Bahi Ghubril

Hertford College, 1989. Founder and CEO of Zawarib

Bahi GhubrilMy first year was spent living at Hollywell Quad at Hertford College where I spent some time nurturing baby sharks, cycling along the river, enjoying a good laugh with friends and then of course addressing my Engineering, Economics & Management studies.  A year later I switched directly to Engineering Science, which was - and possibly still is - the only Engineering course offered at Oxford. My third year was spent back in college at one of the most amazing rooms I ever enjoyed, directly above the NB gate, overlooking both the quad and Catte Streets, and the Bodlean Library.  I could often hear the musical sounds coming out from the Sheldonian Theatre, and had a great sideways view of the Radcliffe Camera.  All really magical!  During my last year I spent most days working on a thermodynamic project researching water flow round an island.

If you come to think about it, mechanical engineering is very broad and versatile, and is usually found in the development of most products, whether at the molecular scale or at the scale of large, complex systems. From building a functional see-saw to a massive energy-saving windmill, mechanical engineering principles and skills are always needed within some stage of the conception, design, development, and manufacture of every human-made object with moving parts.

Many innovations crucial to our future will have their roots in the world of mass, motion, forces, and energy—the world of mechanical engineers. When we develop a structure, so many different aspects are taken into consideration that few looking in from the outside know about.

Mapping is so similar; people only see the big picture. If we take electronic systems for example, most involve a map for designing microchips based on logic. Similarly I saw the mapping of Beirut as a collection of data-microchips that needed to be properly organized to serve what they were meant to: A working atlas to help ease functionality of any product or process.

Can you imagine before I began compiling the street atlas “Zawarib,” meaning small alleyways in Arabic, people did not have a map to navigate by. It was quite fascinating to absorb and observe how much locals and visitors were struggling to find their way around, myself included!

Since the streets of Beirut do not have a proper signage system, my team and I took the decision to include a great many landmarks in the maps – such as pharmacies, corner shops, and/or a main restaurants/coffee shops. Although very seldom used in maps of cities such as London or New York, the additional data proved to be very helpful for the otherwise “name-less” streets of Beirut.

As an entrepreneur I gained a great deal of confidence from what I was taught at my time in the Engineering Department. I particularly remember Dr. McCrum, Dr. Tony Wilson at Hertford College and Dr. L. Solymar. The approach was to “go out there and do something different, something that had never been done before” and that is exactly what I strived to do. This exact notion gave me the initial push I needed to be where I am today: founder and creator of Zawarib, a concept that has already begun to revolutionize an entire country’s transportation and navigation.

Zawarib’s main motto is to turn chaos into order. Most Lebanese diaspora returning to live in Beirut and foreign expats living in the city were delighted with the prospect of having a detailed map to navigate by, and I received many expressions of gratitude for the product. However, locals who are not used to reading maps are having difficulty with the idea. Besides being a mapping company, Zawarib is striving to improve the general communication and navigational habits of the Lebanese public.

On an international level our efforts have already been acknowledged. According to CNN’s Richard Quest, “Making the city accessible is what this entrepreneur’s contribution is all about”.

BBC World News reported: “Businesses are complaining that navigating around the city is costly and time-consuming.  So one mapping company is trying to revolutionise the way Beirutis find their destination”.