Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Youth aspirations

Mai Samih listens to success stories from Egyptian young people and how they are inspiring others with the help of the UN

Al-Ahram Weekly

One year ago Nouran Mohamed, an applied arts graduate from the German University in Cairo, decided to join a bazaar organised by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). She had been working in the field of pottery design for about two years but faced difficulties in going to other bazaars because of the lack of space and the high prices of the fees.

 “This event is more exciting than the others I have participated in. I am not under a particular umbrella. People come to see my brand. This bazaar is different from the others as it is for designers — it is not only about buying and selling. Last year an independent designer supervised the event, and I would be ready to welcome another one who wanted to come. I want to change the notion that pottery is just for decoration. People should use it, just like they do glassware,” Mohamed said.

Another family famous for manufacturing leather products started a business and decided to develop the brand to manufacture home decorations and other things besides their traditional products. UNIDO invited them to train young people to become skilled craftsmen in the field. “I am very happy to participate in this event, and we have already organised a workshop and assisted many young people who have come up with many good ideas. If someone comes up with a good idea we assist them in developing it, sometimes giving them materials or a percentage of the profits after it has been developed for sale,” Wafaa Abdel-Hafez, one of the leather factory owners, said.

 “We have trained with Habitat France and also participated in the Sharm El-Sheikh Economic Development Conference bazaar two years ago. We have also attended workshops organised by Italian experts,” she added.

Sherif Hosni worked for 14 years as an IT consultant but decided to make a change five years ago when he came up with the idea of building a booth with a camera in it in which people could say what was on their mind or show off their talents. He called it the Zeea Enta (Broadcast Yourself) booth.

“We used to find strange videos posted on the Internet without any apparent meaning. So we decided to make our own that would present the problems faced by people in Egypt. They worked well, and television channels started to air them. Then we wanted to start an unusual talk show, but instead of the same old people you constantly see on all the talk shows we wanted to see the rest of Egypt’s 90 million people and voice their thoughts,” Hosni said.

He toured all the Egyptian governorates with the booth. “In some cases we will ask a person who enters the booth a specific question, like ‘what do you think is the solution to the traffic problem’ in order to get a specific answer. We have found ideas that even the ministries could not think of and some of them we have sent to the government. People should be able to find backing for new ideas. I myself started with just $6,000, and now the company is worth $1.7 million. My aim now is to invite in experts to help the talents that come up in our programme,” he added.

Mahmoud Al-Sergani, a member of the board that runs his family jewellery company, went to the US in 1992 in search of new ideas about how to design and make Egyptian jewellery. “We decided to change trends in Egypt, hiring new designers and coming up with our own designs. Jewellery is there to be worn: it should be part of people’s everyday life. All our new designs are made in Egypt, and they have better finishes and lower prices. We have also been able to develop markets in the Gulf countries,” Al-Sergani said.

“Egypt could now be covered 50 times over with plastic bags, so great has the problem of waste become. Only two per cent of these bags are recycled. The rest are simply dumped. The bad news is that these places can be in or near communities that people live in,” said Yara Yassin, who decided with her friend Rania to change all that by founding a small NGO to up-cycle plastic bags and make products out of them.

They established the company two years ago and called it Up Fuse. “We as designers wanted to think of something that would give back to the community while still designing attractive objects. We wanted to overcome the problem of raw materials while producing purely Egyptian products,” Yassin said.

“People tend to forget that beautiful designs do not have to be super-expensive. We wanted to create something from waste that could really help the environment and create jobs.” At first they had trouble finding a sponsor to accept their ideas and they applied for funds to almost nine initiatives but failed to find them. However, they were passionate and resilient and were convinced they could make it.

“We applied for Injaz Al-Arab [a youth training organisation] funding, and we won out of 300 participants and got our first funds. We had to travel since there was no such thing as social enterprise in Egypt at that time,” she said. The company started to focus on “garbage communities” in Egypt, people who live by reselling garbage. ‘’Garbage can be super-profitable, and they sometimes let their kids drop out of school to help them resell and store it. We thought that it was unfair that some people throw rubbish away and others sort it out with their bare hands.”

 “With our limited funds we went out and talked to an NGO called Roh Al-Shabab (Youth Spirit) and started a small production hub. We focused on the kids because this is the kind of human resource that can accept change and advice. We taught the kids how to up-cycle plastic bags and make things with them. They do that in their spare time and we give them double the amount of money they can get when they go to collect garbage with their families,” Yassin said.

‘’I am a great believer in luck, and the harder I work, the more lucky I become is an idea I like very much as it explains my journey,” said Egyptian fashion designer Farida Temraz. “I started in 2012 with the dream of becoming an international designer after I had studied marketing at the American University in Cairo. I wanted to follow my passion, which was fashion. I was an honours student at the university, but later I decided to leave the multinational company I worked for in order to follow my dreams.”

“I decided to do a Masters degree and to start my own fashion brand. I started out with just $300 and submitted a portfolio to the London Fashion Week even though the official criteria said you had to have a million pounds in turnover and shops around the world. I didn’t have all that, but I submitted my portfolio anyway. Six months later I was accepted and became the first Egypt-based brand to get accepted at the Fashion Week.”

