The Story Behind The Amandla Forum


Amandla Forum

Written by John Lillywhite

“Communications for Empowerment” – so what exactly does that mean? Marty Neumeier may be the author of the ‘Brand Gap’, but you do realize that no one out here in Jordan knows that right? It’s too risky doing a new media and knowledge sharing forum right now: marketing budgets have been slashed, no one has any money, and frankly the kingdom isn’t ready for it. Why don’t you wait three or four years?

As a former employee of Amandla I got to witness firsthand the difficulties faced by start-ups in Amman, and more generally the obstacles sometimes faced by those who are simply passionate about doing something new. The ‘Amandla Forum’, which took place in the first week of May at the Kempinski Hotel Dead Sea, was being planned for in an office in Sweifieh over 6 months ago. The concept was bold but simple – to bring communications experts from across the world to the Middle East to train and network with regional institutions, entrepreneurs and all those broadly affected by the web 2.0, or ‘new media’.

Amandla Forum was originally intended to take place in Dubai – a prospect the financial meltdown in November quickly ruled out. I remember the discussion we had in the office that week. Would people in Jordan appreciate an event like this? Would people be prepared to pay the $500 participation fee, even if it was a fraction of the cost for similar events? At first opinions varied, but soon we all began rooting for the underdog: based on my personal experiences of the city, Amman deserved the Forum even if it wasn’t sure it wanted it.

Anxiety soon turned into excitement. The CEO of Amandla, Ehab Shanti, had somehow sweet talked people like Thomas Gensemer from Blue State Digital, the people behind Obama’s internet campaign, as well David Nasser from the ‘wallmart watch’ initiative into speaking. Meanwhile personalities like Nadine Toukan from UrdunMubdi, Laith Zraikat from Jeeran, or Yousef Tuqan from Flip would take part in panel discussions. Perhaps not entirely unreasonably, Amandla hoped sponsors to come flowing in, or at the least be forthcoming. After all, look what Arab Net achieved?

A month before Amandla Forum was due to take place sponsorship remained an issue, and people complained via facebook and twitter that tickets were simply too expensive. There were dark mumblings here and there as to whether it would even go ahead at all.

But it did. Between 4-6th May respected communicators from America and the Middle East, journalists like Bill Orme or social media enthusiasts like 7iber, listened and brainstormed together in one place – Jordan. Participants included delegations from across the region, from government, seemingly every office of the UN, the Jordan River Foundation, the private sector, entrepreneurs and many who clearly had ideas they were hoping the forum might help refine. They not only got to meet the speakers, they got to meet each other.

It’s true the Forum might have needed some polish here and there. We made mistakes along the way. But no one can deny that theDSC_0215simple act of bringing such people to the same place at the same time was a massive achievement: speaker’s like Marty Neumeier had never visited the Middle East, let along Jordan. A 7iber workshop saw panel moderator Rania Atalla dancing around the room with a balloon, while other workshops looked at CSR, Media Development, or the difference between branding, marketing, PR and advertising. During the panel discussion companies such as Yahoo, Ikoo, MediaMe, Bayt and Development Works exchanged ideas, anecdotes, and thoughts on some of the challenges facing communication in the region.

Finally, all the talk Jordan ‘not being ready’ or sophisticated enough for an event of this kind proved deeply misled. Her Highness Princess Rym Ali, the founder of the Jordan Media Institute, attended the event. In addition to a host of strategic media sponsors, Yahoo, Royal Jordanian and the Kempinski Hotel itself all provided invaluable assistance.

So ‘Amandla Forum’ has been a bit of a journey. It will be interesting to see how the relationships and ideas forged over the course of the two days blossom. In my opinion this will not be a question of ‘if’, but rather of ‘when’ and ‘how’. By chance I bumped into Thomas Gensemer at a launch party at Foresight32 gallery, the night the Forum had ended. ‘We could be anywhere’ he quipped, looking around the revamped terrace café, ‘I mean this could be New York!’

Indeed it could… if with a particular local or Jordanian element, which after all was what Amandla Forum was all about.




