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16 of 2016: The Egyptian Men and Women Changing the Country

As an ineffable 2016 comes to a close, we've gathered 16 groundbreakers making a positive impact on Egypt. From human rights activists to TV stars, graffiti artists to Bedouin explorers, squash champions to cycling do-gooders, these 16 Egyptians are redesigning the country’s human landscape.

Words by Farah Hosny and Valentina Primo.

In a tumultuous year, marred by political shock, terrorism, and a crackdown on Egyptian civil society, CairoScene scoured the country’s corners, from Damietta to Sinai, from Alexandria to Nubia, in a mission to shed a light on the impactful groundbreakers whose achievements made the year worthwhile. Some stole the spotlight, some strayed away from it, but whether they worked behind the scenes or centre stage, these are 16 of the people who have earned the right to recognition. Inspiring, resilient, and incredibly creative, these changemakers are breaking down class barriers, empowering women, turning individual successes into nation-wide campaigns, and capsizing perceptions. These are CairoScene's real influencers of 2016.

YEHIA ABUGABAL 
Founder of the International Cancer Research Center

He was the only Egyptian and Arab youngster to represent the Middle East in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 this year, a prestigious assortment of talents and entrepreneurs, from Malala Youzafzai to Emma Watson, to Mark Zuckerberg, showcasing the world’s youngest change-makers. Behind this life-changing accolade stands his brainchild, the International Cancer Research Canter, which he co-founded to advance local-based research and find a cure for a disease that, in Egypt, is obscured by taboos and misconceptions.

“The lack of cancer research and financial solutions in Egypt are big challenges; every Egyptian doctor has to choose between an effective drug and a not-so-effective one because of the cost of the treatment,” says the young oncologist whose entrepreneurial spirit sparked conferences and research programmes to develop a genuine Egyptian scientific effort.

Egyptian doctors have to make a choice every day between an effective drug and a not-so-effective drug because of the cost of treatment.

“When your goal is helping patients and finding a cure for cancer, you don't get distracted by hopeless stories, political views, or financial problems,” he says, his eyes as sharp as his words. “Especially when you see so many cases of survival and the updated research; there are so many advancements discovered each day, and with them comes a bigger promise for a cure for cancer. That’s what gives me strength every day.”

AMINA KHALIL
Actress

Every year like clockwork, an avalanche of shows are unleashed on Egyptian television viewers during Ramadan, and every year, one show emerges as the clear victor, encased within it is usually an actor or actress singled out as the breakout star of the season. This year, Amina Khalil was the indisputable onscreen heroine for her role as the straight-laced, kind-hearted, justice-championing-high-society-good-girl, Nazly, who gets inadvertently embroiled in an inheritance scandal revolving around the upscale hotel that took centre stage in the period drama Grand Hotel.

“The day Grand Hotel aired was the culmination of a project we had been working on for so long, and, suddenly, it was like your baby is about to come to life,” the actress says of her breakthrough role. “The whole experience was a long, tiring, and beautiful journey. I felt like I had raised the bar for myself. To me, it was an amazing challenge that I faced and managed to come through.” 

The whole experience was a long, tiring, and beautiful journey.

Soon after the show aired, the actress was instantly catapulted into a far more intense limelight, from which she chose to lend her voice to the debilitating issue of gender inequality in Egypt, with the viral music video Nour, made with rapper Zap Tharwat, produced in support of the Taa Marbouta women’s empowerment initiative. A firm believer in using her fame as a platform to advocate for social causes, the actress is also adamant about being the poster girl only for those in which she is truly vested. “I think that whatever project I get involved in, I have to really believe in. I think I got lucky and I was very blessed to be a part of a project that touched so many people.”

