Entrepreneur ME Mag features Swae

Entrepreneur ME Mag features Swae

Swae has been featured in Entrepreneur Middle East and Entrepreneur magazine. You can read the full article below:

Thank you, Entrepreneur ME, for your interest and coverage of Swae. Swipe to view the pages (4).

Soushiant Zanganehpour, founder and CEO of Swae, on how his startup aims to upgrade the decision-making process


(originally published in Entrepreneur Middle East and Entrepreneur Magazine)

August 2019

More often than not, we witness or hear about the lack of voice or influence most people have on systems, institutions, and organizations that have significant impact on their lives, which has led many to try to upgrade the decision-making process. “This frustration, coupled with the countless examples of abuse of power, the elitism of experts that exclude others due to their perceived ignorance, the limited feedback loops and tools we have to ensure leaders remain accountable to promises, and most importantly, the generally uninspiring decisions produced by this way of decision-making really inspired me to explore alternatives,” says Soushiant Zanganehpour, founder and CEO of Swae, an AI-enabled platform giving users tools to better express themselves, and participate and influence decision-making processes and governance.

Officially established in 2018, the Vancouver-based Swae aims to create more intelligent, meritocratic, and higher quality decisions in organizations by disrupting the overly-centralized, top-down and outdated hierarchical process of decision-making. “We do this by combining anonymity, artificial intelligence, and collective intelligence to give people the ability to build powerful proposals from the bottom- up without much expert intervention and dependency,” says Zanganehpour. “This allows them to participate in consequential and complex decisions that have impact on them– from government policy, community budgets, to workplace decisions. The platform also helps organizations unleash the creativity of their stakeholders, discover unrevealed truths, data and well- crafted bottom-up solutions, so decision-makers can make more intelligent decisions around products, services, policies, and strategy.”

Prior to his work on Swae, the whole of Zanganehpour’s career trajectory shows his tendency to solving problems at the intersection of public policy, business, technology, and systems change. Swae is his fourth entrepreneurial experience- the three previous startups that he worked on, which focused on large event promotion and production, digital advertising technology, and education, have been led to profitability and a buy- out. Zanganehpour is also currently engaged as a board member of Harvard Business Review’s Advisory Council and Biocarbon Engineering (a reforestation startup using drones to replant a billion trees per year), as well as an advisory board member of RADIUS ventures, a social venture accelerator based out of Simon Fraser University’s Business School in Vancouver, Canada. His academic career includes him working as an adjunct professor at Sciences- Po in Paris, France, and a lecturer at the Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi, UAE, teaching business models for social progress and impact investing at the master’s level.


It is thus his career so far that offered him an insight into the quality and efficiency -or the lack thereof- of decision- making processes in organizations of all sizes. “I came up with the idea of Swae in 2014, as a result of my experiences working in senior management roles inside small and large organizations,” says Zanganehpour. “Here, I regularly witnessed several occasions where poorly designed, non-meritocratic, and politically motivated decision-making processes led to poor decision quality, and poor organizational performance. I felt strongly that these processes and their end outcomes were a disservice to the organization’s potential, and the available but untapped collective intelligence that resided within them.”

Swae is a sector and organization-agnostic platform that combines anonymity with artificial and collective intelligence, and guides users through a methodical discovery process to help articulate their solution into a problem. In doing that, the platform provides conditional anonymity, allowing users to feel comfortable expressing unconventional ideas, and revealing their identity only if their idea is selected. Natural-language understanding (NLU) and natural-language processing (NLP) algorithms help improve the quality of the initial solution, functioning as a proposal editor to strengthen effectiveness. All proposals can be improved through distributed crowd input and deliberation, as well as be upvoted/down- voted to symbolize political support in order to garner the attention of decision-makers. The most engaged proposals automatically escalate up- wards to a feasibility decision round. This process creates bottom-up solutions that are well-written, researched, and deliberated.

