Yaseen Abdel-Ghaffar had a comfortable life with a successful job, until a carjacking on the road to Cairo caused him to re-evaluate everything. Today he is the founder and managing director of SolarizeEgypt.
The assassination of Christian author Nahed Hattar in Amman, in September 2016, sparked intense reactions across Jordanian society, highlighting the growing influence of radical Islam and Jordan's precarious position adjacent war-torn Syria and Iraq.
Watchdog al-Bawsala is a rare example of an NGO operating to bring transparency to political processes and engage ordinary citizens in a region wracked by government crackdowns.
Before the revolution in Tunisia, the notion of an organisation tasked with scrutinising the actions of the country’s politicians and sharing this with the wider public would have seemed laughable. And indeed, as many civil society organisations face crack-downs across the wider Middle East and North Africa region, al-Bawsala (the Compass) stands out as a bright light among the many NGOs in Tunisia that have helped shape the political landscape since 2011.
Many, including Norway’s Nobel committee, have credited Tunisia’s powerful civil society with steering the small North African country past the pitfalls that beset many of its 2011 revolutionary contemporaries. However, the violent ousting of the country’s dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, left behind a public unschooled in and unaware of many of the democratic structures they were now being asked to play a critical role in helping define.
Founded by a small group of mostly student activists in May 2012, al-Bawsala seeks to bridge the gap in knowledge and provide the public with information on the seismic shifts convulsing the political landscape. Using communication media previously alien to the political sphere, al-Bawsala began to monitor the work of the committees drafting the constitution and disseminate it to a public hungry for information. Through its website and social media accounts, al-Bawsala has created a single information point within the political morass capable of connecting both citizen and lawmaker.
The organisation’s website contains a wealth of statistical information on governance in Tunisia. More than 223,000 followers of its Facebook page look to the NGO for up-to-date information on events occurring in the Parliament, while a similar number of people follow the group’s rolling Twitter coverage of events within the ARP chamber as they happen.
As coalition forces in Iraq liberate towns and cities from ISIS, the toll of living under ISIS occupation for ordinary citizens is revealed. In Qayyarah, 60 kilometres south of Mosul, young children at the local schools were taught by ISIS how to load weapons, plant bombs and even carry out beheadings.
Asmaa Fattouh embarked on a high-intensity but rewarding career in the fashion design in Egypt, working as the chief designer for Allaga. She reflects on what motivated her to work long hours to drive Allaga forward.
Fair Trade Egypt helps create value for thousands of Egyptian artisans producing goods across the country. Mona El Sayed, the organisation’s director, describes the challenge of building awareness of the fair trade concept in Egypt, as well as the personal satisfaction she’s gained by helping craftspeople win acknowledgement, and creating economic opportunities for women in impoverished areas of the country.
Research suggests that the number of Egyptian women who are simultaneously employed, married and a mother – as well as happy – is shockingly low, just three per cent of all employed women. But is there really a contradiction between marriage and employment for Egyptian women? Do Egyptian women find greater rewards in the marriage market than the labour market? These are some of the questions that motivate Dina Abdel Fatah, a researcher at the Egyptian Centre for Migration Studies at the American University in Cairo.
31-year-old Waleed Abd El Rahman is not a man of politics. The business graduate from the American University of Cairo was among the founders of the Strong Egypt Party in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, wanting to be part of change in his country, but he soon realised that diplomatic conduct all too often forced him to keep working with people who were not doing their jobs properly and thus preventing actual social change.
This was not the purposeful professional future he aspired to, so Waleed went a different way, moving to Beirut, where he was responsible for the establishment of the MIT Technology Review Arab Edition, a new branch of the internationally renowned MIT Technology Review. Little did he know that this decision would in the long run have a greater impact on the lives of his fellow countrymen than many Egyptian politicians will ever have.
Starting up the magazine in Beirut consumed so much time that Waleed ended up ordering food to his office every single day. “There I was, living in a posh studio in Beirut, spending more money on food delivery than on my rent,” he remembers, “so I started to look out for alternatives.” While searching the Internet for affordable but time-saving food options, he came across a guy who announced daily what meal his mother was preparing. Curious at the possibility of ordering a home-made nutritious meal, Waleed dug deeper and found several Lebanese women offering home-cooked lunches via Facebook. But over time, their business did not seem to grow; it became obvious that these women had no background in business, were not knowledgeable about pricing, packaging or planning, and did not even have reliable drivers to deliver the meals.
