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15 of 2015: Egypt's Real Influencers

As 2015 comes to a close, we've gathered 15 groundbreakers making waves across the country. From star chasers to rally racers, mad men to magicians, heroines to musicians, these are the people pushing boundaries and redefining the status quo in Egypt.

Staff Writer

15 of 2015: Egypt's Real Influencers

In a year where the word 'influencer' infiltrated the digital world with a vengeance, CairoScene wanted to highlight the real movers and makers of a society that is giving transformation a whole new meaning. These influencers do not spend their hours taking selfies, choosing an Instagram filter, or zealously seeking likes; they have been tirelessly working to transform Egypt’s human landscape, swimming against the current, shattering stereotypes, defying parental mandates, changing perceptions, exploring new frontiers, and designing the future of an Egypt that may not recognise its past façade. They are the real influencers of 2015. 

THE SPARK: Abdelhameed Sharara
Founder of RiseUp Summit 
“In the beginning, people didn’t believe the world was coming to Downtown Cairo,” Abdelhameed Sharara says of this year’s RiseUp Summit. “Actually, until the last moment, no one believed it.” But this year’s incarnation of the summit drew out power players in the business world, not only from across the region but the entire globe, and proved itself to be a force to be reckoned with, unquestionably cementing itself as a focal point for entrepreneurship.

At the epicentre of this focal point has been Sharara, a game changer who has been pivotal in galvanising the startup ecosystem in Egypt. “Honestly, I don’t care about being pivotal," he admits. "What I know about myself is that, basically, I’m a person who dreams and I try to pursue those dreams, and I like to share dreams with others. If having a strong entrepreneur ecosystem is a collective dream for the community, I’d do my best to make that happen.” His initial dream rapidly ballooned into one shared and realised by his team, who delivered their most impressive summit to date this year, drawing out over 4,000 attendees, over 240 speakers, and 100 investors. “I think the team is the most important factor, and they worked as one unit with one goal and one vision,” Sharara elaborates. Companies such as Google, TechCrunch, Microsoft, Facebook, TechStars, and Uber all descended upon the campus, along with a slew of investors and eager entrepreneurs.

The inception of the summit occurred three years ago and, with the RiseUp team’s continued efforts, its ripples continue to be felt across the nation as it works to propel the entrepreneurial culture forward. “I think 2015 is going to be the year Egyptian culture started to change towards entrepreneurship,” Sharara reminisces. “There is more tolerance towards it. This is the year of breaking the culture and moving toward having one big startup nation. It’s going to take a very long time and there is quite a distance to go before we get there, but I think this is the year of the first milestone.”

RiseUp was built on energy, and Sharara knows this is what will continue to fuel an entrepreneurship economy in Egypt. “Until now, everyone thinks of RiseUp as a summit, but it has to sustain momentum over the years. It’s not an event; it’s a movement. The event is just a representation of the movement,” he concludes.

THE TRENDSETTERS: Aya and Mounaz Abdel Raouf
Founders of Okhtein

It’s been a good year for the Abdel Raouf sisters. They've launched their handbag brand, Okhtein, in Spain; they’ve released an accessory line, and they’ve seen Hollywood star Emma Watson wearing her iconic backpack - an image that was left indelible in every Egyptian fashionista’s mind. But the main success of these visionary sisters extends far beyond the disruption of the Egyptian fashion scene; their timeless artistic designs and the curated quality of their products are nothing but the crystallisation of a vision that aims to push, stretch, and break the boundaries of Egyptian products abroad. “It was a plan we had from the beginning,” says Mounaz. “We thought: if we want to do this, we will do it big”.

They are dynamic, passionate, and intensely inspirational; somehow deeply aware that their story sets a model for entrepreneurs across Egypt. “The reality is that not everyone loves what they do, so we are trying to break the whole 9 - 5 routine; we want to inspire them,” says Aya. “We are trying to show everyone that it's ok to dream big. If you really work your ass off, you can accomplish everything you want,” adds Mounaz.

Having grown their own workshop with 50 full-time employees, the duo has released three campaigns this year: Weaving waves, Take me to Bau-Land, and their new collection of scarves called People you would like to meet, in collaboration with Louay Nasser studio. “We wanted to create something for everyone, so we launched Okhtein essentials,” they say. Last summer, they partnered with two NGOs and a village in Fayoum to manufacture the bags. “We make it a point to find good artisans and unemployed people who are super talented, to manage and give them work. It's in our philosophy.”

