July 3, 2021
By: Nada Salem
It’s easy to point out the many challenges facing Egypt and most of the region; quality of education, health inequity, poverty, environmental pollution, and the list goes on. But it’s much harder to agree on what the solutions are. Traditionally, people have largely relied on charities to manage the symptoms of huge complex problems. And although charities do great work, their dependence on donations makes it difficult to maintain long-term solutions.
To Mona Mowafi, the Founder and President of RISE Egypt, the most effective way to address social challenges in Egypt is to invest in its development. RISE (which stands for ‘Realizing Innovation through Social Entrepreneurship’) is a global nonprofit organization supporting local Egyptian entrepreneurs to accelerate development in Egypt by giving them access to knowledge, networks, and investors.
Social entrepreneurs combine the world of business with a compassion to help others, allowing them to creatively solve social challenges in a self-sustaining way. Rather than working downstream to help manage the results of social problems, they aim to transform entire sectors to create lasting change in society.
In conversation with Women of Egypt, Mona Mowafi discussed RISE Egypt’s mission of supporting leaders who don’t just think about running a business, but who also have a vision of expanding their solutions to benefit the whole country. “We’re focusing on how to bridge disparities in development outcomes, how to leapfrog solutions for Egypt, and how to catalyze the scale-up of the most promising start-ups in Egypt that are affecting change.”
Mona Mowafi has a doctorate in Social Epidemiology from Harvard. She began her journey as an academic with a drive to leverage the knowledge being built in academia and bring it to innovators in Egypt. She was interested in people-driven development: people coming up with ideas to solve the challenges facing their own communities. “When I met with these people, I learned that money wasn’t their first obstacle,” Mona said. “The first obstacle was knowledge and networks. Businesses would hit a brick wall because they either didn’t have access to the knowledge they needed or the person they needed to help them move it forward.”
Mona wanted to be a bridge-builder. And she wasn’t alone. There were Egyptians all around the world who wanted to give back to Egypt and simply didn’t know how. “We brought to life this idea of getting the Egyptian diaspora engaged as both intellectual and social capital. They might themselves have the knowledge that these innovators need, or they might be the bridge-builders who know the right person to help.”
Starting in 2013, RISE created a safe and creative space for those who love Egypt to put aside politics and religion and focus exclusively on their common goal to make a positive impact. Here, they came to connect with other like-minded people who care deeply about social and economic development.
Educate Me, one of the first social impact startups to join RISE Egypt’s Fellowship Program, is an example of a business with the potential to change the status quo in its sector. To tackle Egypt’s place among the lowest-ranked countries in its quality of primary education, they came up with a holistic approach to education centered around the student. Instead of being taught to memorize, children are empowered through skills-based learning and encouraged to dream and stay curious. They also train public school educators across the country to change the teaching approach at their schools.
RISE helped Educate Me establish a global learning partnership with a pioneer in the field (Aeiotu Foundation in Colombia) which allowed them to expand their education model to a community school in Talbeya. Educate Me also worked with RISE on a 4-year research study to evaluate their outcomes and ensure they were making progress towards overcoming the limitations of the traditional Egyptian education system.
In 2020, RISE launched a new program called LEEP for Collaborative Impact that aims to integrate innovators across different sectors and connect them with the growing global network of professionals who are passionate about engaging in Egypt. LEEP (the Library and Ecosystem Engagement Platform) is a space to help facilitate the exchange of knowledge between professionals, researchers and entrepreneurs.
By building a library of knowledge curated by the community, LEEP shifts the mentality from looking towards external ‘expertise’ to a mentality that recognizes the value of the Egyptian community’s internal expertise. LEEP emphasizes the idea that the community is our own greatest asset, and we can lift ourselves up through our collective wealth of knowledge, skills, and resources.
“Our community is full of expertise that simply needs to be organized and directed strategically towards solving common goals… When there’s new research in the library, it’s available to everyone. And when a group of entrepreneurs need training in a certain area, we’ll find people in the community with the resources to make that happen” Mona said, “let us think about where we can share resources so that we’re starting further along and we’re getting further together.
“No one entrepreneur is going to solve Egypt’s challenges alone. Creating visibility, accessibility and connectivity — allowing people to find each other in a community with shared values — leads to collaboration and greater impact.”
For more information about joining the RISE community, visit RISE Egypt.
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Was a pleasure to be interviewed for this article by Nada Salem of Women of Egypt Magazine. Thank you for shedding light on the important work happening all across the social impact space in Egypt – looking forward to a bright future for Egypt together! Mona