Backed by the National Council for Women, UN Women Egypt, the Embassy of Japan in Egypt, and produced by one of last year’s 15 of 2015 Sary Hany, the melodic commentary on gender bias in Egypt instantly went viral within hours of its online release. “It’s definitely something that I was very proud to be associated with. There are women who struggle daily and nobody really listens to them and I think if I could at least have reached one person with that song – to put that thought in their head, that they shouldn’t underestimate a woman’s abilities – then I think I have done my part.“

NOUR EL SHERBINI
Athlete, No. 1 Ranked Female Squash Player in the World

She started competing when she was seven years old; at thirteen, she broke the record for the youngest player to ever win the World Junior Squash Championship; at twenty – last January – she smashed another record, becoming the youngest person ever to emerge victorious at the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions. And in the same year, on the 30th of April 2016, she became the youngest woman and the first Egyptian to win the Women’s World Championship in Malaysia.

As we speak, Nour El Sherbiny has only been of legal age for two months, having turned 21 on the 1st of November. Prodigy would be an understatement. 

“Winning the World Championship this year was so overwhelming. It was something I didn’t believe I could do,” the Alexandria-born athlete says breathlessly. “I’ve been dreaming about winning this title for a very, very long time. To be the youngest person to win it was such a huge achievement for me, and to be the first Egyptian made it all the more special to me.”

I made a lot of sacrifices, but in the end I reached my goal.

A degree of arrogance would not be unwarranted from El Sherbiny, but she is noticeably devoid of that. In person, she’s shy and giggles a lot, and doesn’t carry herself with the sort of pomp and circumstance one might expect from a world champion – especially one who has achieved such stratospheric success at such a young age, a task, she concedes, has not been without its own set of sacrifices and struggles. “Sometimes, you have to do things you don’t want in order to reach the thing you want,” she says simply. “Being an athlete you have to find a way to manage training and travelling for tournaments, with your education and social life. And when I was younger, there wasn’t the same support for female athletes in Egypt as there is now. But a lot has changed; now people respect women that play sports.”

She is matter of fact about what she has given up to ascend to the top of her field, but she wouldn’t change it for the world. “I made a lot of sacrifices, but at the end, I reached my goal. And that’s the thing: I adore playing squash, that’s my passion, so I’ve given it everything.”

SHEIKH AHMED ABU RASHID
Co-founder of the Sinai Trail

In Egypt’s ever-defeated search for a tourism revival, there’s a diamond in the rough. A diamond of a culture that not only embodies a heritage that lives and breathes, but has also managed to raise to the challenge of uniting three Bedouin tribes to craft their own tourist initiative, inviting visitors into the heart of their ancestral land: the Sinai Trail.

The trail, a serpentine 200 km path that runs the winding distance between the Gulf of Aqaba and the top of Mount Catherine, was recently awarded UK’s prestigious British Guild and Travel Writers' (BGTW) Awards, catapulting another form of tourism – a travel path often neglected in Egypt’s tourism strategic plans – into prominence while defying the tendency of young Bedouins to drift to the cities, thus preserving their ancestral tradition of living in the desert. “We Bedouins are like fish,” Sheikh Abu Rashid explains, with the indispensable cup of Bedouin tea in hand. “We need the desert as much as fish need the sea.”

We bedouins need the desert as much as fish need the sea.

The initiative is the result of the union of three different Bedouin tribes, each one taking care of a part of the land, who build bridges with the Monastery of Saint Catherine, and put their ancestral knowledge to use. “It was a dream come true for us to have the tribes coming together for the Sinai Trail, or Darb Sinai, as we call it, which means not a trail but a path of life. It was something we really needed, to bring young people to study the Bedouin life, a life that is being lost. Young Bedouins now don't know the ways, the mountain names, the valleys, or the herbs in the desert,” he laments.

The project, which took two and a half years to implement, aims to integrate the rest of the 13 tribes living in South Sinai in the coming future. “We can't say Sinai is just a desert; Sinai is a meeting point of origins and religions, and by coming to us, people give us the power to stay in the Sinai desert. For us, the desert is no real desert without Bedouins, and Bedouins are nothing without the desert.”