The actual process of developing Swae started in 2016 when Zanganehpour was accepted to Singularity University’s Global Solutions Program, and he began working on the conceptual validation of the idea. “While there, learning about future exponential technologies, and the impact on our social and business institutions, my initial hypotheses were validated that most decision-making processes are outdated, and unfit for our times,” he says. “Today’s most consequential institutions (governments, corporations, city councils) operate through hierarchies, interpret stakeholders’ preferences through periodic elections and consultations, and make decisions leveraging proportional representation, precluding regular, meaningful, and substantive participation of stakeholders into the process. However, our ever-advancing communication technologies are challenging old organizational structures, enabling direct instantaneous exchange, the creation of distributed organization and new business models, and the aggregation of distributed intelligence, efficiently.

Given these possibilities, people expect more transparency and inclusion in decisions that have a big impact on their lives. Institutions and organizations that fail to update their decision-making processes will be left behind.” The following year, Zanganehpour began working full-time on the concept, bootstrapping the development with personal savings. In June 2018, the Swae team was awarded a US$600,000 non-dilutive grant by the Global Challenges Foundation, winning their inaugural 2018 global New Shape Prize competition for Swae’s model, technology, approach and vision for governance and 21st century decision-making. The funds were used to expand the team (currently oscillating between six and nine people), build the first version of the Swae web app, test it in organizational settings in order to experiment with bottom-up ideation and decision-making, and also gain commercial and operational validation.

Since then, Swae has proven to be a SaaS platform that is highly customizable to the needs of any organization, and as such has already garnered significant interest, listing MSF/Doctors without Borders, Bosch, the government of Chile, and the city of Juarez, Mexico, among its clients. In early 2018, the Swae team participated in NYU Abu Dhabi’s Venture Launchpad program, an AI and robotics focused sprint accelerator, which supported them with access to market and pilot opportunities with state-owned corporations in the UAE.

“Thanks to startAD, it was during this program where we met the innovation team at Etihad Airways, and through a competitive process with several rounds of pitching, follow-up meetings, legal and technical due diligence, and compliance, their team helped curate and land the opportunity to deploy the platform across the organization to support internal intrapreneurship and innovation management,” says Zanganehpour.

Today, the Swae platform digitally enables and powers the Etihad Airway’s Entrepreneurship and Employee-Driven Innovation Program, iFikra, allowing it to function and scale across the entire work- force. “Having the convening power and support of the NYU startAD program gave us an initial leg up in brokering the relationship and getting to a quick ‘yes/no’ decision about a possible future,” says Zanganehpour. “This was extremely valuable because getting to a ‘yes/no’ decision with potential pilot customers is key for an early stage start- up with limited resources. Having an internal champion that helped clear the way, protect the idea and fight for the opportunity, amidst all the competing internal priorities has been the game-changer.

Our partnership with Etihad would not have been possible without the tireless and ongoing support and internal championing of Kai Ling Ting, Senior Manager, and the rest of her Strategy and Innovation team at Etihad Airways.” As an entrepreneur who is as active in the GCC as in other parts of the world, Zanganehpour is full of praises for the region’s intentions to support innovating and developing new products and services, but points out to legacy systems, cultures, and mindsets that constrain the existing potential, and limit the extent to which the GCC competes with global standards, when it comes to customer centricity, cost, long-term thinking, appreciation of risk, and innovation tolerance.

“The region is restrictive and very costly for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs,” he adds. “The high costs and short- term commercial pressures in turn limits the types of innovation and ventures that are pursued. Lastly, there is a lack of real investment into startups, because very limited real funding is provided, and instead, a lot of attention is paid to potential POC contracts.” At this stage, Zanganehpour and his team are focusing on building Swae 2.0, which should be available by Q4 2019, and finalizing the details of its pricing model which, he explains, will be based on a combination of variables including the numbers of users, management users, duration, and of successfully graduated decisions. Due to its many unique details, Zanganehpour believes that the Swae platform has, at the moment at least, only indirect competitors that provide solutions in the areas of employee engagement, innovation management, stakeholder consultation, crowdsourcing, participatory budgeting, and big data decision-support.