THE SEEKER: Mohammed Sallam
Egypt's first astronaut to be selected for the mission to Mars

He rose to fame as Egypt’s first and only astronaut pre-selected for the mission to populate Mars in 2025. But his story stretches way beyond the quest for space travel: Mohammed Sallam is digging into the very meaning of existence, asking questions humanity has been asking for thousands of years past. “This mission is not about becoming a Martian. Mars is the challenge and the future. They have discovered the presence of liquids that could indicate that there could be life on Mars now, maybe not as we know it. All life on earth has the same form: the DNA structure. But is this the only possible form of life? Are there other forms?” he asks, echoing the hundreds of questions he comes across as he plunges into the worlds of astrophysics, aerospace engineering, and the history of space.

“I am studying even if I am not asked to. This mission will make me or break me,” says the eager explorer, who has made it a mission to inspire youngsters and children to follow their dreams. “I want to tell them it is never too late. I found my opportunity when I was 30, even though I am not a scientist or an engineer, and I don’t even have a technical background. I am just a normal guy, but I’ve wanted this badly for most of my life,” he says, elaborating on the intricate calculations he has made as he awaits for the final selection to take place next September when Mars One will announce the 24 final cut. If he is selected, he will train in Holland for 11 years, learning how to “DIY everything” to launch into Mars, never to come back.  

“I know I only have a 76 per cent chance not to become an astronaut, but I also know this percentage applies to each one of the 100,” he says. “I am just giving an example that if you want to follow your heart, you will find doors open, but you need to know what you want. Children often tell me that they don’t know, and this is dangerous.” 

THE MOTIVATOR: Ibrahim Safwat
Founder of Cairo Runners

“We are trying to change people’s lifestyles and mentalities,” says Ibrahim Safwat of Cairo Runners’ overarching aim. With every pavement-pounding footstep they have taken, they have affected change by turning the walking-averse streets of Cairo into a space where exercise is endorsed and free of charge, making it not a luxury but a right, and using their momentum to champion causes along the way. Swelling from just under 50 people at their first run three years ago, their last half-marathon this year drew out over 6,000 people.

Battling difficulties such as obtaining approvals for runs due to the security situation in Egypt, and the constant worry of potential sexual harassment, the past year has been a particularly poignant one for the salubrious bunch. Aside from the obvious (the success of their 2000–strong Pyramid run, for instance, which Safwat cites as a highlight of the year), their runs are often backed by powerful motives. “We have a concept that every time we run we want to partner up with a cause, which we try to diversify so we can highlight things people aren’t necessarily aware of.” They have held runs to raise awareness about hemophilia, psoriasis, road safety, and most recently breast cancer as they partnered up with Baheya last month.

Aside from the events that are plastered across the social media sphere, Safwat and Cairo Runners do work that goes digitally undocumented. “We do runs in the underdeveloped parts of Cairo to try and teach kids there about sports and running. We work for five weeks in each area – we are trying to cover all of Cairo,” Safwat shares.

The core of Cairo Runners and, by extension, their community outreach programme, is that exercise should not reside in a sequestered arena, available only to those who have the privilege of being able to pay for it. “We believe sports is for everyone; that’s why we’re here, because you can go to the streets and run. You don’t have to pay or go to a gym or a club, just put on your clothes and go. Cairo Runners is not a closed community; you find people from all classes and ages. To try and limit that in any way? It’s not our concept; it’s not us.” 

The year ahead will see them explore the rest of the country, organising runs in different governorates like their most recent one in Luxor.

THE HEROINE: Jamila Awad

“When addicts started to send me messages about them quitting, or people who were already quitting whose families were not speaking to them and, because of Ta7t El Saytara, their families started to speak to them again - these are remarkable moments for me this year.”

After her gritty depiction of a teen addict in Ramadan series Ta7t El Saytara that catapulted her into the limelight, Jamila Awad’s next step was not to bask in the glory of her newfound stardom, but rather to take an active role in raising awareness about addiction in Egypt. “I’ve always been interested in getting involved in causes," she shares. "I think it’s part of anyone’s mission in life to take a stand when it comes to something they believe in.” Always the activist, she continued to bring attention to the issue of addiction long after the series came to a close. Between speaking at Cairo University and AUC, and being tapped for UNICEF’s #FightUnfair campaign, the actress has remained vocal about the issue since the series' end. “Like any other issue, you have to continually keep the spotlight on it and keep raising awareness about it. It doesn’t stop at the show,” Awad tells us.

