don’t forget who we are and maintain our Lebanese identity,” said Michael Haddad.
Aya Bdeir’s mother who accepted the award on behalf of her daughter, took the stage with a heartfelt thank you and recounted her daughter’s journey. After graduating, Bdeir wasn’t given any support from funding companies. Thus, she traveled to New York and founded LittleBits, one of the fastest-growing companies in the USA. Randa Bdeir said she considered the present generation of young people as worthy of the changemaker label, and fortunate for the recognition they receive.
After the awards ceremony, attendees enjoyed a gourmet dinner and an opportunity to network with other like-minded people.
On Saturday, September 8, and Sunday, September 9, the festival, which will take place in Biel, is offering a variety of opportunities including entrepreneurship workshops, panels of global influencers, startup pitches, live bands, food trucks, and much more. Participants include many influencers, entrepreneurs, and celebrities such as Valerie Abou Chakra, Daniella Rahme, Ramy Ayach, Marc Hatem, and many others.
On the night of the 8th of September, Hult Prize, in partnership with the United Nations, The Central bank of Lebanon, and BLOM Bank, will host their Lebanon finals in the Changemaker festival, awarding USD 250,000 to a group of Lebanese university students with distinctive innovative startups. Hult Prize was named ‘One of the Top Five Ideas Changing the World’ in 2012 by President Clinton and TIME Magazine.
Sponsors for the Changemaker festival include Hult Prize, BLOM Bank, Kobeissi & Franjieh law firm, Anghami, Fitness Zone, Beirut Digital District, and Careem.
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