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We Design Beirut Founder Mariana Wehbe Aims To Attract The Global Design Scene To Lebanon While We Design Beirut has been formulated as a program that celebrates design and creativity within the Lebanese community, Mariana Wehbe believes that the event can eventually also encourage synergies beyond boundaries.

By Aby Sam Thomas

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Sebastian Böttcher/We Design Beirut
Mariana Wehbe, founder, We Design Beirut

If one were to look at We Design Beirut purely in terms of its offering, the event -a four-day experience that's slated to run in Lebanon's capital city from May 23-26, 2024- looks like it will be a grand celebration of creativity in fields ranging from interior design and architecture, to furniture and functional art. But there's more to We Design Beirut than just that- and a note of the factors that led to its inception would let us see the bigger picture behind the scheme.

"My partner on We Design Beirut, industrial designer Samer Alameen, and I have had numerous conversations on why this design week is so crucial to the creative landscape of Lebanon and beyond," says founder Mariana Wehbe. "Since the end of 2019, our country has suffered greatly, firstly by political strife, and the revolution that erupted in November 2019, to be followed, of course, by the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The country was also greatly impacted by the financial meltdown of 2020, and then the Beirut Explosion of August 4, 2020 that we will never forget. All these factors have negatively impacted the design scene specifically. The artisans, craftsmen, and women, designers both emerging and established, have suffered immensely due to a lack of business. The intention of We Design Beirut is thus to attract the global design scene to come visit Lebanon during these four days, and experience our magical city firsthand. It is this intention that has guided the curation of the event, ensuring that, at every step of the way, our guests are exposed to the very best of what Lebanon has to offer."

Now, while We Design Beirut has been formulated as a program that celebrates design and creativity within the Lebanese community, Wehbe believes that the event can eventually also encourage synergies beyond boundaries. A big part of Wehbe's belief in the program's potential has to do with nation's rich, 200-year-long history in design and art, which is known to have been an inspiration for well-known designers such as France's Jean Royuere and Brazil's Oscar Neimeyer.

"Lebanese design has always been heralded both internationally and regionally as progressive, authentic, and original," Wehbe explains. "The multitude of cultures that have affected Lebanon over the past few centuries has created a very unique design aesthetic that is specific to Lebanon. The Lebanese have always had the ability to infuse their cultural treasures with external influences, creating an amalgamation of techniques that is purely Lebanese. And so, from the start, I knew that this would have to be a rich and impactful program. One that would not only showcase Lebanon, but create a global dialogue on design and sustainability that would translate to a design network, and, hopefully, eventually an ecosystem that would benefit everyone involved."

The We Design Beirut team. Image courtesy Walid Rashid/We Design Beirut.

To achieve such a vision, Wehbe and Alameen have demarcated the four-day event into three discernible areas of focus: preservation, empowerment and sustainability. "These themes have been allocated to separate physical hubs or spaces within the city, which are of historical or architectural significance, and which are not usually open to the public," Wehbe explains. "Our mandate for We Design Beirut was to ensure the exposure and sustainability of the different segments of the design scene in Lebanon. And the first among this, of course, are the centuries-old artisanal splendors and craftsmen and women of Lebanon. A point to keep in mind is the aging population of these sectors, and the real fear of eradication which we believe is worth safeguarding for the future design generations of Lebanon. We are thus essentially activating the entire city by lighting up -and inviting guests into- some of the most impressive and culturally important monuments Beirut has to offer."

Related: Lebanon-Based Dooda Solutions Wins Grand Prize Of US$100,000 In The 2023 Installment Of The PepsiCo Greenhouse Accelerator Program: MENA Sustainability Edition

The second theme of the event, which is rooted in Lebanon's strife-ridden past, is that of empowerment. "According to Babylon (a design agency founded by Joy Mardini and William Wehbe that will be curating a site-specific exhibition of established designers titled, Past Echoes; A Journey Through Middle Eastern Product Design, in one of Beirut's most beautiful heritage homes), a majority of the most impressive and original work created by these designers was birthed during these last years of hardship," Wehbe reveals. "This just reiterates the importance of showcasing these talents and putting them on the international design map."

Finally, it is through the third theme, sustainability, that Wehbe hopes the current tapestry of Lebanese art and design can be seamlessly woven into what the next generation has to offer. "The sustainability hub will explore the future of global design," she says. "In collaboration with a number of Lebanese universities and experienced personalities in the field, we hope that the younger generation of designers in Lebanon will have the opportunity to showcase their work, dreams, and aspirations for a better sustainable future."

With such a well thought out approach, while the intention is certainly to showcase Lebanese art to the world, Wehbe confirms that there is a very specific goal at the heart of We Design Beirut: strengthening the sense of community. "Perhaps one of the most important elements of We Design Beirut is in fact the 'We,'" she says. "In order for it to succeed, it had to be a group effort, and an adopted founder's mentality for each and every participant. It is almost a movement, with us all believing very strongly in two things: the beauty, creativity, and talent Lebanon has to offer, and the fact that this needs to be shown to the world. Together, 'We' as the We Design Beirut team, and each and every participant, donor, sponsor and volunteer have worked towards this event with these two convictions. I genuinely believe that this mentality will synergistically make way for an event that will have true impact this year, and in years to come."

Image courtesy Walid Rashid/We Design Beirut.

And while she now puts in the hard yards for We Design Beirut's inaugural edition, Wehbe is clear that she is being driven by a singular sentiment- a devotion to her motherland. "It has been a labor of love, and a decision that I often question," she says. "But I respond with the same answer every time: 'Yes, for Lebanon.'"

Eureka! Mariana Wehbe on how make an idea a great one

Your intuition knows things "We all know that our most important gauge is our instinct, but with all the stimuli we are exposed to daily, sometimes it is hard to hear what your intuition has to say. We are conditioned to learn from others, which is of course invaluable, but I believe that most unique ideas come to you when you allow your thoughts to wander. Don't fear the unknown, it is often there where you will find your most exciting ideas. As I always like to say, your intuition is your compass in life."

It's in the "why" "Purpose is the most important element of your idea. Your concept needs to be built on a strong desire to make something better; you need to identify the issue, and do your best to solve it. It needs to be emotional, you have to have passion for your purpose, it is this element that allows your offering to be unique, and hopefully create a healthy market share. People can identify products that have been created with heart, and it matters.

The numbers need to make sense "If your numbers don't work, nor will your business. You can't wing it, you need to take the time to plough through the figures, no matter how uncomfortable this may be."

Don't overthink it "Sometimes we overthink ideas or things we want to do, and they never come to life. I believe everything leads to something as long as you have the courage to try."

Related: With Its Focus On Artists From Africa, Dubai-Based Efie Gallery Makes Its Presence Felt In The Middle East's Art Landscape

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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