CAIRO: Raghda El Ebrashi, founder of Alashanek Ya Balady Association for Sustainable Development (AYB-SD) has had a busy year with award after award recognizing her effort as a leading social entrepreneur, not just on the local and regional level, but internationally
World Business magazine and Shell Corporation presented her with their 35 Under 35 Award for 2007. As the title suggests, the award recognizes the world’s top 35 business and social female entrepreneurs under the age of 35.
A few months later she was named by the United Nations Development Program as one of the 100 Leading Social Entrepreneurs under the age of 30 worldwide. She received the award at the Young Social Entrepreneurs Forum in Malaysia last December. And this November she’ll be flying to Washington to receive her award as one of the 20 YouthActionNet Global Fellows for 2008-2009; chosen from between 700 participants globally.
She will be the first Egyptian to receive the fellowship since the YouthActionNet was established.
Back in Cairo the young woman laughingly told Daily News Egypt, “I don’t see myself as a leading social entrepreneur.
El Ebrashi graduated in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the American University in Cairo (AUC) and received her master’s degree in Professional Development from the same university.
She is currently an assistant lecturer of Strategic Management at the German University in Cairo (GUC), where she is also a student there preparing here PhD in Social Entrepreneurship.
“The thing is I’m not happy for myself, I’m happy for the AYB-SD crew because they are really proud we are recognized internationally, I didn’t take these awards as Raghda El Ebrashi, I took them as president of an honorable organization, says El Ebrashi.
Two weeks after returning from London with the 35 Under 35 Award, she received an email from Global Social Entrepreneurs about the competition for the world’s 100 Leading Social Entrepreneurs under the age of 30.
“It seemed that 2007 was the year of AYB-SD and the crew was ecstatic about the second international recognition, she added.
AYB-SD started off as a community service club at AUC in 2002 and after graduation El Ebrashi turned it into an active NGO that caters to the society as a whole, regardless of financial class.
For the less privileged, the NGO utilizes the donations it collects to finance its micro-credit program, as well as education projects, which include language and computer skills.
The organization also offers, under its Youth Leadership Initiative, workshops and trainings provided by multinational corporations in subjects such as marketing and management. In this program, students pay fees that are later used to fund other programs at the organization.
And it is this type of mentality of running what some could label as a charity organization that sets El Ebrashi apart from other community service volunteers.
According to El Ebrashi, a social entrepreneur is a person who focuses on the creation of social value through the development of the community as well as the economic value, or financial profits, in order to maintain organizational sustainability.
“In addition, social entrepreneurs are called ‘entrepreneurs’ and not ‘activists’ because they have the same qualities of business entrepreneurs, that is risk-taking, innovation and strategy, she added.
The ultimate goal of any social entrepreneur is the creation of social value. Yet this remains a phrase that awaits accurate definition and specification of the type of criteria that could measure such achievement; and intellectuals are writing books on the subject.
Therefore, according to El Ebrashi, each social entrepreneur has to focus on one problem and concentrate their efforts on solving it and while they are doing so other problems would be solved as all problems are interrelated.
In El Ebrashi’s opinion, the quality of education is the area desperately in need of improvement within the social system.
“Whenever I think of the root of any problem in Egypt, I end up with the problem of education, she said.
When AYB-SD went out and interviewed many factories and corporations in the private sector asking them about the skills they are looking for, they found many job vacancies available but no qualified people to fill them.
By education, El Ebrashi means conceptual analysis of students and their ability to implement what they’ve learned besides language and computer skills.
El Ebrashi is not alone in her quest to balance economic and social values.
There is Ehab Abdou, president and founder of Nahdet El Mahrousa, a leading development organization that engages youth in creating sustainable projects. There is also Dina Abdel Wahab, founder of Baby Academy, a preschool with a child-centered philosophy.
“This makes me optimistic that if we have more social entrepreneurs in Egypt, things will really change in our country, says El Ebrashi who wishes that there would be campaigns promoting social entrepreneurship in Egypt, which she thinks will definitely succeed, citing the popularity of the volunteering culture in Egypt.
Those volunteers, she continued, should leave behind the concept of charity because it has created a state of dependency in Egypt.
“Poor people are now waiting every month to get their money, food, everything from others because this has created dependency. If every volunteer focused on development and went to developmental organizations, we can move Egypt from poverty to another place, she explained.
In addition, charity depends on what the donor is willing to offer, rather than what the community or the recipient actually needs.
On the other hand, development means targeting a certain community with structured programs that are responsive to this community’s needs and problems.
“Stop scolding your country and stop complaining that the country is not good or developed, because we as educated people are the primary reason for our underdevelopment, the young entrepreneur said, addressing Egyptians as a whole.
On her part, El Ebrashi is working to strike a balance much needed for her work – learning from experiences around the world while staying in touch with the people she helps.
She explains that social entrepreneurs have to also work on developing their own skills and knowledge and they do so by attending international conference, workshops and more importantly regularly reading books and academic journals. At the same time, El Ebrashi said she expands her vision by regularly visiting poor people in their homes, getting first hand insight into their lifestyle and how they feel about their lives.
“It’s not only about shifting Egyptian society from poverty to development, but it’s also about moving young people from being naive and unaware of the people in their country to really responsible people who see poverty everyday and learn to make plans to develop the lives of others. And when they do that, they can plan for themselves.
“So we build a generation of responsibility towards others and towards ourselves.