In the last decade, the culture of volunteering and carrying out community-minded projects that extend beyond charity have grown in many different and diverse ways. Science and technology in particular have helped expand the outreach to beneficiaries in more effective and innovative ways, prime examples of that include Magdi Yacoub, whose brilliant scientific achievements helped him build his foundation, as well as Bassita’s ‘Clickfunding’ model, which generates funds for social causes through social media campaigns.
Hans Rosling, a global health professor at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, mentioned in his TED talk hat nations usually classified as “developing” are increasingly finding ways to develop the social sector despite economic disadvantages, and are achieving more progress in social sectors than developed economies. Now, social progress is often outperforming economical growth.
Many community work initiatives also reflect the growing economic inequalities that began to appear in Egyptian society, and the pressing concerns that are related to the environment, sustainability, animal welfare, and mental well-being.
However, more needs to be done to fully address these issues. According to recent statistics, 32.5% of Egypt’s population lives in poverty. Matching economic growth with social and community progress is necessary for more effective results.
1. Magdi Yacoub
Inarguably one of the world’s most respected cardiac surgeons, Sir Magdi Yacoub’s work is a great example of how scientific achievements can be the focus of community work. He is a Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London and Founder and Director of Research at the Harefield Heart Science Centre (the Magdi Yacoub Institute).
Born in Belbes, Sharqia, Egypt in 1935 to a Coptic Orthodox family, Yacoub studied medicine at Cairo University and qualified as a doctor in 1957. He recalled that after witnessing the tragic death of both his father and aunt due to heart disease, he was inspired to pursue a career in surgery. In 1982, Yacoub performed a transplant for John McCafferty, who became recognized as the world’s longest surviving heart transplant patient by Guinness World Records in 2013, living over 33 years. In 2009, Yacoub launched the Aswan Heart Centre to provide free medical services to Egyptians and less fortunate children, which has conducted 2,180 surgeries since its establishment.
In 2014, the Magdi Yacoub Global Heart Foundation was created to support the Aswan Heart Centre, followed by the new Cairo Heart Centre in 2019. In the same year, he received the Order of Merit from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth for his efforts in combating cardiovascular diseases.
2. Sherif Abouelnaga
Dr. Sherif Abouelnaga is the CEO of 57357 Children’s Cancer hospital, which opened in 2007. He graduated from Cairo University with a degree in medicine and had dreamt of establishing a children’s cancer hospital in Egypt since.
In the early 80s, he became responsible for the children’s ward at Egypt’s National Cancer Institute (NCI), where he witnessed the death of 13 children out of 16. Following this distressing experience, Abouelnaga sought to change the precarious conditions of the ward and cure cancer in children. Initially, he reached out to Sheikh El Sharawy and others to pledge EGP 50 each per month to fund the development of the pediatric oncology care program at the NCI.
For the next 10 years, more donors contributed, which helped establish a pediatric oncology department that grew from a room of 8 beds and a tiny outpatient clinic to a room of 120 beds. As the NCI became more crowded due to improved survival rates, more influential people in business and media offered to help in the first national fundraising campaign. The campaign saw huge success and prompted the government to establish 10 regional cancer centers.
From this experience, Professor Dr. Mohamed Reda Hamza, Dean of the National Cancer Institute in 1995, encouraged Dr. Sherif Abouel Naga to consider building a separate hospital for children with cancer. As a result, a huge fundraising campaign began in 1998 for the hospital, which reached EGP 8 million and helped to eventually establish the 57357 hospital.
3. Mama Maggie Gobran
Mama Maggie Gobran, who is often referred to as the Mother of Cairo, is the founder of the NGO Stephen’s Children and a nominee for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. Initially a professor of computer science at the American University in Cairo, Gobran gave up her academic career to serve the impoverished after a visit to the garbage slums through an annual Easter outreach. Her vision for Stephen’s Children stemmed from her eagerness to reach out to children in need, and as a result, she began working with other Egyptians to serve the short and long-term needs of the families living in slums.
The charity has been operating for almost 25 years and has helped reach over 30,000 families. The center provides vocational training for older children who were not enrolled in primary education to learn skills and basic literacy, family counseling and emotional and psychological care, and medical services, as well as special programs for mothers of impoverished families to discuss personal and family issues. In 2019, she was awarded the International Women of Courage Award by the US State Department and First Lady of the US Melania Trump.
4. Nehad Aboul Komsan
Nehad Aboul Komsan is an experienced and well-known senior lawyer and gender consultant, with over 30 years of experience in the field. After graduating from Cairo University, she became the chairwoman of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights. She has worked with several international organizations for countless projects dedicated to improving the status of women in Egypt, such as the UNFPA’s Safe Streets for All: Campaign against Sexual Harassment, which was the first campaign to tackle sexual harassment in Egypt, and the UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality’s A Wave of Women’s Voices initiative.
