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Egyptian Social Entrepreneur Puts People, Environment First

This article is part of a series on delegates to the April 26–27 Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.

Washington — Sekem Holding’s managing director, Helmy Abouleish, does more than run a business. He brings vital environmental and social change to the lives of Egyptians. Sekem, named for the hieroglyph that means “vitality of the sun,” embodies its name. Founded more than three decades ago, Sekem continues to flourish in its mission to promote sustainable development through organic agriculture.

An internationally recognized social entrepreneur, Abouleish oversees eight companies under the Sekem umbrella. These enterprises — Sekem for Land
Reclamation, Atos, Isis, Libra, Conytex-Naturetex, Lotus, Hator, and Mizan — contribute to sustainable agriculture through organic production of pharmaceuticals, food products, cotton textiles, herbs and spices and more.
Commitment to organic and biodynamic production complements Sekem’s investment in training and education for its 1,600 employees, according to the
company’s website.
Abouleish’s father, Ibrahim, founded Sekem in 1977 with the mission of translating commercial success into social progress through advances in education, health care and environmental sustainability.
Abouleish honored his father’s goals, in part by helping to start Sekem’s Development Foundation. This philanthropic arm of Sekem runs education programs for youth and adults, a medical center and an academy for applied arts and sciences. “At Sekem, the philosophy is all about human development; nothing else matters, ”Abouleish told BusinessTodayEgypt.com.
This philosophy always has been at the heart of Sekem’s work, though appreciation of its contributions came slowly at first. “We tried to reclaim the desert in an organic way. It took many difficult years to convince other people of the soundness and rightness of our approach,” Abouleish
said on BusinessTodayEgypt.com. The world did start to pay attention, however, as Sekem received the Right
Livelihood Award in 2003. The award, known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” honors businesses that fuse commercial gain with social and cultural development.In 2004, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs named Sekem’s leaders Social Entrepreneurs of the Year for Egypt.
In recognition of Abouleish’s accomplishments with Sekem, the Obama administration invited him to attend the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship
April 26–27 in Washington. Abouleish’s entrepreneurial achievements extend beyond his leadership at Sekem. In 2007, Abouleish founded, and since has chaired, Ecological Technologies. Ecotec is a holding company that invests in renewable energy, water treatment, development consulting, information technology, real estate development, mining
and glass processing. Abouleish also established and now co-chairs the Egyptian National Competitiveness Council, a nongovernmental organization devoted to increasing Egyptian industry’s competitiveness on a global scale. The council strives to encourage competitiveness to improve Egyptians’ quality of life and foster sustainable development. These leadership roles are among many industrial board positions held by Abouleish. Each of his appointments, along with his previous tenures as executive director of the Egyptian government’s Industrial Modernization Center and chairman of the Egyptian Junior Business Association, embody the “personal mantra” he shared with BusinessTodayEgypt.com: “Social entrepreneurship is the most efficient way of doing business. The pursuit of business objectives can and must be combined with the delivery of benefits to the local community. It is vital for both the private sector and civil society to take responsibility for development of our region,” he said.

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This article is from 26 April 2010
By Carrie Loewenthal Massey