The TV series, which shed light on addiction across the nation, did the same for her, Awad reveals: “After the series, it’s like I began to realise things that were happening to close people in my past that I didn’t realise was the issue back then. A very close friend of mine had dropped out of university to travel and their parents approved of it; I didn’t realise what was going on at the time, but after the series I keep putting the pieces of the puzzle together.”

Next up for the starlet, who refuses to be pigeonholed into playing the role of the rebellious teen, are two movies that she starts shooting in January; the film adaptation of Hepta, and another called 30 Years Ago starring power players Mona Zaki and Ahmed El Sakka.

THE FACILITATORS: Amena El-Saie and Ramez Maher
Founders of HELM

Amena talks with the smashing confidence of a bulldozer doing away with an entire system - a societal system that sees disabilities as the inexorable antonym of an active life. “Everybody thinks we are doing something nice for people with disabilities, but we are actually not doing it for them; we are doing it for us. We all need to give them back their right to be active members of society,” she says.

“We don’t have a charity approach; we don’t serve people with disabilities, they are part of our team and we work with them,” says her partner Ramez Maher, a key player in the success of Helm, an organisation they created at the fresh age of 22, which has now grown to a social business celebrating partnerships with giants such as PepsiCo, Citystars, and Cairo Festival City.

Having won the MIT Negma competition in 2013, they joined the Rise Egypt fellowship in Harvard and managed to exponentially grow, incorporating nearly 100 corporations and ensuring accessibility in 300 of their locations across Cairo.  “We are doing more than disability; we are introducing the concept of sustainable development in Egypt,” says Amena. The duo are not only changing the urban setting, setting up ramps and systems to enhance transportation, but also the legal system. Next year, they are organising Egypt’s first biannual conference on accessibility - “Cairo 2016: A City for All” - which will take place in parallel with the drafting of a new law for disability rights.

Egypt's only female Rally Race Car Driver 

She dominates the Middle Eastern female rally racing scene, not only because she is unsurpassable, but also because she is the only one. “I would like to race with another woman; I still don't know what it tastes like,” Yara Shalaby says with a charming dose of humility.

Having ranked among the top six in the nation’s most important competitions for the past two years, including El Remal Desert Challenge Rally and Al Farouky Desert Challenge, Yara is an avid racer who finds no ceiling when it comes to challenging herself. After racing on cars, surrounded by all-male teams for the past four years, 2015 has seen her as the first Egyptian woman to ever compete in a motorbike, and the only female racer competing at the Emirates’ Motorplex, where she ranked eighth.

“It was the first time for me to race with a car that was not mine, and it was not easy. But I was the only among 28 other competitors, I was very happy being one of the only 11 who actually reached the finish line,” she says. “I was seeing the wreckage of cars that hadn’t made it and I couldn’t believe it.”

Juggling her identities as a single mother, a full-time bank programmer, and a rally driver is not without difficulties for Yara, who faced both physical and financial obstacles in coordinating her eight-hour job with a full-time passion. “It´s crazy all day. If I want to keep a good rank over the year, I have to participate in all local races and not skip any. Besides, I am paying for all activities from my own pocket, so I have to select the cheapest gear, and I have to constantly look for sponsors,” she explains. Deeply passionate, determined, and ambitious, the pioneer has now embarked on a different goal as she takes it upon herself to gather the first all-female Middle Eastern racing squad: the Gazelle Rally Team.

Conceptual Artist

“Between 2014 and the end of 2015, Instagram has changed - become more powerful. It’s gone beyond just a social networking site where people share their photos; it’s established itself as a platform for people to display their work and their creations.” When Ahmed Abi emerged onto what can now be tentatively referred to as the Instascene, he did so with an army of yellow rubber duckies at his back, which soon became an intrinsically bound element of his online persona, rapidly launching him into the online stratosphere as one of this generation’s newly coined “Instagram influencers.” In a sea of accounts vying for digital attention, Abi’s unorthodox conceptual art positioned him uniquely. “You have to have a certain identity,” he says of standing out on Instagram. “When something comes genuinely from a person – if they’re not trying too hard to do it – that’s the thing that reaches people.”

