Lebanese initiative seeks to bring fiction closer to the world of children

For many children of Arab and Muslim backgrounds, it is rare to find characters that look and sound like they do in children’s fiction.

Resourceful. Lebanese entrepreneur Ingrid Salloum. (The UK Lebanon Tech Hub)

2017/08/20 Issue: 120 Page: 22

The Arab Weekly
Mahmud el-Shafey

London - A colourful children’s book lies open on the table. A drawing of a brown-skinned and dark-haired character looks up from the page. He is talking to a smiling anthropomorphic fruit. “Come on Ali,” says Mango, “let’s start dream­ing and colouring.”

For many young readers, particu­larly children of Arab and Muslim backgrounds, it is rare to find char­acters that look and sound like they do in children’s fiction. However, an online publishing company es­tablished by Lebanese entrepre­neur Ingrid Salloum is allowing parents to work with their children to produce personalised books that star their own family members.

“After a career in the corporate world and global education, I had two kids. I really wanted to give my children a good education to shape their characters and build the skills that are needed in today’s world. So I decided to become a ‘momtre­preneur’ and spend quality and fun time with my children in a way that boosts their imagination, education and self-confidence,” Salloum said.

Her online publishing company, ImagineMe, uses the latest technology to help parents and children tailor the narrative and place themselves in the heart of a book. ImagineMe presents a user-friendly online plat­form to allow parents to work with their children on writing a story, coming up with illustrations and adding various other touches to produce a personalised children’s book.

“My kids love helping me cre­ate new stories and as ImagineMe grows, your kids, too, can become involved in helping our small team of big thinkers create wonderful new adventures for all our children to share,” Salloum said.

“My kids and I are so excited about the magical journeys that we go on and I hope we can inspire children all across the world to join us in the wonderful world of story­telling.”

Established in November 2015, ImagineMe is seeking to go global after Salloum was chosen as one of the first seven Lebanese entrepre­neurs from a pool of 176 applicants by the Nucleus programme.

The Nucleus is a venture building programme run by the UK Lebanon Tech Hub that aims to help start-up companies. The UK Lebanon Tech Hub is a joint initiative of Lebanon’s Central Bank and the British gov­ernment.

A report by the UK Lebanon Tech Hub published in 2016 outlined Lebanon’s ambitions to become a major tech gateway to the Middle East and put forward a blueprint to create 25,000 tech jobs in the small Mediterranean country over the next few years.

“Lebanon’s young people are among the most educated and re­sourceful in the world. They fuel the great ideas that the Nucleus can turn into real products and services which will transform our world for the better,” said UK Lebanon Tech Hub Chairman Nicolas Sehnaoui.

In addition to ImagineMe, several other companies started by Leba­nese entrepreneurs are looking to make the jump to the global mar­ket. Among them are Dox, a predic­tive maintenance algorithm that monitors battery performance in real time; Handiss, a platform that centralises freelancing in the con­struction market for independent engineers and architects; Jaleesa, a tech-driven start-up that connects families with a trusted child-care provider; and Lexium, an online platform that enables access to le­gal answers and services using arti­ficial intelligence.

“ImagineMe is global in scope but to reach that much wider audi­ence we need the expertise and in­put that the whole team behind the Nucleus will bring to the party and I am looking forward to working on the programme and seeing those benefits unfold,” Salloum said.

Mahmud el-Shafey is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.

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