Currently, she is a TV anchor for the successful program Hekayat Nehad, which airs on the Al Qahera Wel Nas channel and which focuses on simplifying complicated legal concepts for women and the rest of society in order to raise legal awareness on issues such as female genital mutilation, sexual harassment and rape. In late 2015, she opened the Gender and Legal Expert House, which focuses on providing legal assistance for women as well as free legal consultations through the website Mo7amek (Ask Your Laywer), the first such legal service for women in Egypt.
5. Nada Alfy Thabet
In a time where few resources were available to provide protection for the disabled, Nada Alfy Thabet founded the Village of Hope for Development and Rehabilitation of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities in Alexandria in 2000 to provide care to the mentally disabled. Her work ethic and devotion to help children with disabilities led her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2005 and in 2018, she was named Mother of the Year for Intellectual Disability.
Thabet’s story began on March 2, 1980, when she first learned that her son Maged suffered from brain cell atrophy. When she took him to several Egyptian doctors, they reportedly told her to “love him, but treat him like a cat or dog.”
Since its foundation, the NGO has encouraged civil institutions to work on disabilities and coordinate with the Village of Hope as well as decision-makers to spread the culture of voluntary work in a manner that guarantees the rights of the disabled. The organization has fostered a network of childcare professionals who support and prepare patients aged between 15 and 30 to re-enter society, teaching them skills such as handicrafts, weaving and baking. On top of that, parents are also taught how to interact and communicate with their children to develop better family bonds.
6. Magda Haroun
Magda Haroun has been the head of the Egypt’s Jewish Community Council since 2013. Haroun took office during Islamist President Mohamed Morsi’s tenure, a time of increasing sectarian tensions, according to many observers.
Haroun was born in 1952. Her father, Shehata Haroun, was a lawyer and activist who joined the Communist Movement in the 1940s and refused to immigrate to Europe or Israel following the creation of the Jewish state.
Since taking over, she expressed deep interest in opening up the community to the Egyptian public. Since assuming the position, she has hosted a number of Ramadan iftars at Cairo’s synagogues and held public Hanukka celebrations for Jewish and non-Jewish Egyptians. Haroun has also been fervently vocal against Zionism, at one point proclaiming, “an Egyptian Jew is an Egyptian first, then [a Jew].”
By late 2017 and 2018, Haroun began talks with the Ministry of Culture regarding the transformation of Jewish synagogues into cultural centers and the restoration of the country’s Jewish cemeteries, which was previously considered impossible and politically contentious.
7. HarassMap Founders
Founded in 2010 by a group of four women; Rebecca Chiao, Engy Ghozlan, Amel Fahmy and Sawsan Ghad, HarassMap aims to eradicate sexual harassment and raise awareness about the issue, as well as engaging the community in combating it.
From their experience in women’s rights NGOs, the four women realized that laws alone couldn’t change society in a context where there is social acceptability of the issue, or social reluctance to intervene (passive bystanding).
After they were introduced to a free software that can make an anonymous reporting and mapping system used online and through SMS, they took it as an opportunity to introduce a community-based approach in tackling sexual harassment by reporting incidents of harassment or intervention, and mapping each online.
Due to their efforts, HarassMap was recognized and awarded by national and international institutions, including the Cairo University Recognition Award in 2015, the Deutche Welle and Shabab Talk Local Hero Award in 2015 and the 2014 Nominet Trust 100, which celebrates people and organizations who using digital technology to create a positive impact.
8. Hannah Aboulghar
Hannah Aboulghar has been working in the child protection field since 2001, and was the first to notice that the numbers of girls in the streets were increasing over the years, reaching around 50 percent of the total number of homeless minors.
While most foundations focused on supporting and caring for street boys, Aboulghar decided to turn her attention to street girls and set up the Banati Foundation, which was funded by the Sawiris Foundation and is considered the only foundation in Egypt to have its own building built and designed specifically for its cause.
The girls are reached by a team of social workers and psychologists to escort them to the organization’s reception center, where they are interrogated to learn their reasons for leaving home and are then escorted back to their families.
During the process of rehabilitation, with cases that are difficult to reintegrate into society or that are facing more abuse at home, some girls are moved to the permanent shelter in Haram city. Along with the intense mental health support, the Banati Foundation also organize vocational and productive workshops by the education department to help provide income for the girls in the future. Rehabilitative activities include yoga and meditation, gardening, storytelling, origami, photography, art, jewelry making, crochet, pottery, and music, as well as excursions and field visits.
Founded in 2014, Bassita is an Egyptian startup that specializes in social media campaigning to promote social causes and inspire change. Their award-winning model is Clickfunding, which allows people to raise funds for social causes by clicking or tapping their screens. The bigger the social media interactions and engagements a campaign receives, the more funds are allocated to the initiative.
