Our in country time is nearly at its end…The team finished out the trip with another trip out to New Cairo to meet with GE this morning. They rolled out the red carpet for the team, with presentations by the CEO of Northeast Africa, the head of MENAT Legal, and representatives from Healthcare, Transportation, and Energy. Following the presentations, we headed back to the CRS office in regular Cairo for our final presentation.
We presented to representatives of CRS Egypt, as well as the Regional Director and other advisers for the Middle East and North Africa. As requested, the team provided CRS with a number of potential strategies to help reduce the burden of unemployment, focusing in the agriculture sector. As we head back to the states, we will continue to hone in on just one of the strategies with the help of CRS in country.
Following the final presentation, we finished off our experience with a felucca ride on the Nile at sunset. It’s so much quieter on the water than anywhere in the city and the timing of the ride was perfect.
After 13 days and more than 2,000km traveled in country, 60+ hours sitting in traffic, and unending thoughts about how to solve a terribly important and difficult problem, we’re all pretty exhausted. The full impact of this experience probably won’t hit until we’re back at home and well rested but I’m sure that it will be one that will stay with each of us for the rest of our lives. A big thank you to everyone at CRS both here in Egypt and at home for all the hard work and support of our efforts! Also thank you especially to the donors who help make it possible to send nearly 30 people from Notre Dame to the far reaches of the globe in the pursuit of learning and service!
On the ground in Chicago in less than 24 hours…Go Irish!
Yesterday morning, Rob, Manasi, and I headed south to Assiut in Upper Egypt. That’s where we met our Egyptian grandmother. Nagwa Abdalla is the head of the Assiut Business Women’s Association who has ceaselessly facilitated us and stuffed us with food. We met first for lunch and later were treated to a wealth of traditional Egyptian desserts (including some of the best baklava I’ve ever had), and then she refused to let us leave the office without taking fresh falafel for the road. Today featured more of the same with tours at a juice bottler, a biscuit manufacturer, and an ice cream manufacturer, all before another generous Egyptian lunch.
Don’t get the wrong impression. Grandma Nagwa is no pushover; she’s the power in the room. We’ve been rolling into every meeting 11 deep and they’ve all pretty much gone the same way. We start asking questions with Hani translating for us and sooner or later, the entire conversation switches into Arabic and it’s all about Nagwa’s wasta. She always takes care of us, but then she’s off wheeling and dealing and building relationships. It’s easy to see why NBWA’s micro-finance arm has over 20,000 clients, including over 17,000 women.
Nagwa (second from the left) doing her thing
This trip has also reinforced that Egyptians love their ringtone. I’m not sure anyone here knows how to put their phones on silent. One of my favorite moments of the Assiut trip so far was in a meeting where a face-melting guitar riff started peeling out of someone’s phone, only to have the secretary of the board of NBWA, who is old enough to be my grandma, answer her phone…
Tomorrow (Today), we’ll finish up our meetings down south and head back to Cairo (probably loaded down with snacks courtesy of our new grandma!)
75% of statistics are made up on the spot.
Team Egypt kept up its busy schedule of meetings and traffic today. Our morning started with this brilliant example of transportation in the agriculture sector:
Yep. That’s raw meat in the trunk. Apparently it’s not at all an unusual sight in Egypt. It’s possibly also why the whole team subconsciously chose to eat chicken for both lunch and dinner.
Our first meeting of the day was a prime example of a key difficulty facing business operations in Egypt. We arrived at the Egyptian Junior Businessmen’s Association about 30 minutes late due to traffic only to find that the person we were supposed to meet with was also stuck in traffic. We managed to find a stand in at the office and managed a quick meeting before heading back into traffic to head off to our next meetings. The team split for the afternoon with half the group visiting the Population Council and the other half heading off to American University of Cairo for a meeting with one of the Assistant Deans of the Business program.
I was part of the AUC delegation, which turned out to be one of the most informative meetings we’ve had so far this week. Not only did we receive a terrific rundown on the challenges facing education in Egypt, we also were given an in depth analysis into many of the business problems we are addressing in our project. He supported our idea that high unemployment is due to a combination of lack of opportunities, lack of proper training, and lack of communication. We had been hoping to pin it down to one of the three, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case. We also asked his opinion on using co-ops in the agricultural sector and got very positive feedback on the potential impact in Egypt and the general efficacy of the model. As we are providing a basket of recommendations for strategy and projects to CRS Egypt, some form of co-op model to bring small agribusinesses together will almost surely be one of them. We’ll have the chance to dive deeper into this recommendation in our site visits early next week.
The trip to AUC was also eye opening in regards to the income disparity in Egypt. It was a stark contrast from our trips to the slums yesterday. The New Cairo area near AUC looks like a typical affluent American suburb complete with McMansions and glass-walled corporate offices. The AUC campus was built all at once and has only been in use for about 3 years so it is beautiful and sparkling.
Tomorrow is another full day of meetings including the Social Fund for Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization (UN), the Egyptian European Organization for Training and Development, and a sociopolitical interview with a top academic. All of our meetings have helped to give the team insight and perspective on the challenges in Egypt, but I think our site visit yesterday really spoke to the heart of our purpose here. In the slums, CRS is helping people work and bring dignity to their communities. When they started clearing trash and rubble so that children wouldn’t have to walk on the train tracks to get to school, the community pitched in with neighbors bringing the workers tea throughout the day and a local business providing access to water for the project. When CRS provided a group of women a machine and enough material to produce plastic overshoes for 10 days, they used their own contacts and made new ones so that they could continue producing and selling long after the 10 days were up. Now, they produce in two locations with close to 50 women and also produce full length plastic gloves, in addition to the shoes. While the total number of people involved in these projects is small in comparison to the unemployment problem in the country at large, it provides a small snapshot of what the dignity of work brings to people and how CRS actively makes a difference in their communities. Hopefully our final recommendations to CRS will help expand their good work into the agriculture sector and serve more Egyptians.
P.S. Go Irish, Beat Huskies!
The sun never sets on BOTFL, but it’s done for the day in Egypt…