Sejaal Inc. - سجا

Khadija Hamouchi

Lebanon
Promotional URL: https://www.sejaal.com/

Provide a summary of the concept, how it works/could work, and why it could be successful

(*Sejaal means conversation, a debate in Arabic.)
More than half of young Arabic-speakers struggle to reach relevant Arabic information on
traditional search engines. Sejaal is an AI-enabled Arabic content platform that classifies
and distributes media information in a relevant and smart manner.
Our solution filters the Arabic web for quality sources of information – mainly social
magazines, blogs, and newspapers – most of which they will discover. We smartly classify
each website source according to relevance criteria. We curate their articles/stories by
accurately tagging each article. We personably distribute them to each user. To further
emphasise relevance, we enable each user to curate the information by high-fiving
(feature) an article.
With the amount of Arabic textual information rising rapidly (7000% growth), there is an
increasing need for new smart curation and classification model that satisfies the
expectations of millennials for ready-for-consumption content. With such an approach, we
are changing their common perception that Arabic content is either ‘non-existent’ or ‘all
poor quality’.
We are specifically built for the conscious younger generation that discriminates about
media content and who want to choose what is relevant for them. We serve the Arab
digital millennial generation who has experienced the setbacks of the Arab Spring across
the 22 Arabic-speaking countries of the MENA.
That sceptical Generation Y is actively looking for information and knowledge to have
more control over their economic, social, and political future. Arab Youth represent over
half of internet users in the region; and are the new critical power generation to sustain
new models of prosperous democracy.

Explain briefly the specific problem(s) you are trying to solve, and how your solution impacts or will impact the region

In Arabic-speaking countries, 58% of the 185 million internet users struggle to find relevant
information in Arabic online. Arabic internet users grow frustrated; unable to answer their
questions, feed their curiosity or take informed actions. If they do not surrender, they resort
to unreliable sources of information such as ideologically-motivated political leaders and
government-owned media, or biased surroundings.
Unfortunately, Arabic digital publishers do not have the capacity, know-how, and budgets
to optimize their content for the search engines or to reach targeted critical masses
through digital marketing. Major search engines are not fully technologically optimized for
Classical Arabic or content relevance. Arabic independent community-owned digital
publishers are missing out on serving and monetizing their content to more than half of
their potential digital audience. 70% of the Arabic-speaking MENA region is monolingual
and only has access to a mere 5%+ of available Arabic internet content.
The ineffective reachability of Arabic information hinders the inclusion of Arab citizens in
democratically participating in local and global conversations. When Arab citizens have an
effective reach to all relevant available information, they are better equipped with the
knowledge to powerfully participate in civic debates, think critically about community
actions, and make educated decisions.
One Minute Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WF_tZc3ETeo

Geographical Scope: where is the innovation currently operating/where would it first be applied and where would it scale?

Based in Beirut Lebanon. Current Numbers: 824 (spread across 19 Arabic-speaking
countries).
We are currently exploring developments in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi
Arabia.

Please state the current status of your initiative

Pilot stage

Beneficiaries: Explain who would benefit from this solution and indicate whether you would be working with a local partner or organization to implement (if so,specify)

We serve the Arab digital millennial generation who has experienced the setbacks of the
Arab Spring across the 22 Arabic-speaking countries of the MENA. That sceptical
Generation Y is actively looking for information and knowledge to have more control over
their economic, social, and political future. Arab Youth represent over half of internet users
in the region; and are the new critical power generation to sustain new models of
prosperous democracy.
We have no local partners on the ground. To navigate all the way through Product-Market-
Fit; Sejaal Inc. seeks to partner with:
1. The Wikimedia Foundation – Arabic Wikipedia Community: to conduct tests.
2. Haykal Media Group: to understand the need for content analytics from digital
publishers
3. The Qatar Computing Research Institute via its computing labs in the US.

