The best countries to be a social entrepreneur 2019

OPINION: Egypt's young entrepreneurs are contributing to social change

by Farida Matta

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Farida Matta is Egypt-based UNDP Innovation Lab coordinator.

As one large and influential country in the MENA region and on the African continent, Egypt has witnessed one of the fastest growing entrepreneurship ecosystems in the region in the past half-decade.

Egypt is mired with many social issues as a result of the political and economic turmoil that took place between 2011 and 2016, last of which was the flotation of the Egyptian currency, which caused prices of all goods and services, including necessities, to double.

According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) report in 2018, one third of the population in Egypt lives under the poverty line.

High unemployment rates, low wages for a lot of people who do work, and inflation, have been some of the main causes for the increase in poverty.

As a consequence, the middle class has started to gradually disappear, pushing people who were previously leading decent lives into poverty.

Such increases in unemployment, costs of living and social inequality, along with over 340,000 university graduates per year, has made it necessary and urgent for public and private sector actors to encourage entrepreneurship.

Since over 500,000 students in tertiary education graduate every year, educated people from different social classes looking for job opportunities catalysed the boom in entrepreneurship, especially social entrepreneurship.

The awareness of those graduates that resulted from them acquiring a higher education as well as the plethora of issues they see in the country daily, has provided them with a multitude of ideas that could be turned into viable enterprises if nurtured well and in sufficient numbers.

Egypt has 27 governorates, each with a unique culture and unique challenges.

These challenges range from water pollution, to desertification, to illiteracy, to lack of accessibility for people with disabilities. All of these diverse problems provide the strong demand for innovation and creativity.

Moreover, the generational mindset has been one of the main drivers of the social entrepreneurship.

Millennials, generally speaking, do not conform to the established system of working 9-to-5 jobs in large corporations. They have a desire to lead and to be their own bosses.

In addition, due to the centralization of knowledge in Cairo, youth outside of Cairo are not capable of joining the ecosystem and benefiting from it as easily as those in Cairo.

This implies the need for decentralized access to knowledge through a sufficient number of knowledge hubs across the country capable of supporting a critical mass of would-be entrepreneurs.

The entrepreneurial ecosystem currently prevalent and expanding in Egypt, has given youth the opportunity and space to innovate, addressing the challenges in their communities and contributing to social change.

In line with the United Nations' promotion of social entrepreneurship, through United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other U.N. agencies, as a means of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the government of Egypt has a sustainable development strategy that it aims to see through by 2030.

An integral part in helping achieve this strategy included the Egyptian government realising that entrepreneurship itself would help accelerate economic recovery and growth.

This was needed in the aftermath of the austerity measures the government had to enforce to receive International Monetary Fund loans, whereas social entrepreneurship would have the added benefit of responding to developmental challenges.

The move has created a healthy ecosystem that supports and encourages the youth who have pioneering ideas with a positive social, environmental or cultural impact to materialize their ideas, and develop them into viable businesses.

The support comes from numerous entities, in both the public and private sectors.

The public sector has assisted the entrepreneurial boom, by providing training and workshops, with financing and funding, and by incubating and giving tax breaks.

The Egyptian government has also tried to focus its efforts on the youth the most through youth forums, youth summits and youth ideas prioritisation.

As for the private sector, there are now a lot of different enterprises that have join the entrepreneurship promotion ecosystem and are riding the wave.

Private sector enterprises cover a wide range of possible assistance, ranging from incubators and accelerators, to angel investors and venture capital firms, to various training and mentorship programmes.

By introducing innovation methodologies, knowledge and innovative access to finance - for example, through impact investment and blended finance models - more and more enterprises are able to emerge and succeed.

In doing so, they contribute to economic growth, while also increasing the social, environmental and cultural impact.

Social entrepreneurship is a global trend that Egypt and the MENA region as a whole, direly need.

Fortunately the ecosystem players in Egypt are forming partnerships to develop the environment that is conducive for social enterprises to flourish.


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