Edtech Learning Tools & Platforms in MENA 2020

So far schools in Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon, UAE, Saudi, Bahrain, and Kuwait, Morocco, Libya, Qatar are shut for at least two more weeks to a month (schools in Oman, Tunisia remain open), as COVID-19 locks down cities and countries whole.

We aggregated education tech companies from across MENA in a reference chart to help teachers, school management, parents and professionals with their remote-learning efforts and maximize their time.

This is the updated version of the diagram shared in the Week #72 Newsletter
تحديث على الرسم المعلوماتي لمنصات وأدوات التعليم الرقمي في المنطقة التي أصدرت في الموجز #23

We only covered products produced in the Middle East and North Africa in this table, I’m sure many use Coursera, EdX, Khan Academy, etc, however these platforms get enough coverage as is and do not necessarily cover the needs of the average student, teacher and parent that has to home-school and remote-teach over the next few month.

The most important note is that Arabic remains the dominant language of education in MENA and the most language parents and majority of professionals are comfortable with. While Dubai-dwellers, and workers in tech may feel otherwise, these are services that are currently needed by every household across MENA as a necessity and that forces us into the reality: Arabic is vital for mass, inclusive and equal reach.

Interesting observation:

  • All Academic Distance Learning solutions in MENA are primarily in Arabic.
  • 80% of Professional Distance Learning Solutions are in Arabic, the rest are English first.
  • 9 of Distance Learning Platforms, Academic and Professional, are funded by governments in the UAE, Saudi, Oman & Jordan.
  • All Early Learning Content is Arabic first, and 50% provide English content as well.
  • 75% of all services are available in Arabic, while 49% of services are provided in English.
  • Most of the solutions and services are headquartered in Saudi (22) and the UAE (21) of a total of 85 services listed
  • 69% of solutions are geared toward empowering the Education sector (Academic Distance Learning, Teaching and Tutoring tools, eLearning infrastructure)

*this chart is compiled through hours of online research and some online recommendations, we are likely to be missing some services especially in Early Learning Content as that’s a space that publishing houses are increasingly involved in. We have also not included platforms that are no longer active and ones that are based heavily outside the region (UK is a popular HQ for Edtech companies it seems).
If you have questions about the graph feel free to tweet me or farah.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round [Updated]

The first part below originally posted in the “MENA’s Digital News, Week #11” yesterday, but then things escalated over night and an update was due. 

Original thoughts: 

Did we reach a new battle frontier: king of the mass-commute sector? 

Let’s face it, taxi ride hailing is not for everyone. It’s expensive for the majority of populations to adopt on daily basis, especially in emerging markets. The opportunity is even more alluring when combined with the lack of (or deteriorating state) of public transport in these markets. 

But it all happened too fast: 

Targeting the same demographic: Halan (mentioned above) also just closed Series A round, to provide motorcycles and tuktuks on-demand. 

The shuttle services are of course not unique to MENA, Grab (Singapore) has shuttle service offerings since last December 2017 and recently expanded that service to include school and airport shuttles. Of course it’s truce with Uber in Singapore has helped focus it’s efforts on serving new segments instead of burning cash on competition

Mass commute is a space that ride-hailing companies have tried and failed to crack in the past, so it’ll be interesting to see who will acquire whom first. 


The Update:

After I published the newsletter yesterday, Halan (حالاً) announced at RiseUp Summit that the CTO of Uber was part of their latest Series A round, and will be joining the board of the startup.

Lyft announced it has filed for an IPO (rushing to beat Uber), only to find out that Uber had filed “secretly” on the same day! 

Lyft has been the slow and sturdy of the ride-hailing race in the US, that does however mean that they have yet to expand beyond the North American continent, and that their valuation is also much less that Uber’s; according to Bloomberg: ~$18M-$30M.

This puts even more pressure on Uber to pick up its performance, burn less cash and put their money where their PR is to hit a valuation that can bring returns to the last round of investors (Softbank & co.) at that IPO. The “rumored” valuation has increased two fold in less than a year, which is absurd in millions, let alone in the double-digit billions! 

Valuation earlier in the year was $65B, we’re now hearing of IPO at $130B! 

So, what does Halan’s investment mean? The battlefield is geared up and ready. 