Bassita has since then launched many social campaigns, such as Let’s Complete Each Other, which aimed to support diversity and social cohesion; One Click to Move, where funds were allocated for the design and implementation of entrances, tactile routes and furniture to aid persons with visual or physical impairments; and Education for All to bring education to 1,100 children living in Upper Egypt.
Bassita also co-founded with Greenish the VeryNile initiative, the first campaign of its kind in Egypt and which aims to organize large-scale cleaning events to remove trash from the Nile and partner with the fishermen and Zabaleen (garbage collectors) to develop a sustainable mechanism of garbage collection.
Centered on the power of the youth, Greenish is an environmental movement that focuses on increasing society’s awareness of environment issues and pushing communities towards sustainability. They help design and deliver educational content about the environment to various schools, companies and universities to raise awareness, train environmental activists, as well as organize cleaning events in several communities to promote a sustainable and environmental way of living.
One of their achievements includes the Qusseir Clean Up initiative, which succeeded in collecting more than 5000 waste items from the beach. They are also partners with ‘Bassita’ in the ‘VeryNile’ initiative that aims to remove all waste and trash in the Nile.
11. Mashrou El Saada
Mashrou Elsaada was founded in 2013 by a group of young artists and photographers who noticed that there was a ‘psychological deficit’ in Egyptian society stemming from poor and harsh living conditions, particularly in most of Egypt’s slums. Based on the belief that art and color therapy contribute to the wellbeing of the soul and mind, Mashrou El Saada colours and paints the walls of slums in several areas in Egypt to unleash the potential of communities living in underdeveloped areas.
On top of that, they take a community-based approach to help develop the communities further through collaborating with different stakeholders to empower residents, with a focus on women and youth. For example, to preserve Nubian heritage, they held a three-day brass workshop, where women were able to learn handmade jewelry to diversify their sources of income.
12. Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA)
Formed in 2007 by Mona Khalil, the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA) mainly works to improve animal welfare in Egypt, covering street dogs and cats, working animals such as donkeys, horses and camels, animals for slaughter, wildlife, animals in the Cairo zoo, as well as those sold in pet shops and live animal markets. They carry out various activities, including the institution of a shelter for street dogs and cats that houses over 700 stray animals. The organization provides them with medial care, food, and shelter.
ESMA has also been active in treating starving and sick working animals, such as the horses in Nezlet Al-Samman, near the Giza pyramids.
Currently, they are active in advocacy and policy planning to ensure the implementation of Egypt’s animal welfare legislation, as well as campaigning against the government’s policy of killing street animals by means of shooting and poisoning.
13. Helm Foundation
Helm is one of the most recognized and renowned organizations working for people with disabilities in Egypt, aiming for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace and public life so that they can be well engaged and contribute effectively to society.
It provides advisory and coaching services for professionals, as well as a state institutions and other organizations on how to ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities. Helm also works with policy makers to ensure that legislation and strategies are well integrated and that they are effective in including people with disabilities.
It was recently recognized as one of the world’s “most innovative practices” that help improve the lives of persons with disabilities at the Zero Project Conference 2018, at the UN headquarters in Vienna, Austria. As of today, they have empowered over 1500 people with disabilities and provided over 5000 corporate trainings.
14. El Gorah Community Development Association
Established in 1984, El Gorah Community Development Association is one of the few that targets the vulnerable population living in war-torn and neglected areas of North Sinai. Their projects focus on providing psychological support to children and women affected by the wars in the governorate. They also help in providing legal support for the Bedouin community, and provide political and legal awareness for youth to help them actively participate in civil life. In 2018, they were awarded the 2018 Excellence Award for their contribution and positive impact on society.
Recently, they partnered with USAID on a project in North Sinai to help promote volunteerism and participation in decision-making processes among North Sinai youth. A youth volunteer center was established in Al Gora Village in Sheikh Zweyed District, where 900 community volunteers participated in training to collectively design and implement projects that address community problems. On top of that, 2,400 young community leaders participated in workshops to encourage youth representation in tribal decision making.
15. Injaz Egypt
Injaz is one of the most successful projects working on promoting education and employment among Egyptian youth. It is also a member of Junior Achievement (JA), the world’s largest and fastest-growing economic education organization, serving more than 10 million young people worldwide.
For over a decade, Injaz has worked on promoting employability and entrepreneurship skills among Egypt’s unemployed youth and partnering with business and educational institutions to supplement and develop public school curricula to help build students’ potential and match their abilities with the current job market.
It delivers several programs, mainly the Work Readiness Program and the Financial Literacy Program, as well as several entrepreneurship programs. As of today, it has helped impact the lives of 700,000 students across the country and has supported many young entrepreneurs to launch their own startups.