by Lucia Conti
Mona Itani is an engineer, a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, and the Founder of Riyada for Social Innovation, a social enterprise that educates youth to develop tech solutions to social problems.
You are an entrepreneur, an academic, and a tech expert. How did your journey start and what was it like?
As an engineer, I worked in telecommunications at first but I was always interested in business. I did my master in engineering management, took a course, and was placed in a group of entrepreneurs, some of which were Lebanese female role models.
But it was only after I joined academia that I started digging deeper into the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
Let’s talk about Riyada for Social Innovation. What is social innovation to you and why are women important in this process?
I will start with the second question. It frustrates me that we still need initiatives to integrate women into society because women make up half of society and to this day we’re still talking about their rights, it is shameful. Women have to contribute equally in every field, including social innovation.
Social innovation means putting social good first, to keep making positive progress. If we just keep a profit-oriented mindset the result won’t be long-lasting.
In your Ph.D. thesis, you talked about women tech-entrepreneurs in Lebanon as actors who “disrupted the traditional culture and economy”. What did you mean by that?
When I started interviewing these women, I saw what they were really doing. They were taking action to be heard, they had a vision of what Lebanon should be, and by using high-tech they were determined to achieve more than profit. They had the bigger purpose to change society and in this sense, they were disrupting it.