I’m not concerned about Careem’s ability to ride this through. Uber will be aggressive from now till IPO (~March) to gain its valuation, however you cannot operate at that level of aggression forever and avoid bad publicity, especially given the records on Uber’s work environment. 

However, there will be victims in this race. Swvl has a carved vertical and is looking at a different growth trajectory than both giants (Uber has failed Asia and Careem is still conquering broader MENA). It will face the wrath of SEA emerging markets, but there’s plenty of space in there to deliver and grow. It is also not too late or too big to get acquired by the regional giants or global ones. 

Buseet, may be a tempting acquisition for either giants, to help consolidate their fleets and decrease competition. And that’s only looking at the Egyptian market. There are dozens of smaller ride-hailing apps, Ousta, TemTem, Marhaba, Tirhal, etc in neighboring markets that may get snatched up or wither in this grid-lock. 

Or dare I say, the battlefield starts looking so tempting that we see more giants move in? 

What stops Rocket Internet, through Jumia’s massive reach, from expanding EasyTaxi in North Africa, as a stepping stone into more MENA markets?

Or Didi from expanding it’s partnership (and investment) with Careem with a big move into MENA by, I dare say, acquisition? Didi has partnered with Taxify to corner Uber out of markets,  and with the bullish growth of the Chinese tech giants, it’s not a far stretch!

(after the arrest of the Huawei CFO two days ago, I’m sure Xi Jinping would be happy to watch a US company suffer a little)


You can check my post on the Uber-Careem merger rumors here: Can Working Smart & Local Compete With Global Giants Burning Investor Money – Part 2: Careem vs Uber

Also, other opinions of the topic:

Competition heats up for Cairo’s ride-hailing apps [Wamda]
Opinion: Why Uber and Careem should merge [menabytes]

Can Working Smart & Local Compete With Global Giants Burning Investor Money – Part 2: Careem vs Uber

Part 1: Anghami vs Spotify got a lot of rounds + an update was added at the end based on online discussions post-publishing

Now for Battle Royale of the season: 

Careem vs Uber 

I remember Mudassir and Magnus taking a booth at ArabNet back in early 2013. Standing diligently selling their service to business professionals: to introduce a better booking and billing experience for corporate car trips that matches that of airlines and hotels; and hustling to get media coverage and exposure. Fast forward just 5 years and Careem has exploded in size and offering probably beyond the founder’s imagination at that moment in time. 

There’s quite a lot that a $67B valuation (Uber) can buy you that a $2B (Careem) valuation can only dream of, however the hustle is strong:

Untappable markets and delays in adaptability: Careem’s valuation has steadily risen over the past five years, while they have ventured into some of the region’s most difficult markets: Palestine, Sudan (embargoed for US companies), Morocco and the ongoing attempt to enter Oman. Their services grew from “cash” (which Uber introduced much later), and “pre-bookings” (Careem’s MVP), to include phone bookings (much needed in emerging markets reliant on feature phones), car seats, motorcycles, last-mile delivery, and even road-side assistance services! 

The strength of Careem has always been in localizing services, so while getting a Careem motorcycle may be a dream-come-true in Lebanon and Pakistan, it’s an unlikely feature in Riyadh and Dubai. All the while, Uber has kept up its offerings with Careem’s at each turn, sometimes even years later, like business accounts, which were a core feature of Careem since day one. 

Response to crisis: A frequent backlash for Uber regionally has been lack of swift response to disaster, where local teams may have not had the autonomy or the swiftness to curtail surge pricing, for e.g. when the Torch Tower went ablaze in Marina, Dubai. Careem’s team immediately cancelled all fares for travelers out of the location. While this is something Uber has acted on much more ethically in the US and EU, the responses in emerging markets have been slow to improve.  