But Swae stands out for two core reasons- the design of its decision-making workflow and methodology, and the way AI is integrated in the process. “We believe AI can be used to level the playing field, so those with poorer language skills who do have valid insights can also have an equitable chance at making their ideas heard for the benefit of the collective decisions,” says Zanganehpour. “We therefore use NLU/NLP algorithms to help improve the quality of initial solutions articulated on the platform, functioning as a proposal editor, to strengthen the proposal’s effectiveness. This process creates bottom-up solutions that are well-written, researched, and deliberated.”


Swae founder and CEO Soushiant Zanganehpour on how entrepreneurs can execute better decisions at their enterprises:


  • Design for meritocracy and transparency “To radically improve the quantity and diversity of input, design a more transparent and meritocratic system.”
  • Encourage anonymity “To improve the quality, diversity and truthfulness of input, encourage anonymity.”
  • Have a clear process and selection criteria “To attract broader participation, commit to a process and define the selection criteria up front.”
  • Broaden the scope of contribution “To attract broader participation, encourage ideas that are not limited to a particular scale and scope.”
  • Provide some paid time to participate “To encourage higher quality input, provide paid time for employees to get involved.”

Latest News

Spark Salon Podcast- Swae Democracy and Technology

Spark Salon Podcast- Swae Democracy and Technology

The final episode from The Spark Salon democracy and technology series, features Soushiant Zanganehpour, the founder of Swae, a decision-making platform combining anonymity, AI and collective intelligence. Soushiant’s talk explores how traditional democracy needs to evolve with our digital, exponential technologies and proposes a new model for 21st century governance.

Democracy and Technology Podcast- Episode 4

by The Spark Salon | Swae

About The Spark Salon

The Spark Salon is Tata Consultancy Service’s programme of events in the UK that showcase innovative and thought-provoking new perspectives on the role of technology in helping to create a sustainable world.

At these events, we have a number of speakers give a TED style talk on the Spark Salon’s theme. Now, through the Spark Salon podcast, you can hear these amazing ideas and discussions proposed by our expert speakers.

Swae featured in the Guardian UK Newspaper

Swae featured in the Guardian UK Newspaper

The $1.8m prize aiming to tackle global threats to humanity – winners revealed

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The Global Challenges Foundation’s New Shape Prize, which seeks ideas to tackle global threats through cooperation, received more than 2,700 submissions from 122 countries. But what are the aims of the award – and the inspiration behind it?

Climate change, politically motivated violence and extreme poverty are some of humankind’s most pressing challenges – but what are the best ways to deal with these 21st-century problems? And what sort of institutions can people around the world trust to tackle them effectively?

On 29 May 2018, the New Shape Prize awarded a total of $1.8m in prize money to three entries* who proposed new forms of global governance to address those challenges.

The organisation behind the prize, the Global Challenges Foundation (GCF), was set up in 2012 by Swedish financial analyst and author Laszlo Szombatfalvy to explore new ways to tackle the most serious threats facing humanity.

The vice-chair of the Global Challenges Foundation, Mats Andersson, says: “We don’t have the toolbox today to deal with global risks. The only tool we have is the United Nations. The UN was founded 70 years ago to deal with the challenges we had at that time. Now we need something better and more powerful.”

Another GCF board members is renowned environmental scientist Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, he says: “We have entered a fully globalised stage of human development, at a special juncture where our social, political, economic and environmental pressures are right at the ceiling of what the social and biophysical world can cope with.” Rockström, who is also professor of environmental science at Stockholm University and an international researcher on global sustainability issues, adds: “Are we, as a humanity, able to destabilise the whole planet?”