  • Fred

    500 US Dollars participation fee? Yes, this could be New York – but it isn't. I have a feeling that this forum took place in a bubble. Which might be just as well. Had it not taken place in a bubble, would it have taken place at all?

  • EhabAmandla

    Well, dear Fred, every gathering at the end of the day is a bubble!

    This was not a conference, it was a training forum, where people get trained by top-notch experts and get certificates….so the price is a fraction of what anyone would pay in any similar opportunity. As someone who knows, even with the 500, financially, the Forum is a money loosing venture!

    As for the bubble, we in fact sponsored countless participants who could not afford the price tag (includng 20 students) and gave them free access to the forum. So, we tried our best.

  • Joispa

    The article has many good points but “Why don’t you wait three or four years?” In internet time that's like asking Mr Shanti to do the conference on communication with extraterrestrials.

  • Rania Atalla

    The Amandla Forum did indeed bring together Arab & international figures from the world of communications who spoke in plenary sessions and offered training in specialized workshops—good opportunities for young professionals who seek exposure and skill enhancement. Perhaps the best part of the forum was interacting with some of the relatively young yet accomplished talent from Jordan and the region. People like Laith Zraikat of Jeeran.com, Nadine Toukan, Yousef Tuqan , Rabea Ataya of Bayt, Isam Bayazidi, Ahmed Nassef of Maktoob/Yahoo and Zeid Nasser—to name only a few—bring a lot to the table and have much to offer. I had the pleasure of moderating a panel with them where the challenge was having them share as much of their experience as possible in an hour and a half worth of discussion. To me, the most refreshing part of the Forum was the workshop on social media by the quietly charismatic Ramsey Tesdell who taught a group of young and not-so-young participants about social media. (Tesdell had us do a balloon popping competition meant to demonstrate the “social” part of social media. It was not a “dance” as John Lillywhite writes). In my mind, the panelists and Ramsey are an inspiration to our youth and an indication that hard work and creativity carry enormous potential for the country & region.

  • Khaled

    “is Jordan 'sophisticated' enough for a forum?”
    So what exactly is that, 2nd internationale?

    I mean first of all, how could a 'holding company' be “Amandlic” and “empower communities” with a forum of 'Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze' sponsors!
    Power to the people who can afford 500$ exclusive of all costs needed to travel daily to the dead-sea! Power could've been given to the people if costs were reduced by letting go of the sea-viewing conference halls, or providing 'official internal transport' in addition to 'official carriers'!
    But perhaps Jordan is not sophisticated enough to absorb such an Amandlic paradigm “Any company that claims not to be working for money is disingenuous.” as the community-empowering god-sent liberator of the 'oppressed' proudly state!

    “looking around the revamped terrace café, ‘I mean this could be New York!’…”
    “NewYork with a particular local or Jordanian element” is the new Amandlic paradigm?
    It sounds more like McDonalds McArabia!

    But then again, how sophisticated one has to be to grasp Edward Salazr!!

  • Khaled

    I urge you to have a look at these,

    http://www.amandlagroup.com/what-makes-amandla-

  • EhabAmandla

    Actually Khaled, just a slight correction: We did indeed provide free internal transport (from 7th circle to the Dead Sea) and did waive the cost for many people who could not afford it. Your other comments are so silly they do not merit a response.

  • Khaled

    Lol ofcourse! how silly it is to doubt that a dead-sea forum held by a holdings company dedicated to 500$ return per individual by people who aspire to see New York in Amman and wonder if Jordan was 'sophisticated' enough could grasp 'Amandla'!
    After all if it wasn't truly 'silly' in that concern, then it wouldn't have been held in such a manner!
    so la7m b 3ajin!

  • Khaled

    Lol ofcourse! how silly it is to doubt that a dead-sea forum held by a holdings company dedicated to 500$ return per individual by people who aspire to see New York in Amman and wonder if Jordan was 'sophisticated' enough could grasp 'Amandla'!
    After all if it wasn't truly 'silly' in that concern, then it wouldn't have been held in such a manner!
    so la7m b 3ajin!

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