[Careem offers free rides for customers to Al Aqsa Mosque every Friday, during the holy month of Ramadan]

Verticals:

  • Food Delivery – UberEats (Uber’s current prized baby valued at $20B) has launched in Dubai, Riyadh and Jeddah so far in MENA, a long way from market dominance. Careem has acquired Roundmenu to expand it’s offering in that space, with no further comment on the topic since February
  • Payments – Careem has been aggressively hiring CareemPay MD’s in multiple GCC cities, and announced plans to launch the service as early as 2019. Cracking payments (especially P2P) in MENA is the grand race that telecom operators, phone manufacturers and governments have yet to win. Careem’s cross border power has a chance at winning this race at a scale that no regional telecom or gov entity can. 
  • Mass Commute – Public transport infrastructure in Europe and a few US cities may be enviable, however in the emerging market prairies of Egypt, India, Lebanon, Oman and most African countries, it’s an… aspirational dream. But tackling mass transport is a messy business; riders are not necessarily using the smartest phones, and most likely unbanked. Can a developed market company get on the ground to crack this? Careem has no bus service, yet, but has acquired Commut, a Pakistan bus-shuttle service, in September as a first venture into the space. Swvl, Egypt based bus-shuttle service, also announced today a “8 figure investment” to expand their services to East Asia and setup their Germany technology center.

Technology: I agree, whether Careem, Anghami or most other regional services, the final customer experience is sub to that of global products. However I’m not sure the startups are to take the load for this one, technical talent is beyond scarce in MENA, to the extent that Careem (and recently Swvl) have technical teams based in Germany to help fill this gap! Given the size of funding rounds in the region and the cost analysis, it’s a grand move to grow against the odds. 

Giving Back: While an international tech company will rarely if ever invest in regional tech talent, queue FAGM offices in MENA that are stacked with sales guys and barely if any developers (yes you!), regional startups are likely to be the first to jump on the opportunity. Not only Careem, but Bayt.com, Souq.com, and Hungerstation, to name just a few, forgive me if I have forgotten, have been quite supportive of all developer activities I have conducted in the past. 

Uber, and FAGM companies, I have to say, has been very supportive of entrepreneurs in MENA from a exposure and sponsorship perspective, but, the challenge in the region is neither. We Need Better Technical Talent Yesterday! and with no technical talent in their regional offices big-tech can only help so much.   A small shoutout here to Consensys who even though very new in MENA, started off cultivating a developer community around them immediately. (the blockchain will be led from Asia, but that’s for a different post)

Acquisitions: Uber has been stingy in acquisitions for-market-growth everywhere in the world, their general strategy is to acquire tech companies (or scooters). While that’s a fair strategy, it’s a tough one to play out in emerging markets as Rocket Internet or Zomato can tell you. 
Meanwhile Careem, has made multiple acquisitions and promised to do more. 

“The Acquisition” in Question

Embattled Uber and the year-after-year conversation of its “massive blow” to Careem’s business, and the endless rumors of a looming acquisition. 

The running rumor that Uber is in advanced talks with Careem for an acquisition has been ramping up week by week, and for a good many reasons:

The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) is now an investor, directly and through Softbank Vision Fund, in both Careem and Uber, given its bleeding Q3 numbers in lead up to the anticipated IPO in 2019. It would be really tough for late stage investors to make their returns unless Uber makes a massive splash in it’s public offering; their current target is $120B. The continuous competitive price slashing is not to their benefit.

Uber has already bowed down from China and LATAM to curb it’s losses in preparation for the IPO, but the shared investors may be giving them some extra leverage in negotiation with Careem

I saw Mudassir last week at BoostMENA, and according to him, talks with Uber are there, but not at a stage more advanced than conversations with other global leaders like Didi and Ola. So, that’s the founder’s story. 

News is that Careem may also be raising a new round from Chinese investors

An acquisition to Uber may not a bad thing. However, my and the ecosystem’s prayer is: may it not be shorted like the Amazon-Souq deal.


We are at the tip of the iceberg of what a company like Careem or Uber can provide to the global market with such phenomenal reach; and it will be far beyond ride hailing. These technologies are already impact the future of economies, industries and people’s lives. 

I’m in awe of the unifying power technology has had on the MENA region, but in even greater gratefulness to be alive at a time where connecting people has allowed emerging market leaders to challenge the dominance of the long held status quo. 

Can we get scooters like the cool kids now?

Yes, I’m a Careem fan. I use all regional services until they break; that’s my rule. I have had challenges at times with the service, but most have been fixed along the way. No emerging market can surpass one of Silicon Valley’s most coveted-still-private babies without the support of it’s wider ecosystem, so Careem along.