In 2016, in an effort to catalyse new thinking around the collective management of global catastrophic risks, the foundation launched the New Shape Prize competition. It aims to reshape the future of global governance, by inspiring ideas around different forms of cooperation.

“Prizes have a historic track record in spurring on innovation,” says the foundation’s executive director Carin Ism. And the economic incentive is only a part of it. “[Prizes] have tended to create community around an issue, increasing the talent pool but also [connecting] individuals thinking about the same topic who had not known about each other.”

The Global Challenges Foundation wants to act as a convener for the best thinking, in order to uncover advances in contemporary global governance. “We want to see who is also thinking about decision-making and the way we make and enforce those decisions,” she continues.

From 2016-17, GCF invited submissions proposing new forms of global cooperation. In total, the competition received more than 2,700 submissions from 122 countries. They were assessed by 10 regional review panels, each including experts from civil society, politics, academia and international organisations.

The overall criterion for the competition was to design governance models capable of tackling these global challenges, rather than trying to solve individual problems. The proposals should also be acceptable to the international community, with the potential to be implemented in the near future.

For Rockström, the implementation issue was particularly challenging. “We felt that it was necessary to avoid blue-sky type utopian ideas. You could think about many ideas that are intellectually appealing – for instance, let’s abolish nation states – but we had to be pragmatic and have something that can stand a chance of implementation in the real world.”

The 14 shortlisted entries represented cutting-edge thinking on global governance and were proposed by some visionary and innovative thinkers with backgrounds in social science, ethics and law.

Many of the entries built on work already done by the UN or other global institutions such as the World Bank. Some looked at ways to tackle the most important issues for local communities and involve them in the process. Others explored better means by which citizens can participate more fully in democracy; and others sought new ways to tackle poverty.

The projects often incorporated emerging technologies, such as blockchain and AI that could enable communities to have direct and secure access to decentralised forms of governance.

These projects were presented at the New Shape Forum, which took place in Stockholm, Sweden, from 27-29 May. Some of the world’s most significant thinkers in the sphere of global governance took part in this forum, with Michael Møller, director-general of the UN office in Geneva, giving a keynote speech.

The general public was invited on the first day to voice ideas on how global cooperation could be improved, and how threats to humanity could be tackled more effectively. That same day, finalists presented their proposals for feedback and input from the public. These proposals were presented to the final jury, consisting of representatives from all over the world, with the shortlisted candidates honoured in an awards ceremony.

The forum is, however, just the start of the process to find a New Shape for global governance. The Global Challenges Foundation will convene working groups to refine some of the New Shape ideas; and its Educator’s Challenge is asking teachers and lecturers – of all disciplines – to create knowledge about global governance and positive ways in which it can be reformed.

“We all want a safe tomorrow,” says Ism. “We cannot ensure this unless we tackle the root cause of our global challenges: the limits of current frameworks for global cooperation.”

On Tuesday 29 May 2018, the New Shape Prize awarded a total of $1.8m in prize money to three entries: Global governance and the emergence of global institutions for the 21st century, by Augusto Lopez-Claros, Arthur Lyon Dahl and Maja PCE Groff; A truly global partnership – helping the UN do itself out of a job, by Natalie Samarasinghe, and AI-supported global governance through bottom-up deliberation, by Soushiant Zanganehpour. The Global Challenges Foundation remains committed to supporting the reworking and refinement of the best ideas toward more holistic models that emerge from this process.

The regional panel of judges (pictured main) were: (L-R) Fredrik Karlsson, head of projects, GCF; Maina Kiai, chair eastern/southern Africa; Folke Tersman, board member, GCF; Emil Andersson, project coordinator, GCF; Darynell Rodríguez Torres, chairperson Latin America; Penda Mbow, chair western Africa; Jens Orback, chair western Europe; Azita Raji, chair North America; Ulad Vialichka, chair eastern Europe; Lan Xue, chair east Asia; Magnus Jiborn, consultant, GCF; Hajer Sharief, chair North Africa/Middle East.

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