MAI MEDHAT
Entrepreneur, Co-founder of Eventtus

She is probably Egypt’s most famous entrepreneur, the epitome of the entrepreneurial spirit that sprang out of the 2011 uprising. Mai Medhat rose to international fame this year, when she shared a stage with Barak Obama and Mark Zuckerberg at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in the USA.

“It's been crazy since that day; people now recognise me in the streets, it was amazing and it pushed us further because I feel more responsible now that I know there are people following me and students who get inspired by my story,” says the 28-year-old entrepreneur. An engineer by profession, Medhat started her own event management company, shattering a glass ceiling reinforced by social apathy, traditional gender roles, and the post-revolutionary sense of defeat.

Having started against the backdrop of an uncertain post-2011 entrepreneurial landscape, the young entrepreneur now runs a team of 20 in her Cairo and Dubai offices, and has racked over 8,000 events under her belt, and two rounds of investment raised – including international giant Vodafone.

I feel more responsible now that I know there are people who get inspired by my story.

“I moved to Dubai due to the nature of our business, because a lot of events are geared there,” she explains. Her homeland, however, remains centre stage for her. “I disagree with the idea that you have to move to Dubai in order to grow,” she says. “You have to move wherever your market is; I don’t see anything wrong with Egypt; if you are targeting B2C (Business to Consumers), Egypt is the place to be because we are over 90 million. But if you are targeting B2B (business to business), then Dubai is one of the best markets,” she says.


MINA THABET
Advocate for religious freedoms, minorities and vulnerable groups

In a year marred by institutional discrimination and sectarian violence against Egypt’s Coptic Christian community – with the bombing of the Abbasiya Cathedral as the epilogue of a tale of social asphyxia, Mina Thabet courageously stood as one of the few advocates, tirelessly working to see their rights upheld amid an unprecedented crackdown on NGOs that saw hundreds of activists arrested and organisations shut down.

Thabet, a researcher and Programme Manager at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, was arrested this year himself. “The irony is that I was accused of being a terrorist, of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood,” he says. “I am a Christian and I don’t believe in their ideologies; I spend a lot of time combating their policies, and I, myself, was victim to those groups in my hometown of Asyut.”

From working with Egyptian Copts in Libya – who were victims of an ISIS beheading in 2015, to organising inter-religious gatherings in Ramadan, to petitioning the Egyptian Parliament to consider religious freedoms when drafting the controversial church building law in August, Thabet has been a pivotal force in defending the rights of a minority whose plight is constantly dismissed and blatantly silenced.

I just believe in everybody’s rights to live in a country that respects their right to religious freedom; nothing could ever turn me away from that. I am concerned about my safety, but that's the price I have to pay because I believe in that.

2016 has not been a positive year for NGOS. Nor has it been for the Christian community whose members are increasingly choosing to leave their homeland in search of better prospects. But amidst the fear, sectarian violence, and divisive rhetoric, Thabet still finds strength to work towards a more inclusive country. “I just believe in everybody’s rights to live in a country that respects their right to religious freedom; nothing could ever turn me away from that. I am concerned about my safety, but that's the price I have to pay because I believe in that. That's a price everyone pays, and I am no different,” he says.

AMR FATHI & MOSTAFA KHAIRAT
Founder and COO of Environ Reform 



Egypt’s streets overflow with litter and, yet, for the most part, its absurd ubiquity has lead to no concrete solutions thus far, but revolutionary app Environ Reform is trying to alter that. “The waste cycle in Egypt is never completed; we are trying to fix the cycle itself through the app,” explains the company's COO Amr Fathi. The brainchild of Mostafa Khairat, Environ Reform aims to put in place a system that harnesses communal initiatives, as well as the efforts of waste collectors – often referred to in Egypt as ‘zabbaleen’ - and the government’s to clean up the country. Residents simply have to take a photo of the mess; the app then tracks it, and sends a waste collector to clean it up.

