After several months of planning and consultations with our partners, which started in May 2011, the Egypt Development Marketplace (DM) was launched on November 8, 2012. As part of the outreach strategy, the Egypt DM team organized a series of information sessions in four of Upper Egypt’s major cities; Asyut, Qena, Aswan and Minya. The sessions were co-organized and co-hosted with Egypt DM partners International Labor Organization, Social Fund for Development, Sawiris Foundation, and others. The sessions were attended by approximately 400 leaders from agricultural cooperatives, NGOs and small companies. In addition to the usual warm welcome and generous hospitality, typical of Egyptians, here are some reflections based on what we heard from the participants:
1. Upper Egypt is being left behind: despite improved attention and increased efforts over the past few years, there is still a feeling that Upper Egypt continues to be forgotten when it comes to donor programs and development efforts at large. Though details varied from city to city, this sentiment prevailed. One Aswan cab driver told us “not only is tourism slow because of the situation but now we have to wait in queue for hours on end for gas”. One could experience a general sense of impatience with people not yet witnessing the direct positive impact of the January 2011 revolution on their lives.
2. Access to finance remains a significant challenge: while many of the participants welcomed the DM competition, some participants representing small firms, cooperatives and NGOs, saw the small grants as a short-term remedy at best. They expressed concern for the lack of viable financing mechanisms to help them grow their enterprises and activities. As one entrepreneur from Asyut put it “I need finance to help me expand my tomato processing operations to increase production and create more jobs. However, current borrowing options for me are too expensive as the interest rates are high and don’t take into consideration the small scale of my operations”.
3. Coordination in the agribusiness and handicrafts sectors is needed: the Egypt DM has done its best over the past months to bring together the main players in social enterprise active in agribusiness and handicrafts sectors but there is an expressed need for even more coordination, on both the local and national levels. The repeated requests from participants that the Egypt DM needs to help applicants access other types of technical and financial support confirmed that there is not enough multi-stakeholder coordination or a synchronized platform to access those opportunities.
After those concerns were voiced, a positive resilient spirit reemerged and we started hearing questions indicating that we are about to start receiving some great proposals for some promising social enterprises! Based on some of the excellent questions asked we also updated and circulated our Arabic FAQs.
The roadshow was an eye-opening and learning experience for us all. The Egypt DM team is expecting to receive many promising proposals that will contribute to job creation and sustainable development in Upper Egypt.