Dubai: Syrian refugee who fled war wins $1 million coding award

Mahmoud Chahoud fled Syria in 2013 carrying his degree in information and computer engineering


Sherouk Zakaria

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Published: Wed 11 May 2022, 4:22 PM

Last updated: Wed 11 May 2022, 9:22 PM

A Syrian refugee bagged a $1 million (Dh3.6 million) award for developing an app set to benefit the global community as part of the One Million Arab Coders initiative.

Mahmoud Chahoud had fled the war in Syria at the end of 2012 in search of a better life in Jordan before establishing a base in Turkey two years later.

The software engineer, who left his homeland with his belongings and university degree, emerged as a winner on Wednesday after developing “Habit 360” mobile app, a planner that helps users track their habits and life goals.

He plans to donate half of his $1 million prize to support Syrian orphans affected by war. The other half will go towards establishing a tech start-up in Dubai, where he plans to move.

Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, honoured the winners during a ceremony at the Museum of the Future. Congratulating Chahoud, he said, “a well-deserved win for an Arab innovator we are proud of.”

“Coding is the quickest way for youth to achieve their dreams. Coding shapes the future,” the crown prince added. “We congratulate the winners and participants who have successfully employed the language of the future in developing leading projects, which will contribute to their communities.”

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Chahoud had registered for the free extensive training of the One Million Arab Coders initiative, which aims to equip youth with 21st-century skills, after seeing a Facebook post in 2018.

“Although I have a job, I need additional opportunities to provide for my family,” said the father of a 7-year-old boy.

After several stages of training in coding, he worked on developing his app, which was inspired by the outbreak of Covid-19 in early 2020.

The incentive-driven app helps users build and track new habits and eliminate bad ones. An emotion-detector enables users to journal and evaluate their mental state, providing tips on getting rid of negative emotions.

"When you have a goal, you need to establish the right habits that take you through."

The app is currently available on Google Play Store, while an iOS version is underway. So far, it has served more than 200,000 users around the world.

Chahoud said the free-of-charge certified training of One Million Arab Coders helped up his skills and achieve his goal of financial independence.

Due to limited finances, he had experienced difficulties in registering for the training he needs to expand his opportunities in the workplace.

Early on, Chahoud had expected to walk away with an award. “I worked hard on my project and made the intention of giving back to the community if I won. I had unwavering faith that my hard work will pay off.”


In addition to the grand prize, five entrepreneurs received $50,000 prize each for their pioneering projects.

The winners were Egyptian programmer Muhammad Al-Iskandarani for developing the ‘Muaahal program’, a simplified educational application to qualify individuals in all fields and make it easier for companies to hire talented people; and Egyptian Programmer Iman Wagdy for developing the ‘3lfraza app’, which delivers fresh food prepared by women at home.

Ammar Salem, an Iraqi university professor from the University of Baghdad’s College of Architecture, joined the list of distinguished coders by developing the ‘Qeraaty Alnateqa’ programme, which aims to design a new sign language using a programme to convert those signs into letters and spoken words.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Andrew Makram developed the ‘Najeb’ programme to facilitate and unify the process of submitting and marking exams. Engineer Hassan Mohamed, from Egypt, developed a chat translation programme that allows users to talk to each other in their respective native languages and translates the conversation instantly. It is available in more than 36 languages.


Four of the best trainers also bagged $25,000 each.

The finalists were chosen by a specialised jury that comprises many experts in the fields of entrepreneurship and future technologies.

Launched in 2017, the One Million Arab Coders aims to equip young Arabs with coding skills necessary for the modern labour market. Since its inception, the initiative saw the participation of 1.58 million participants from 80 countries, in collaboration with 3,600 trainers. A total of 1,500 "Nano Degree" certificates have been awarded to distinguished participants.

The initiative has also been expanded to Uzbekistan and Jordan.

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