Their one-year pilot project, completed in September of 2016, focused on Omraniya in Giza, an area which amounts to 25,000 residential units and 5,000 companies. “It marked our first phase of proof of concept, and it was incredibly successful because people could see we were giving back to the community,” Khairat explains.

“The garbage collection issue in Egypt has reached a boiling point, but instead of focusing on the negative, I think we should look at it as an opportunity,” he continues. The founding duo’s commitment to a cleaner Egypt is just as tenacious as their will to empower garbage collectors. “You’re helping society and the people living in the place, and at the same time you’re trying to help the garbage collectors. You can view them as entrepreneurs because they each have their own small company – and we’re giving them a platform to manage their businesses.”

The waste cycle in Egypt is never completed; we are trying to fix the cycle itself through the app.

Since its inception, the company has gone from strength to strength, and they are now looking to expand beyond Giza and into other districts. They are already in talks with the Ministry of Environment and are reaching out to more sponsors to provide equipment, such as smartphones for government supervisors, to facilitate the expansion of the project. But, also, to add another layer, wherein the area is not only cleaned, but also beautified with benches and greenery.

“I think we’ve reached a point where we are able to say ‘OK, we know how it’s done and we have a solution for it.’ And it’s not just words and a vague idea, it’s a proven concept, so it’s a good point to start pushing for change.”

NOURAN SALAH
Founder of Bel Bicyle

Her story inundated media channels, in Egypt and beyond. This carefree, nonconformist changemaker shocked the entire nation when she set off to cycle the unfriendly streets of Cairo to distribute free meals during Ramadan in an all-women caravan. “I never imagined I could do all these things in one project; helping the poor, supporting refugee families, and empowering women by breaking unjustified social taboos, condensing so many messages in one endeavour,” she says. “I felt the country really needed this; I felt Egyptians would really do anything to help better our society.”

Setting off every day before breaking her fast, Nouran Salah took on the daunting streets of Cairo’s slums, cycling through traffic-laden bridges and roads engulfed in garbage, as she lead her all-female caravan to distribute meals for underprivileged people in Ramadan. And its ripple - from Turkish women messaging her, to international media channels following her journey, sparked a whirlwind of uplifting energy that outlived the Islamic holy month.

I never imagined I could do all these things in one project; helping the poor, supporting refugee families, and empowering women.

“I was really impressed by how brave women are. I felt they were waiting for this chance; they would come every day for every event, with their empty stomachs and unbeatable energy, to face sexual harassment, scary roads, and everything people would say, but actually nothing ever happened to us,” she says, looking back.

As the summer faded away, her project Bel Bicycle turned into an all-encompassing initiative that organises weekly discovery rides and charity rides. “Everybody asked for me not to stop after Ramadan. And why would I? Women want this, sponsors want it, and the poor need it. This is not a trend; it's something that needs to keep going on and on,” she says.

NEMO
Graffiti artist

“We wanted to go someplace where graffiti had never been before,” says Ahmed Gaber, better known by his art world alias Nemo. The walls of the concrete metropolis that is Cairo may be soaked in graffiti – those pieces which haven’t been neatly covered up by the authorities yet, that is – but to the small rural town of Kofour El Ghab, which sits between Mansoura and Demietta, the art form was alien. And that is precisely why town native Nemo, leading a team of a dozen other graffiti artists, decided to go and leave their colourful imprint on it with their initiative, Gedary.

Organised in collaboration with the town council in July 2016, the project instantly spread online, along with its overarching message. “We wanted the people living there to get to know the art form; to coat their walls with murals and messages that would beautify the space and mean something to them,” Nemo explains.