Describe the scalability and innovation elements of your initiative

The Innovation: By applying new research advancements in the fields of machine learning
and natural language processing for classical Arabic; we can make reach to information
more personable, specific, and accurate.
On the publishers’ side, we are providing a content analytics platform to publishers – free of
charge- in order to support them make relevant editorial choices when it comes to publish
content that satisfies their readers’ interests, questions, and curiosity.
By contrast, other applications have been focussing on immediate news; hence catering
for mature professionals. Filtration, classification, and community curation are nonexistent;
and they barely provide editorial support to publishers.
The Scalability: Our Arabic content platform is a software that intends to solve the problem
of reaching relevant information online. This use of technology makes us highly accessible
across all 22 MENA markets. We are developing a natural language processing algorithm
that accurately tags and classifies every Arabic text information and a machine learning
engine that smartly and relevantly distributes information.
As this machine continues to grow, our algorithm will be able to recommend content and
improve significantly the user experience; and hopefully, predict what type of content is
this new generation looking for; leading to growth of quality Arabic content online.
What’s more, we intend to extend the technical application of the NLP Algorithms and ML
to more Arabic digital applications such as e-learning courses, podcasts, online TV
channels, insite web searches, etc.

Please state your innovation sponsor (if applicable)

None

What are your key resources at this stage and what resources would you need to implement/scale?

Our Team is our first key resource.
Zeina Saadeddin – Chief Technology Officer, Programming and Head of Research
Zeina is a Palestinian Software Engineer who is co-founding Sejaal Inc. envisioning to
program the next phase of the Arabic Web. She was a coding consultant in “Code For
Palestine Project” for Paltel Group Foundation. She trained remotely as a Machine
Learning Engineer in Seattle. She has been listed as an emerging technology leader at the
TechWomen program in 2018 by the US Department. She has a Bachelors and a Masters in
Computer Science from Arab American University.
Khadija Hamouchi – Chief Executive Officer, Product, and Community
Khadija is passionate about creating informed societies in the MENA. In 2017, her passion
has led her to cross the Arab World East to West to interview 180 individuals on the
relevance and quality of Arabic content. She is a dual citizen of Belgium and Morocco. She
graduated from four universities worldwide and has been awarded the most
intrapreneurial project of Africa in 2015 by the African Entrepreneurship Award, by the
BMCE Bank of Africa. She is a recognized social change fellow by The QF Wise Learners
Voice; the Harambe African Network, the Do School in Berlin.
Resources Needed: Cash (Yes!), Strong Mentorship particularly in Arabic Language
Technology and Product Development.

What are your key challenges and risks at this stage?

Our challenges are:
1. Digital Arabic Content has been suffering a bad reputation. Internet users are yet to
perceive Arabic content as plentiful with a healthy level of quality.
2. Investors are yet to see a tangible revenue model with gross margins that are unrelated
to advertisement models; particularly when our technology requires significant costly
infrastructure capacity (servers). Our revenue model is quite new for our industry in the
region.
3. Over the past decade, specialized research in Arabic Language Technologies have taken
place behind the closed doors of universities in the MENA region and in American
universities. We know that some institutions in the region hold onto essential Arabic
datasets.
4. Although we are not a search engine, the majority of MENA citizens rely on dominant
players for their daily searches.
Having Havard’s Arab Community’ know-how, team, and network by our side will boost our
can-do attitude and confidence to face and solve them all.

What are your goals and timeline?

We now have a deployable prototype. Within the next year, we will focus on product-market
fit:
1. Reaching to a solid 250K recurrent users among monolingual university students in
Urban areas of lower-middle-income countries (planning for Palestine, Egypt, Morocco,
Saudi Arabia). Deadline: January 2020.
2. Content: Aggregate and Classify 125 website per month onto Sejaal. Onboard 30 Arabic
digital publishers onto our mission and promote the high five social plugins within their
website. Deadline: March 2020.
3. Technology: Refine our Arabic NLP and machine learning model cover 100 number of
tags and 4000+ number of text pages.Deadline July 2020.

Why should this innovation be selected?

We are an award-winning women-led technology team (TechWomen, the African
Entrepreneurship Award) combining the mindset of a creative dreamer and a down-to-earth
engineer with enormous amounts of empathy for our customers. Together, we have 13
years of work experience, worldwide education, and grassroots cultural understanding.
We are passionate readers of Arabic who are dedicated to shifting the paradigm of how
and what information people reach on the Arabic web. We are all avid learners who have
gathered and read an impressive amount of research on Arabic language technologies,
digital Arabic content, and Arab millennials.
We have managed to attract the interest of experts and key players in this industry. As our
challenges grow, we all have our list of e-learning courses to take according to our duties.
Maximizing research and development, we are committed to developing proprietary
technology. Learning by doing, we have managed to put up a working prototype with a zero
budget.

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