Entrepreneurship is often suggested as a way to combat unemployment and engage citizens in improving their local communities, both of which are urgently needed in the Middle East. Despite the challenges in the region, research by Stanford University’s Program on Arab Reform and Democracy finds that despite the many institutional and structural obstacles entrepreneurs face, there is a strong foundation for social entrepreneurship in particular in the Arab region. Key findings include: Strong interest in volunteerism, preference to be self-employed or own a business, familiarity with the term entrepreneurship, and youth interest in improving their communities. In our mission to accelerate the most promising high-impact entrepreneurs from the Arab world, TechWadi teamed up with Egypt’s Nebny Foundation, our first social entrepreneurship initiative, to help bridge the gaps in the support ecosystem for some of Egypt’s brightest young leaders. US Managing Director, Heidi Abbass, has joined our office in Silicon Valley to accelerate the growth, capacity, and impact of the inspirational project. She summarizes her experience below.
Manshiet Nasser, located on the outskirts of “Garbage City,” is one of Cairo’s largest slums with a population of over 1.2 million. The area is evidently infected, with high rates of children suffering from intestinal parasites, respiratory distress, and undernourishment. It is also marked by an illiteracy rate much higher than Egypt’s 28%. Through these tragic facts, the Nebny Foundation (Arabic for “We Build”) has emerged one of the leading grass roots organizations focused on education, employment creation, and health for Egypt’s despairing population. Our on-the-ground traction, having impacted over 20,000 families, and our commitment to rebuilding, attracted TechWadi to accept Nebny as their first social entrepreneurship project for acceleration in Silicon Valley. As a result, I’ve joined TechWadi in their office to fulfill my duties as Nebny’s Managing Director in the US. The diaspora has rallied around the cause and the results have been game-changing for Nebny and thousands of bright Egyptians facing tremendous challenges.
The first step to any development in Manshiet Nasser is addressing the dire health situation. We are currently in the process of renovating a medical facility that would service Manshiet Nasser’s 1.2 million inhabitants. In 2008, the Egyptian government shut down the only medical hospital in the area and after years of lobbying, Nebny has finally been granted authorization to reopen it. The project, which is estimated to cost around one million USD, will be equipped with specialized clinics, and will implement advanced medical techniques such as telemedicine, allowing doctors to be connected to specialists across the world, including leading diaspora members from California. Nebny has also recently secured funding to open a temporary medical clinic, providing interim medical treatment to the community until the center is built. By connecting to the passionate and expert diaspora members in the US, we have been able to ensure the donation of a considerable amount of medical equipments needed to open the center.
However there is more to development than health and those who have followed recent events have been exposed to the talent, passion, creativity, and tenacity of Egypt’s youth. Addressing the illiteracy issue in Manshiet Nasser is at the core of Nebny’s mission. Egypt ranks 123 in the Human Development Index (HDI) for Education, and is 7 in the lowest 10 HDI countries in the MENA region. We have established a two- months after school program in six schools in Manshiet Nasser, focused on practical education and ensuring that children acquire the skills necessary to reach basic reading and writing level (Illiteracy prevails, even in sixth grade). In April 2013, Nebny accentuated the Educate-A- Child-Campaign efforts in the US. For just $25/month, an individual can sponsor a child to enroll in the program. Sponsors are provided with routine updates on the child’s progress in the program, and are able to have direct contact with them. With the help of TechWadi, we have met our goal of sponsoring 1,000 students by the end of 2013, with 1,080 children enrolled in the program in less than three months. The highly skilled team based in the Bay Area, which includes TechWadi100 member Ahmad Abdulkader, has helped expand the program to include a technical component as well. With the community’s assistance, we will provide students with access to educational and practical learning materials (such as computer programming), by utilizing computers and tablets, enlarging the scope of available information, and incorporating the latest in E-learning practices. Metra Computers, based in Cairo, has donated the first set of twenty desktops and laptops to support this effort. We have expanded partnerships to include the Partners for Sustainable Development’s one-laptop per child program in Palestine, and Gooru, the latest platform making use of Google’s deep technology to curate and organize educational content for all to use. Nebny will design digital curriculum, providing the latest and most practical curriculum to Egypt’s next generation of students.
In addition to its work in healthcare and education, Nebny has focused its programs on addressing employment creation in Manshiet Nasser. Nebny has received a grant for 500,000 LE to open the first social entrepreneurship center in Cairo. Run by youths and for the youths, the center aims to be one of the driving forces for promoting entrepreneurship in Cairo. We hope to be up and running in September 2013.
Since joining TechWadi, the US team’s fundraising efforts have seen significant returns. Partnerships with leading organizations innovating the latest practices in education and health allowed us to expand our initiative, and reinforce our practical approach when making change in Cairo. We have made significant strides towards improvement of lives in Manshiet Nasser and we are thrilled to maximize our impact for Egypt’s next generation by continuing to tap into some of the diaspora’s brightest leaders.