The importance of graffiti, the artist insists, cannot be underestimated. “Graffiti is a very powerful means of communication; it reaches people like nothing else because you go right to your audience,” he emphasises. “It’s not dependent on them watching a channel or buying a newspaper; you are where they are.” And so he picked up his paintbrushes and pulled them back out when he reached a town – his town – whose walls had never been graced by graffiti.

Graffiti is a very powerful means of communication; it reaches people like nothing else because you go right to your audience.

Nemo, who started his work in 2009, saw it evolve from painting with the Ultras, to politically-charged pieces during the revolution, to eventually moving more towards social commentary. His final shift was brought on by the fact that he believes that “cultural graffiti is more meaningful to people because it expresses their problems.” And much like his personal evolution, so too did the town experience its own, in spite of their initial reluctance. “People accepted us really fast. Eventually they would even request that we go draw on certain walls. A turning point was when the residents themselves started picking up paint brushes and helping the artists,” Nemo smiles.

What he and his fellow artists left was more than colours on a wall. “After we left the town, other artists – and children – started drawing graffiti,” Nemo says. "Gedary changed the culture in Kofour El Ghab and encouraged people to take their art to the street and showcase it. That’s the biggest achievement, for my work to reach and affect people. I don’t want anything more than that.”

RANDA FAHMY
Co-Founder of KarmSolar 

2016 saw the first time a solar-generated electricity station in Egypt granted a government license to directly sell its energy to the private sector. This coveted license was given to the renewable energy pioneers of KarmSolar. 

The move demarcates a seismic shift in Egypt’s energy game. Not only does it constitute the first private power purchase agreement (PPA) in the country between a solar company and a private client to sell the electricity the station generates, but the ramifications resound much further.

The benefits, in a country facing a dire energy shortage, are twofold. “KarmSolar is now playing a role in actually removing the burden of the diesel subsidies from the government,” explains Randa Fahmy, one of the co-founders of the innovative tech company. “Additionally, we are tackling an off-the-grid market, meaning the government does not have to extend their electricity network to the different agro-farms or touristic areas that are not connected today because we’re serving clients where the grid isn't accessible.”

The company, founded in 2011, has progressed in leaps and strides. The founding partners, including CEO Ahmed Zahran, initially put up the money themselves, noticing a gaping hole in the market that no one was tackling. And since their inception, KarmSolar’s strong suit has been creating and delivering new and cutting-edge solar solutions to a myriad of industries – as opposed to merely being an implementer of pre-existing models.

KarmSolar is now playing a role in actually removing the burden of the diesel subsidies from the government.

True to their core mission - despite the fact that the PPA was the most highly publicised energy deal of the year, KarmSolar actually regards their biggest accomplishment as something which went virtually unnoticed by most. “One of our biggest achievements this year was that we started building and producing our own technology in the solar water pumping field,” cites Fahmy. Their groundbreaking invention, a patented solar pumping drive, may mean little to those who aren't familiar with technical jargon in the field. But it is highly significant, not only because it is a rarity for Egyptian companies to produce a technological products, but its primary strength stems from the potential impact it will have on the energy sector. At a time when conventional fuel subsidies are fading away, KarmSolar’s game-changing piece of technology could provide the solution, by making it far more efficient and easy to incorporate solar energy into the agricultural sector.

With a total of 3 PPAs under their belt, this year (they signed 2 more deals after the landmark decision in June), a partnership with Azza Fahmy to create solar integrated buildings, and a trailblazing product to their name with tremendous potential impact, KarmSolar’s light doesn’t appear to be dimming anytime soon.

AHMED MALEK
Actor

A wunderkind of sorts and most certainly a wildcard, 22-year-old Ahmed Malek made two major movies and national headlines in 2016. The enigmatic actor starred in two of the year’s biggest films; the big screen adaptation of best selling Egyptian romantic novel Hepta, and Mohamed Diab’s critically lauded drama Eshtebak (Clash), a movie which heart-wrenchingly encapsulated the politically chaotic zeitgeist of our time.

