Technology has brought disruptions to many established industries. However, if we have learned anything from the COVID-19 crisis, it is that no one individual could have predicted the specific role technology would play. Suddenly, businesses globally are facing new realities.

By April 2020, almost 4.57 billion people were connected to the internet.

New business models are beginning to emerge.

Jobs with repetitive and predictable tasks are falling victim to automation and artificial intelligence.

Not long ago, employers were trying to figure out how to make the workplace more employee-friendly.

Today, remote work is the new workplace frontier. For jobs that do not require in-person interactions, the rise of a nomad workforce signals the end of long commutes and less human interaction in the context of the ‘office’. This will surely carry its weight on many human norms and behaviours.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of cloud-based collaboration tools and the digitization of business transactions. But while a whole new landscape emerges, new realities will shape how economies cope with changes.

The shortage of tech workers is becoming a growing concern for employers worldwide. For computer science graduates, there is (at times) a significant mismatch between theoretical learning and the job market skills in-demand. This problematic issue is not only shared by advanced economies.

On the local level, the Lebanese workforce is passing through a challenging time. Political & economic turmoil is destroying employment prospects while unemployment soars. Sadly, the rural population in particular has always suffered from income disparities. The rural-urban digital divide is ever more persistent.

Climate change is increasing the frequency of natural disasters and hence, the growing challenges affecting rural economies. Not only is it putting a strain on the usage of environmental resources such as water and soil but new technologies mean traditional rural sectors are being subject to fierce competition, thus in many areas raising the barriers for traditional businesses to access new markets.

We at the Park Innovation (PI) see opportunities in challenges and trends. Given it is our mission to grow the digital and innovation ecosystem in rural areas, PI supports the entrepreneurial spirit of rural startups. By doing so, PI taps into the resources of rural workers and grooms their capabilities in order to allow them a competitive advantage in the global digital economy. The approach is multifaceted. PI provides office space, startup acceleration, business incubation, and high-impact learning experiences in our coding academy.

PI believes in shaping the future of business in rural Lebanon by offering the following services:

A digital & innovation ecosystem. Startups can launch and scale their business activities with little investment in office space or IT infrastructure. PI hopes to harness the full potential of new technologies to transform how individuals and businesses create value from rural areas. Nowadays, online retail solutions link local SMEs and producers with new markets. Smart agriculture solutions help farmers optimize water usage. Digital tools for emergency response show where wildfires erupt, how they spread, and help firefighters save lives. PI is open to new ideas and innovative approaches that tackle the challenges of life in rural regions.

Upskilling programs. PI invests in human capital by retraining workers to align their skills with the technology market needs and by connecting them with global employers. These new non-standard forms of employment create economic growth opportunities for rural populations to participate in the global technology market. The upskilling programs are flexible to accommodate busy work and family schedules. PI fosters a lifelong learning mindset where workers are constantly offered new upskilling opportunities to prevent skills obsolescence. PI lowers the barriers for retraining for those who lack financial means.

A remote workplace. PI provides both workers and companies flexible workstations connected to reliable & affordable internet. We believe the “work-from-anywhere” mindset will be a game-changer to rural areas. Workers benefit from proximity to nature and lower living expenses and businesses save on operating expenses.

As chairwoman of PI, I would like to thank all our amazing mentors and partners for their commitment to our success in building a thriving tech ecosystem in the Shouf mountains. Together, we will continue to break barriers and build an ecosystem that is beneficial to the sustainable economic growth in Shouf and other rural areas across Lebanon.