Through his hyper-defined identity, the medically-trained Abi was essentially able to shift careers and establish himself in the art world. “2015 is the year I started a full-time job - this made me feel like my career shift was successful, something real, so this was a big moment." Providing further validation to his rebellious change from doctor to art director were two pivotal moments: “when Instagram Middle East contacted me to be one of the speakers for their event, that was something big for me that I didn’t expect. That, and the moment they aired the CNN interview.”

His journey was shaky, to say the least – “My parents’ approval I suppose is the biggest thing – my dad’s disapproval to be specific. He’s a doctor and I’m a doctor so the idea of me leaving medicine was difficult for him. If someone important in your life isn’t confident that you’re doing something right, for a moment you wonder if maybe you’re wrong. But I had to dive in. I had to make a decision because I was unhappy.”

But through his unwavering perseverance in his chosen field, he managed to shift perceptions not only within his own family but he serves as living proof of the downfall of traditional job roles in Egypt. "My father’s kind of accepted the idea. When he heard about the CNN interview – and I know he didn’t see it – but he heard about it and he was pleased,” Abi shares. “I’m still in the process of discovery, but this year was full of good stuff for me and having these big moments in my life made me feel like I’m headed in the right direction.”

THE PRAGMATIST: Yassin Abdelghafar
Co-founder of SolarizEgypt

In a nation as perpetually sun-soaked as ours, harnessing the flaming star’s boundless energy may seem the logical corollary but, in fact, for years, the constant stream of sunshine went unutilised before SolarizEgypt broke onto the scene as a pioneer in solar energy. In less than a year, Yassin Abdelghafar’s brainchild managed to position itself as the leading solar energy startup in the country; in 2014, their solar panels secured themselves a sun-drenched spot at AUC; in this year’s RiseUp Summit they walked away with the gold in two competitions and the silver spot in a third. “It was a lot of money for us, a lot of exposure, and a lot of international presence. Bringing my company from a startup, which was struggling and barely making any profits, to becoming a much bigger entity – it’s great," Abdelghafar shares. "I owe it all to the team, especially my business partner Rana Alaa.” Their biggest achievement at the Summit was winning Seedstars, an international competition where they pick one startup from each country to compete in Switzerland, where the winner walks away with over $1.5 million in prize money and investments.

The past year has proved to be a turning point in the advent of solar energy, resulting in a significant change in its previously dormant status. “We’re generally very risk-averse as a population; we like quick investments - that is difficult for solar,” explains Abdelghafar. “As the year progressed we could really see the change in people’s attitude and the electricity crisis really made everything possible. So I guess one person’s disaster is another person’s opportunity. We’re kind of opportunists like that.”

Abdeghafar maintains that now is the time for solar power, and though the shift in direction can partially be attributed to concrete realities – “the economics make a lot of sense. Electricity prices are going up very quickly in Egypt and the prices for panels are going down very fast” – there is a more human aspect to it as well. “The population is becoming more progressive and open to new ideas. They’re seeing that alternatives and younger people actually have something to say and sometimes your business can actually make an impact on their lives.”

As change begins to unravel in the country, a new era may fast be approaching where solar energy moves to the foreground. “We’re trying and succeeding at making deals with banks and making the ecosystem and environment very conducive to receiving this product. I think within a year or two you’re going to find solar energy everywhere.”

THE ADVOCATE: Bassant El Qassem 
Artist, advocate against body shaming

“I wanted to create a project for fuller-figured girls to encourage them to live without shame, so I used my art as a means to do that,” Bassant El Qassem says. “I’m not doing anything new; it’s just not something that is focused on in Egypt.”

El Qassem’s Facebook page - Love Yourself, You’re Beautiful - features her stunning sketches of plus-sized women in her effort to empower them and take a stand against body-shaming and bullying. The 40,000-strong platform has, in two short years, rapidly turned into a landing page for overweight women across the country to congregate, share their grievances, and garner inspiration. “The mentality of thinking that if you say something hurtful to someone or if you make fun of them, that will make them change, is entirely wrong. That will drag them backwards. I wanted to encourage women to love themselves first, and then to change and lead healthier lifestyles,” El Qassem explains.

But she herself - who singlehandedly took a stand against the constant shaming of women’s bodies that do not fit into the tightly-defined categories okayed by society - felt the pressure. “I stopped the project for a while when I found so many people attacking me online. Eventually, I started again when I received messages from people asking why I had stopped, and telling me that they had changed their lives – they sent me before and after photos. I felt like I had helped people to move in a positive direction. I realise now I should never have stopped – that hiding wasn’t achieving anything.”