Clash, set against the backdrop of Morsi's ouster on June 30th, was a raw examination of the state of turmoil Egypt was plunged into, following his removal from power. It was globally praised for averting the expected route of a politically-charged piece and allowing the focal point to be humanity, as it depicted a balanced portrayal of the divergent struggles and ideologies that make up the fabric of the Egyptian people. “Clash may have been a reflection of a political movement, it may have shown the political chaos happening in Egypt, but I think its strength was showing such a mixture of cultures, perspectives, beliefs, and points of view,” says Malek, who played a working class Shaabi DJ.

I think the strength of Clash was showing such a mixture of cultures, perspectives, beliefs, and points of view.

The film’s nuanced portrayal of a literal and ideological clash in Egypt’s history compelled the entire world to stand up and take notice. “The best moment of 2016 for me was when I heard Clash was entering the Cannes Film Festival,” Malek says. The movie went on to sweep the international festival circuit, even eliciting a personal letter from Tom Hanks to director Diab, saying, "Your film Clash will go to great lengths to enlighten many."

Though Malek’s most notable film of the year may have been stripped of political views, his real life was not; the actor had his permit suspended and was nearly arrested in January for handing out balloons made of condoms to the police officers in celebration of Eid el Shorta (Police Day) – a.k.a the 5th anniversary of the January 25th revolution – and filming it. “I was motivated by political incentives, to be honest,” admits the ever-controversial actor – who apologised publicly after the incident. “It didn’t turn out the way I thought. But I don't regret it because I ended up learning a lot from it.”

We can't be sure if we should expect more controversy from the actor, but we can expect another movie; Malek is currently working on Sheikh Jackson, a film about an Islamic fundamentalist with a secret passion for Michael Jackson music.

FATMA SAKORY
Nubian and Women’s Rights Activist

Unyielding, determined, yet remarkably serene, Fatma Emam Sakory has been the female driving force of a struggle that was this year put in the spotlight for the first time: The Nubian plight. “The Nubian cause is one of forced displacement, loss of history, loss of identity, and discrimination. We did our best to enshrine our rights in the constitution, but they were not implemented, so what we are seeking now is to return and have respect for our culture,” she says.

The advocate, a political science graduate specialised in Human Rights, served in 2015 as an aide to renowned Nubian novelist Haggag Oddoul, during his time on the constituent committee that succeeded to introduce the Nubian right of return to Egypt’s post-June 30th constitution. But, as the principle was not implemented, she spearheaded the first nation-echoing protest this year. “2016 brought Nubian activism onto another standard,” she says. "It was really important because we started the Nubian caravan and sustained a sit-in in the middle of the desert, which was heavily covered by the media,” says the activist, a member of the Nubian Democratic Youth Union.

But for the 34-year-old, who was recently nominated for the Africa Youth Awards, Nubian repatriation is but one of the causes she fights for. “My first milestone was co-founding feminist organisation Nazra, which is not an institution but rather an idea. I have met women from different ideological backgrounds, and it has been incredibly inspiring,” says the activist, who also serves as a Council Member at Women Living under Muslim Laws and is a member of the Centre of Egyptian Women for Legal Assistance.

We have the passion and the impact to confront the government with its obligation to grant us equal rights.

2017, she says, could become the year Nubian voices are finally heard. “We already have a plan. We are in talks with the government and we are organized; I think it's a start. We have the passion and the impact to confront the government with its obligation to grant us equal rights and enjoy full citizenship,” says the relentless advocate. 

RANIA ROSHDY
Model, Advocate for people with disabilities

Her story went viral this year; the wheelchair-bound Egyptian girl tirelessly trying to pave the way for people with disabilities to enter the modelling industry. Diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy at three, Rania Roshdy has been confined to a wheelchair since she was 19 years old, but she refused to let that prevent her from pursuing something she typically wouldn’t be considered for. After working for several years as a beauty model, she entered a competition in March 2016 and Reuters took notice. “After that interview, people began to notice me, and I tried to capitalise on that exposure to try and land some gigs – but everyone refused me,” she says.

