Mansoura Khayri, a 34-year-old mother of four, was a homemaker until four years ago when she saw an advertisement inviting women in her community in the Taramsa village in the Qena governorate to come to learn a handicraft and earn an income. She convinced her husband to allow her to go.
“All my kids are in school in the mornings, and I have time on my hands,” she said. As a result of her persistence, she was able to leave her home for the first time to go out to work. Since then she has learnt to paint in watercolours, to assemble mosaic art pieces, and to do beading and the embroidery of wedding dresses. Today, she supervises a workshop where 60 women work on making wedding dresses, abayas and tablecloths.
Khayri is one of over 800 men and women in the Qena governorate who have received training from the Egypt Network for Integrated Development (ENID), a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project under the umbrella of Egypt’s Ministry of International Cooperation. ENID, known in Arabic as Al-Nidaa, or “the call”, has trained women on various handicrafts, helping them to make a regular income.
The project was initiated by economist Heba Handoussa with the help of a long list of founding members that included well-known economists and development practitioners. The idea was to promote micro and small enterprises for job creation, to prioritise youth and women, and to focus on Upper Egypt where the poorest of the poor in Egypt are located, said Handoussa, managing director of ENID.
Through her work as director and lead author of Egypt’s National Human Development Reports, Handoussa knew that Upper Egypt was in desperate need of development. Out of the 1,000 poorest villages in Egypt, 94 per cent are in Upper Egypt, she said, and of the 160 villages in Qena, 59 of them are among the 1,000 poorest.
“I was very excited at prospects for development after the 25 January Revolution, and I wanted to do something,” she said. The project, which has just completed five years of work and received an extension for another five, has been targeting 45 of Qena’s villages.
“In each village, the project carries out a needs assessment and participatory dialogue with the villagers in a bid to find out what their priorities are. Very often, the villagers want an income-generating activity, but they do not know what that should be, so we offer them suggestions,” Handoussa explained.
ENID always works with a local NGO in the community to ensure the sustainability of its projects. It is currently working with 50 NGOs in 42 villages. Upper Egypt has enormous possibilities because women are under-utilised, Handoussa said. “If you want to overcome poverty, what could be better than providing an extra income-earner per family,” she asked.
ENID promotes micro, small and medium enterprise projects, sustainable agricultural projects and basic services to the communities it operates in. Handoussa is trying to implement a “one village, one product” model whereby each village specialises in the production of a certain item. “Unless you reach the minimum size of a cluster, you cannot hope for anything in the future. Projects will remain tiny enterprises,” she explained. One of the advantages of clusters is the bulk purchasing of raw materials on behalf of producers, thus getting them more favourable prices.
Japan introduced this model when it was still a poor country, she pointed out. It was so successful that it was introduced into several other Asian countries, and then China adopted and improved on it. “We are trying to do more than just develop productive families, who are certainly needed in the market place. We want to do more, and we are getting the best designers in various handicrafts to make innovative products,” Handoussa said.
Villages can produce for themselves, for neighbouring villages, for entire governorates, or for export. “We are also trying to be competitive in high-end products, targeting exports and high-end local consumption,” she said.
“One of our criteria is to introduce new products. We are working to develop 26 handicrafts, and of these at least 15 are going to be profitable. If a project is not profitable, it is not sustainable,” Handoussa explained. ENID provides the design, quality control, training, access to credit and marketing for the villagers. “We want what we are doing to be scalable, which is how it will be able to handle a growing amount of work,” she said.
The project is also trying to get the women to depend more on themselves, though this can be challenging. “The raw materials are expensive, and the marketing is out of our league,” Khayri said. What has been making things more difficult is the present slowdown in tourism, Handoussa added.
TRAINING FOR DEVELOPMENT: In Dendara in Upper Egypt, many women have been trained to make jewellery by the project.
It provided the raw materials, suggested the designs, controls quality and carries out marketing. The products are now exported and have been sold at the British Museum in London for the past three years. Handoussa, a designer herself, oversaw the designs and chose the beads for the village women at the start of the project. She also travels with samples of their work to show off their work abroad.
Another industry Handoussa hopes to develop in Upper Egypt is ready-made garments. She has partnered with the Garments Export Council, which has helped the project design a top-notch garment factory that is being built on the ground. Fifty four teachers have received Training of Trainers certificates to train local women to work in the plant, and they have thus far trained over 500 women in six villages.
“We are currently building the factory and hope to attract exporters to move part of their production there,” Handoussa said.
The success stories of the Southeast Asian countries owed a lot to their moving labour-intensive industries to poorer areas and using higher technology and more capital-intensive industries. For Egypt, too, it is time to make such moves.
Egypt’s share in the export of ready-made garments is still miniscule relative to the size of the population, the size of the textile industry, the cultivation of cotton and the number of exporters, Handoussa pointed out. Egypt’s garment exports average around $1 billion a year, compared to three times that figure for Tunisia and around $17 billion for Turkey.
ENID is adopting an integrated approach to development in Qena. It not only seeks to create jobs for youth and women, but also wants to provide basic services such as better education, health and sanitary services. “For women, it is important that work is close to home, that children are taken care of, and that they are provided with health services,” Handoussa said.
Before training the women, the project provides them with literacy classes. “It gives participants the incentive to learn, telling them they will learn a handicraft while doing so, so they do not drop out,” Handoussa said. The project teaches women aged 18 to 35 years old, not those who are young enough to go back to regular school.
It has also adopted an innovative model for preschools. “We looked for the best curriculum, which was provided by UNICEF, and we trained the teachers accordingly,” Handoussa explained, adding that the community gives the space for the preschools and the project pays the teachers and procures desks and toys, builds toilets and runs the schools.
Handoussa hopes that the government will eventually buy into the schools by covering a portion of the teachers’ salaries. “If the government subsidies 20 per cent of the total cost, this will make a difference. The schools are cheaper, are closer to the mothers and provide health services, and they cost a fraction of what it would cost were the government to build them,” she said.
ENID is also implementing pilot projects in agricultural development using the latest technologies. These include state-of-the-art fisheries set up on the desert fringes based on ground water and using solar energy to pump water.
Another project recycles agricultural waste, especially from sugar cane and banana plants which are everywhere in Upper Egypt and produce large quantities of waste. Instead of burning this waste, a project has been set up showing farmers simple techniques of grinding it to produce fodder. What is not used for fodder becomes compost.
“When you show this idea to farmers, they start adopting it at their own expense, renting a tractor and getting a machine that does the grinding. This has been a huge success, and we hope to replicate and scale up this project in other villages in Qena as well as Luxor,” Handoussa commented.
Development heads south
Other projects include poultry farms where families receive a number of ready vaccinated chickens. To protect poultry against avian flu, the chickens are raised in specified enclosures and vaccinated against diseases. Only local chicks adapted to the climate in Egypt are used. Ten per cent of the eggs are donated to an NGO for hatching, and the hatched chicks are distributed to women in the villages to increase the number of beneficiaries.
Another project involves a unit for processing milk. Local women deliver milk from their animals to be pasteurised and then processed into various products such as butter and cheese that can be marketed in Qena.
Over the next five years, Handoussa said, the project aims to consolidate its achievements and feed the outcomes into a “knowledge bank” that can be used by young entrepreneurs seeking to set up businesses.
She and her team are trying to grow the ENID Foundation established in January 2016. “We want to set up a trust fund for the foundation to ensure its sustainability. We hope that one day we will have enough money to form a fund of this sort so that the project will go on to have a life of its own,” she said.