For 2016, she plans on taking things off the page - so to speak - and making them three-dimensional. “I’m hoping to open a gallery next year, where the mannequins in the window won’t look like they usually do – they’ll be chubby. It’s about changing the mentality; a stick thin mannequin doesn’t automatically have to be the norm.”

THE EXPLORER: Galal Zekry-Chatila
The cyclist that conquered the corners of Egypt

When Galal Zekry-Chatila set out to cycle his 7,000 km across Egypt, it was not with the aim of conquering a designated distance criteria. “7,000 km to me is just a number. I didn’t want to leave my house to cycle for 7,000 km; I did it because I wanted to encourage people; because our country is beautiful; because I wanted to create a positive vibe,” he says of his adventure. 

Having always dreamed of being a traveller, Zekry-Chatila’s vision formulated before his teenage years were over and he set out on his solitary journey soon thereafter. “I’m passionate about adventure travelling and film-making – but this was also about familiarising people with the country and encouraging them to get out of their comfort zones,” he shares. In a time where #ThisIsEgypt is dominating the digital sphere and posts highlighting Egypt’s beauty abound, Zekry-Chatila went a step further (and did it before it became a trend) and delved right into exploring the depths of the nation; cycling through endless miles; being the literal embodiment of 'off the beaten path', and he’s currently working on the movie that will document his every wandering step.

“I got to meet different people and eat their food and observe their customs and traditions. Inside a city - a real city, like Safaga, Assiut, or Sohag - people look at me like I’m a crazy person, of course. But most of the time, in the oases and the deserts, the people treated me as a traveller from the get go - a 3aber sabeel, they call it, with the mentality of "we’ll help him, we’ll feed him, we’ll host him, and we’ll take care of him.’”

When Zekry-Chatila nearly reached a breaking point on day 125, he looked to his surroundings to fuel his trip. “The obstacles that come from within are harder than the natural obstacles that I faced; my mental state at one point was tougher to overcome than a 70 km/hour sandstorm," he recalls. "There was a point where I began to feel that my dream had turned into work. So I stopped; I started looking at the things around me - the trees, the acacias - and felt the freedom that I had right there and then, and I managed to overcome what I think was the hardest moment.”

Musician and producer

“I was trying my best to hide; how did you find me?” Sary Hany has built a career being the invisible puppetmaster behind the scenes, pulling at the musical strings. He has produced albums for powerhouse Egyptian bands like Cairokee and Sharmoofers, and, on the flip side, has been behind a slew of ads including Vodafone and McDonalds – he’s even worked with the Egypt Tourism Board. But in an industry where taking centre stage is a literal translation, he has fostered – not accidentally – a degree of anonymity; the curator, the creator of sound, as opposed to the presenter. “I wanted to make money, make good music, and stay the man behind the desk,” Hany says.

Though he has essentially been the mastermind behind works that have shaped this year and ones before it, he dismisses his talent with the type of nonchalance that comes from having abilities so innate you barely recognise their existence. “What I do is really easy, it’s just music," he explains. "I love my job. Even if you’re working on a project you don’t personally like, it’s experience.” The obstacles don’t lie in the intricacies of the job, but rather in a more expansive arena: the entire industry. “Where the obstacles might come in is the music industry in Egypt – that’s hard. In terms of obtaining your rights, for instance - musical copyright is always an issue here. Another obstacle is that I’m treated en ana babee3 Chipsy sa3at; people don’t treat it as a form of art.”

This year, the triple award-winning Cannes Lions winner founded his own company, Key 66, and has admitted to something of an emergence from behind the musical curtain. “I’m starting to now play live with bands and perform.” The trigger behind his shift to the foreground, this change of heart to something he’d been resisting for years? “People loving my music. People asking for me. Real fans. Most people don’t know who I am but those who appreciate the music and contacted me to perform with them, I figured, why not? It’s nice to be out of the studio.”

Animal rights' activist

Her face may be unknown to many, but her voice has rippled across both mass media and administrative courts as she steers an astoundingly solitary crusade for animal rights. The tireless advocate has repeatedly reported animal rights violations across the country, from the murdering of stray cat and cruelty in the zoo to the entrapment of wild animals and the deplorable conditions in pet shops.