But her efforts to enter the field were made not out of passion, but out of principle. “Modelling is not my chosen career; it’s just the means through which I’ll send my message,” she says simply.

The fashion industry has long been heralded as cliquey – fervently excluding those who don’t fit the archetype, and Roshdy wants to shatter that notion. “To reject people merely for being different than you is the epitome of ignorance. Those who work in the fashion industry are supposed to be, in my opinion, very open-minded, very open to the world, new ideas, and ways of thinking.” And yet nowhere was she welcomed with open arms.

To reject people merely for being different than you is the epitome of ignorance.

Well, how do you expect to show off the designs? is the most common argument against hiring models in wheelchairs. “In reality, most of us spend most of our time sitting down, just like I am right now. While seated, you’re still showcasing the clothes, aren't you?” Roshdy asks calmly.

She has faced an incessant stream of rejection, “designers who accepted to feature me looked at it as charity, but it’s business,” she remarks. But she is determined to take down the conventional norms of the industry and ensure equality for those who come after her. “I will quit modelling when I receive an invitation, one day, to a fashion show, and see that there are people who are considered different walking side by side with the standard models. When I see models who are deaf or have artificial limbs, or who are sitting on wheelchairs, on the runway. And it will have nothing to do with charity. Only then will I quit the whole industry and focus on my real passion.”

 

BELAL EL-BORNO
Co-Founder of Yumamia

“This woman makes $10,000 a month just by staying at home!”

With the explosive advent of the gig economy in the past few years, this narrative is no longer reserved for spam popups and has actually become something of a global reality, one which is seeping into Egypt, and adapting to its unique cultural construct, with platforms such as Egyptian app, Yumamia. At its core, the app is essentially like the Uber of food; a digital platform that caters authentic meals cooked by Egyptian homemakers to Cairenes craving homemade cuisine.

“In Egypt, we noticed we had a lot of stay-at-home moms who would love to make money from an existing hobby, and others struggling to feed their families wholesome, homemade food because they’re so busy; the idea was to connect the two on a platform, where we make sure all the other obstacles, like delivery and safety, are taken care of,” explains Belal Al Borno, co-founder of the enterprise.

The rise of the tech-enabled gig or sharing economy – characterised by one-off jobs or ‘gigs’, so to speak – appears to be formulating a new economic framework. Platforms such as Uber, Etsy, and Air BnB have overthrown traditional patterns of employment. Yumamia is in the unique position of having done that within the cultural context of Egypt, at once empowering a dormant female workforce, while also providing a highly in-demand service. “One of our founding principles was that we could enable talented housewives – who might be struggling to find work with the current economic situation – make a pretty good living,” says El Borno, who cites that some chefs make up to 15,000 EGP a month.

One of our founding principles was that we could enable talented housewives – who might be struggling to find work with the current economic situation – make a pretty good living.

A report by the McKinsey Global Institute published in October shows that approximately 27% of the US’ working-age population is engaged in alternative work arrangements – a massive percentage. And what we are seeing in Egypt is a trend towards the same, with local startups tailoring their services to the community, with apps such as Rakna (parking attendant on demand), Mumm (similar format to Yumamia), and Careem (an Egyptian ride-hailing app similar to Uber), all of which may begin to produce a radical shift in the employment paradigm in Egypt. And while apps like Rakna tend to be geared towards men by cultural default, Yumamia actively engages women in particular - in a similar but even more pronounced fashion than Air BnB, which boasts a 57% female hosting rate.

And with over 200 chefs currently in Yumamia’s network, and having won the prestigious Publicis90 Global Startup Competition silver award, out of 3,500 other digital startups from 141 countries worldwide, in June, the peer-to-peer foodie app shows no signs of slowing down come 2017.