She also got invited to the Paris Fashion Week and won a top award among 15 international designers. Other fashion shows followed in other key cities. The most important was the Rise of the Pharaohs show in New York, which held that Egyptians were returning to the world stage. “We are trying to come back regardless of the difficulties we are passing through… Everything in my work is made using Egyptian handicrafts, including the sewing and pattern making,” Temraz added.

“We write this in Arabic on every piece we make. I don’t want to be the only one, however. I want to compete with others from the Egyptian market, and to this end we recently started an academy at AUC called the Temraza Fashion Studio to support fashion entrepreneurs in all fields,” she said.


UN help: In order to build on such experiences and help reduce unemployment among Egyptian young people UNIDO organised its Youth Forum for Entrepreneurship and Creativity Bazaar on 12 November.

Called “Aspire,” the event was held under the auspices of Minister of Trade and Industry Tarek Kabil. The aim was to point to the importance of crafts as a form of employment and to showcase the products of craftsmen while improving the competitive abilities of such businesses.

The event also marked 50 years since the establishment of UNIDO and was funded by the European Union in collaboration with the Italian Development Cooperation Authority, the Chamber for Handicrafts, the Egyptian Handicrafts Export Council, and the Union for the Mediterranean, among others. It was the fourth such Forum to be held, and it featured a number of young people’s success stories.

“UNIDO is the United Nations agency mandated to develop the industrial sector in member states. The aim is to promote an industrial sector which is inclusive and sustainable, which means that we want inclusive development to reach out to as many people as possible, including young people, people in Upper Egypt, and small-scale enterprises,” UNIDO Regional Representative Giovanna Ceglie said.

“We also want industries to be sustainable because we know that this is a powerful sector to create jobs, to provide businesses, and to increase the wealth of nations. So what we want is for industry to adopt cleaner technologies, to avoid pollution, and to make efficient use of materials and energy,” she added, saying that UNIDO’s policy in Egypt was part of a larger emphasis on the economy and the environment.

The focus is on the creative industries sector because Egypt has a rich tradition of culture that can be used to create business opportunities for young designers and artists. “We are also working in the waste sector. We know that Egypt has lots of waste in agriculture, and what we are trying to do is use this waste to create new companies. We are working with banana waste, sugar cane waste, or palm leaves waste to create new companies producing, for instance, furniture or tiles and using these waste products for fertilisers or animal feed. We are also encouraging the introduction of renewable energies into the industrial sector so that fossil fuel can be substituted for by solar energy,” Ceglie said.

Many companies in Egypt are not efficient in terms of their energy use, even though it is a scarce commodity and can be very expensive, she says.

“The event is about celebrating the creativity of Egyptian entrepreneurs in this sector and putting it more under the spotlight because Egypt has incredible traditions and history. It is well-known for its culture, and in other countries there are ample examples of how much business you can make out of this. We are not really talking about tourism here, but about packaging cultural messages into products and services and trying to make them unique. The culture of Egypt is unique, so we want products from here to transmit these unique features and capture more market opportunities,” Ceglie explained.

“We are trying to build on the creativity of local artists and entrepreneurs and foster their design ability, modernise them, try to make them more innovative, and connect them to the international market,” Ceglie said. For this reason, UNIDO has set up a regional project covering the Southern Mediterranean to put the emphasis on the fact that creativity can be good business. “We think that Egypt has extraordinary opportunities to foster this sector and create more jobs for young people,” she said.

“At present, we are assisting about 300 artists and entrepreneurs through this project, providing them with technical assistance, expertise and international exposure so that they can increase their capabilities. We are also creating service hubs for them where they can network together through a network of designers and ideas exchanges, providing them with materials so they can function better.”

“This is still a small number, and the number we need to cover is much more than that, which is why we are working with service providers such as the Industrial Modernisation Centre and technology centres at the Ministry of Industry because through them we can cover many more beneficiaries and multiply efforts,” she added.

Ceglie said that there were sectors that did not need attention, among them jewellery. “However, other sectors need innovation. When tourists come here they complain that if they want to buy souvenirs they don’t find new designs. A lot can be done in terms of innovation and modern design by using more attractive materials. One big opportunity would be to use natural materials more. There should be an effort to combine creativity with natural materials from Egypt like palm leaves and the habitat materials that we are trying to promote,” she said.

“We thought of having the bazaar to showcase the products of our designers, the beneficiaries of the project and others who don’t quite have clear market access or outreach to customers,” said Radwa Khater, an advisor at the project.

The project itself was launched in February 2015 when Italian design experts were invited to increase the capacity of local designers, with some six million euros being earmarked among the countries of the Southern Mediterranean. “We are participating in the international handicrafts show for one week with a booth for both domestic and leather projects. We might also be participating in a leather fair in Milan next February. We need exposure and facilities to participate in other events, and we need good marketing to support our crafts so that they can be seen more prominently in the market,” Mohamed commented.

“We have excellent Egyptian leather, but 99 per cent of the substances needed for tanning it are from other countries. These should be developed here as this would be easier and would cost less,” said Abdel-Hafez. “Now investors have joined us, and soon we will be opening Zeea Mawhebtak booths in Lebanon and Dubai,” added Hosni.

“We will have another event in Minya soon, as we have put a lot of focus on Upper Egypt to celebrate and publicise what we were doing there where we have been able to reach 40,000 people in order to help provide opportunities for jobs and investment,” Ceglie concluded.

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