Following the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, many Egyptian expatriates turned towards their home country with a renewed sense of hope and desire to participate in the change process. As the political and economic transition is underway, many Egyptians abroad are looking for ways to engage in the transition period, and donors and development agencies are trying to effectively channel their efforts to contribute to development outcomes.
The approximately four million Egyptian expatriates contribute significantly to the economy and development of their home country. Egypt is projected to receive around US$20 billion in remittances in 2013, the highest amount of remittances received in the Middle East and North Africa region, accounting for 7.5 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Nearly 70 percent of Egyptians abroad visit Egypt once a year and over 80 percent stay abreast of current affairs in Egypt.
A recent roundtable discussion hosted by the World Bank and Mercy Corps provided an opportunity to engage with a group of successful Egyptian-Americans with the aim to better understand their perspectives on the opportunities and challenges of investing in Egypt. Impact investors like Mercy Corps and the Cairo Angels work with Egyptian entrepreneurs and start-up companies that are creating ideas, products, and services that are changing the traditional way of doing business. These investors are seeking to better understand what it will take to engage the Egyptian diaspora with firms that are changing the nature of the Egyptian economy. Similarly, donors and development agencies want to find out the most effective means to channel not only expats’ money, but also their ideas and human capital to their home country.
For their part, Egyptian expats shared the idea that creative engagement is key to initiate action with Egyptians abroad. Connecting through social media such as Facebook is useful, they said, but building stronger relationships, require face-to-face meetings. Promotion efforts should focus on educating the diaspora on available investment opportunities, how to effectively become involved, and the benefits and risks associated with engagement.
The group of Egyptian expatriates also expressed its concern that uncertainty in the regulatory and legal environment due to the current political situation can constrain the true potential of diaspora engagement. However, many agreed that despite these challenges, the time to act is now. To wait for all political uncertainties to be ironed out would risk missing a transformative opportunity to engage with innovative enterprises that are changing the Egyptian economy. In addition to investing money, which inherently involves more risk (and reward), the Egyptian community abroad can utilize its human and social capital for mentoring, connecting, convening, and sharing successes beyond the Egyptian community.
In a recent book Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution in the Middle East, serial entrepreneur Chris Schroeder argues that entrepreneurial ecosystems require three types of people: investors, conveners (who help entrepreneurs connect), and recognizers (who give them recognition and publicity). The Egyptian diaspora has the capacity and opportunity to significantly engage in each of these roles. At a time when nearly 45 percent of university graduates are unemployed and 38 million people are poor or near poor in Egypt, the time for creative engagement with Egyptians abroad is now. Are you ready to engage?