SORAYA BAHGAT
Women’s Rights Advocate 

The founder of one of the revolution’s most memorable female empowerment movements, Tahrir Bodyguard, Soraya Bahgat embodies the tireless fighting spirit of a woman who knows that the challenges for women in Egypt are a multilayered complex.

Recognised as a female leader by Hillary Clinton’s Vital Voices Foundation, The German Parliament, and Sciences Po, the 34-year-old powerhouse is championing change regionally, as she heads the board of pan-African anti-FGM platform the Girl Generation. This year, the bold advocate took a step further when she co-organised Elissa Sednaoui’s Foundation Charity dinner, a massive event that brought fashion giant Christian Loubutin to Cairo, upped the standard of local fundraising and catapulted Egypt’s educational conundrums to the international charity map.

Persistently focused on her mission, Bahgat often shies away from the spotlight and prefers to work behind the scenes, silently spearheading the organisation’s educational efforts, driven by the mission to eradicate a criminal practice that still affects over 60 percent of Egyptian girls: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). “My vision, by 2020, is to see in every village and every city, a country without FGM. Very soon it will have been 100 years since the first effort to combat FGM; that is not too far off, if we're talking about a 100 year anniversary. I would love it if we entered that 100 year without any FGM,” she says.

My vision by 2020 is to see an Egypt without FGM.

“This year was crucial to me, because I had the courage to get out of the box that I was in as working person in a big multinationals company. Making the decision to work on something I am very passionate about - which is education - and making that shift was definitely a milestone for me,” recounts the change-maker whose work focuses on education for women and young girls across Egyptian villages. “A lot of the issues that we face today are issues that are in people’s mindsets, so if given the opportunity to work on education in some form, I am sure we will contribute to alleviating a lot of the problems we see. It's very simple: Investing in children's education is investing in our future.”

REHAB ELDALIL AND RADWA ROSTOM
Founders of Catherine Exists and Handover Project 

What happens when two women in their twenties join incredibly diverse talents and a passion to make a change? New realities, such as the one Rehab Eldalil and Radwa Rostom set off to create in Saint Catherine, where they mixed Rostom’s sustainable construction techniques with Eldalil’s efforts to develop the Saint Catherine area.

For Rostom, it all started in 2005, when she began volunteering in Abu Karn. “Seeing the places people were living in, I thought I had a responsibility as a construction engineer to do something,” says Rostom, whose project Handover recreates the Earth building technique to construct sustainable housing solutions in areas with no infrastructure. Last November, the project won the Qatar Sustainability award for social enterprises. “We are flexible to identify a new technique in every place we go to; our projects always depend on partnering with others because we know that we are not experts in all the aspects within the area, so we create a real community development approach,” she explains. And that’s when Eldalil and her project, Catherine Exists came in.

Seeing the places people were living in, I thought I had a responsibility as a construction engineer to do something.

“When I started, I thought of it as my first photo-documentary project; I didn’t realise the impact I would be able to make, but the dream grew as I wanted to straighten the misconceptions of those I considered my family,” she says. Through astounding captures of Sinai’s people – captures that travelled the world, from Italy, to Costa Rica, to the USA - Catherine Exists turned into a movement to revitalise and recover an area deprived of infrastructure and national spotlight. “Together with my husband and co-founder, Ahmad Hazem Elgammal, we decided to move there; it was then that we realised how deprived of services the area is, and we said: 'let’s do this!'” she says. Rostom was the perfect match.

Their project, a joint community centre for Al-Tarfa village, began taking shape as the two powerhouses set up a workshop that brought 19 engineering students together to draft a community-based building process. “We have formed a curriculum that has several fields and recruited civil engineering students or architects to learn about our methodology throughout the workshop,” Rostom explains. “We have no authority to tell them what do, we have a deep respect for their culture and we are learning from them,” Eldalil adds.

Photos by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.

Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb and Hossam Atef.


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