Creating Jobs and Businesses from “Nothing”

By Gehane El Sokkary and Farhad Peikar - 

Sitting at a table in the middle of Cairo University Campus, Shadwa Alaa a fourth year student at the faculty of Engineering, is not shy to engage in conversation with other students passing by. Flanked by two banners that bear the words “youthinkgreen-Egypt”, Alaa has set up a station to find potential entrepreneurs to innovate in eco-friendly solutions for industrial waste management.

“Egypt produces 6.2 million tons of industrial waste annually,” Alaa explains to her fellow students. “At least 50 percent of that waste can be recycled to create products to replace imported ones.”

“Through the use of technology and innovation, our society can develop in a more sustainable manner with the creation of green jobs,” says Alaa, who is also the team leader of youthinkgreen-Egypt, a volunteer student-led society, born out of the international youth movement launched in Berlin.

The organization aims to inspire, mobilize and empower youth across Egypt to “think green” and apply sustainable projects in their communities.  Each year since 2014, youthinkgreen-Egypt brings together students, coaches, mentors and investors to work together for 3 weeks on innovative, and technology-based solutions at an annual summer camp.

This year’s initiative will expand to include pre-camp coaching sessions to allow the entrepreneurs more time to deepen their research and improve their prototypes. The 2017 camp themed Industrial Waste Management, is organized with the support of Green Growth: Industrial Waste Management and SME Entrepreneurship Hub, a project financed by the MENA Transition Fund. Implemented with support from the African Development Bank, the project seeks to raise awareness on industrial waste and its recycling potential, support transformative policy reforms in that sector, and set up a waste exchange platform to be used by waste generators and waste users.

The project focuses mainly on supporting SMEs because they make up 99 percent of the non-agricultural private sector. Around 51 percent of SMEs operate in the manufacturing sector, and overall they account for 75 percent of employment in Egypt.  While access to finance for SMEs has been by and large addressed in recent years, entrepreneurs nevertheless need entrepreneurial skills, technical knowledge, marketing and integration into supply value-chains - to name a few.

There is an untapped potential in the country for skills development in the management and utilization of industrial and hazardous wastes. Industrial waste accounts for 12.5 percent of all waste generated in Egypt, and if 50 percent of the industrial solid waste were recycled, the country could generate 8,000 direct jobs annually.

Currently, industrial waste is considered non-valuable and is disposed in landfills and illegal dumping zones, which negatively impacts the climate, environment and health of Egyptians.  Unlike agricultural and municipal waste, industrial solid waste is simpler to manage, as most of the roughly 28,000 facilities nationwide are concentrated in industrial zones.


From ideation to incubation

Preparation for the summer camp is underway with a call for participation posted at Cairo University and on social media platforms to inform students of potential business opportunities. The organizers at youthinkgreen-Egypt plan to select 100 participants to take part in a 10-day workshop, during which they will exchange ideas and form teams.

The new teams will carry out design thinking processes to innovate in eco-friendly solutions to challenges of industrial waste management through a series of site visits and tailored workshops with industrial stakeholders.

Next, after a second round of the idea selection process is complete, a total of 40 - 50 participants will take part in a 4-week summer camp, where they will develop prototypes and pitch their eco-logical solutions to industrial stakeholders, partners, incubators and investors. At the end, youthinkgreen will work on a tailored development program for the selected products to be funded, mentored and qualified to enter the Egyptian market.


Industrial Waste Exchange Platform

The project also helped create an online platform aimed at improving cross-industry resource efficiency by linking waste generators, potential users, and recyclers to develop a sustainable and integrated industrial waste exchange system.

The platform, which is expected to begin operation in the first half of 2017, will be supported by awareness raising workshops and a dedicated media campaign. The platform is expected to spur operations in the waste exchange sector and create jobs, both directly and indirectly.

The project also focuses on enhancing and strengthening the regulatory framework to address the constraints that impede recycling in Egypt. Through studies, trainings, stakeholder workshops, and the development of a set of best practices, policy briefs are being developed for adoption, which will complement the development and operationalization of the waste exchange platform.