In a context where social apathy, lack of knowledge, and inexistent legal enforcement hamper animal rights protection, Zufilkar's voice accepts no muzzling and fears no one. This year, she filed two legal cases for the killing of peaceful roaming cats against governmental authorities: the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health, as well as cases previously sent to governors across various districts. “We base our reports on the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). We are taking sustainable solutions, because what is happening is against mercy in all religions,” she says. “The government is not following neither scientific recommendations nor the Sharia, nor the statements of Dar al Iftah, which say that it is haram to kill or poison peaceful roaming dogs”.

A self-defined ‘nuisance’ who “will not take no for an answer,” Zufilkar was seen in 2015 at every battlefield where animal rights were at stake, from Fayoum’s freshly inaugurated museum, to courts of justice, to police stations in Port Said, and to small pet shops in Cairo. “Egypt has probably one of the best laws in the world in terms of protecting animal rights: law 9. However, it's not enforced, and people don’t know that they can easily call the hotline 19808 to report violations; they often don’t know what to do,” she says, stressing on the importance of one-on-one awareness raising. “We don’t want to take people to jail, but to simply explain that what they are doing is wrong.” Now, as she submitted to the Prime Minister the proposal for a law regulating genetically modified food, she takes on a new mission: ensuring biosafety. 

THE ILLUSIONIST: Moustapha Berjaoui
Egypt's only winner of the Merlin Award 

“I became obsessed with magic when I was four. I saw a magician pulling coins and rabbits from everywhere – it was incredible to me. I started learning about it at the age of 13, and then it was people’s reaction to it that made me continue.”

Moustapha Berjaoui’s full-time occupation as a magician is one that is doubly problematic in the Middle East. It does not fit neatly into ANY accepted job category – traditional or not – and it also carries with it a whole host of superstitious connotations in our culture. “People either dismiss me or they’re scared of me.”  The magician does both physical tricks and mind illusions – the latter of which carry hefty superstitions in Egypt. “The way I approach people and make them believe in something else – I can change their thoughts, make them cry, make them happy, make them freak out – this concept itself made me continue what I’m doing. It’s not black magic – there’s a lot of psychology behind it.”

His insistence on pursuing such an unorthodox career eventually paid off as Berjaoui has become an established name in the entertainment industry, and won not one but two Merlin Awards, the latest in this year. “This year I got booked for more shows than ever before, and I won my second Merlin Award, which is something really big in the magic industry – they’re basically like the Oscars of magic.”

His is a path paved with prejudice and card tricks, but his biggest difficulty is not in battling stereotypes. “Just entertaining people is the hardest part – if I don’t entertain you, there’s no purpose. And Egyptians are a tough crowd.”

THE CATALYST: Yasmine Helal
Founder of Educate-Me

Passion is an understatement when you ditch your lifelong zeal for basketball to take on a bigger mission: challenging the lowest stratum of a decaying societal structure - the educational system. That’s what Yasmine Helal set out to do in 2011 when she founded Educate-Me.

A medical engineer, Helal used to play as the basketball team’s captain for 19 years until she decided to shift careers and turn her ambitious game-changing idea into a reality. “I needed time to educate myself because I knew nothing about education. I needed to attend workshops and apply to fellowships. I loved basketball, but I had to make a choice,” she says.

What initially started as a fundraising effort to help underprivileged children access education transformed into a brand new learner-centered model as Helal grew closer to children and realised their education was dissociated with their social context. Five years on, Educate-Me has grown a supplemental educational centre, approved by the Ministry of Education, which has served 800 students this year, with a team of 40 full-time employees developing a curriculum that gives every child not only knowledge but also the skills and attitudes that will enable them to aspire to and achieve self-realisation.

“Education for us is not just being able to read and write. The purpose of education is to be accountable for our self-actualisation, which basically means becoming aware of who I am, what I am capable of, and the choices I have to achieve my dreams,” she says. The winner of the MIT Negma competition, the King Abdullah II Award for Youth Innovation and Achievement, the Pioneers of Egypt award, and currently a RISE fellow, Helal was featured by BCC and ESPN for her tireless efforts to help every Egyptian child take control of their own education. But, aware that sustainability is key to scaling impact, the organisation is now creating training courses for NGOs and private institutions - such as Mashroua3 Kheir, Injaz, and Sacre Coeur - to generate revenue and fund their activities. “We expect to get 20 per cent of all our income through these trainings next year,” she says.


Photographed exclusively for CairoScene by @MO4Network #MO4Productions at the #MO4Studios.

Photography by Ahmed Najeeb.

Text: Farah Hosny and Valentina Primo