At this point, the idea for Mumm (www.getMumm.com) was born. The name comes from the ancient Egyptian word for food and is the first word every Egyptian child learns to say, the legend goes. “My family has been in the food and beverage industry for more than ninety years,” says Waleed. “On top of my experience in my father’s business, I had extensive experience in marketing from my employment as MENA customer business development manager for several multinationals. Plus, the job at the magazine had provided me with highly valuable technology skills.”
This, he thinks, was the perfect mix to start a new era of food delivery back in Egypt. Mumm started business in January 2016 and currently caters to Greater Cairo, with around 70 women cooking in 30 kitchens all over the city. Mumm’s selling point is healthy, homemade dishes at prices that can compete with McDonald's.
“The customer basically wants three things: convenience, taste and value for money. Before Mumm, your choice was either inexpensive but unhealthy, or good food but hardly affordable for the majority of Egyptians,” says Waleed. His app now functions as a marketplace for the women cooking from home (now known as food partners), freeing them from all logistical responsibilities. With the price setting Waleed developed, they get a 25 per cent return on every meal they sell through the app.
Waleed sees his startup as a tool to empower women and enable them to join the workforce from home. Over the year he teamed up with three different NGOs, who funded the construction of common kitchens that meet hygiene requirements for Mumm's food partners. “We curate all our cooks. Some women are amazing cooks but live in such destitute circumstances that hygiene rules did not allow the sale of food prepared in these places. Hence the idea to build modern, clean kitchens that function like a co-working space for these women.” Already, those community kitchens serve as workplaces for dozens of Syrian refugee women who can now support themselves and their families with a sustainable income.
“Fighting malnutrition in Egypt has always been an issue close to my heart,” says the entrepreneur, “but I never knew what an impact it has on a woman’s life when she earns her own money and thus the right to independent decisions in our male-focused society.” On top of integrating 70 women into the active labour force after nine months in business, Waleed employs ten drivers for delivery and ten customer service agents. It is probably safe to say that by creating jobs and empowering women, the young entrepreneur has already had a bigger impact on society than most of the political colleagues he left behind ever will.
Ines Amri is an activist, teacher and expert in founding and establishing socially-minded start-ups. Currently based in Tunis, she originally hails from Gabes in Tunisia’s south, where her work with local activist networks and rights-focussed projects at the time of the 2011 revolution saw her become a respected advocate and force for change.
In May 2012 Ines co-founded and was President of Organisation Volonté et Citoyenneté (Will and Citizenship Organization), a youth-led, post-Revolution NGO formed to promote the importance of civil society, social entrepreneurship and human rights in shaping Tunisia’s future. She was nominated to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in the US, and one of four Tunisian delegates to work for the US Congress, in the office of Congresswoman Betty McCollum - and was subsequently appointed Visiting Scholar at the Institute of the Study of Human Rights (ISHR) at Columbia University in New York City. This in turn led to her being awarded grant funding to produce Nsina? (Did We Forget?), a documentary addressing the long history of oppression in Tunisia. Also an alumnus of the American Islamic Congress (AIC) and the Cultural Innovators Network (CIN).
Ines’ broad range of experience led to her being headhunted for her current position as Deputy Secretary General and Director of the Maghreb Economic Forum (MEF), a Think-and-Do Tank focused on supporting Maghreb integration and unlocking economic and social growth. Ines is passionate about embracing her hybrid identity as both a world citizen and a local activist.
Mehrad is managing director of Zoodfood, Iran’s leading food delivery platform. The company was acquired by Iran Internet Group in 2015, a joint venture of Rocket Internet and Iranian telecoms company MTN. As the first business of its kind in the market, Zoodfood managed to sign up more than 1,300 restaurants. The company currently operates in Mashhad, Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz and Tehran. Zoodfood had year-on-year growth of more than 500% in 2015 and is one of Iran’s fastest growing startups.
Mehrad was one of Zoodfood's first employees and is now responsible for the company’s business administration and marketing strategy. He holds a software engineering degree and has an MBA from Tehran’s prestigious Sharif University of Technology.
Before joining Zoodfood, Mehrad worked as a software developer and CTO. Tech startups are for him the best match for someone with an interest in both IT and business. He is always looking for something that has not been done by others, either because it seems impossible or it hasn't occurred to anyone. Right now, this translates into making selling kebabs and burgers for restaurants more efficient. Working to advance real-world scalable applications, he aims to have a real impact on Iranians’ lives.