Published on Arab Voices an open platform for innovation and funding

In a country like Egypt which faces a host of political and economic challenges, innovative solutions are very much in demand. The good news is that there is a wave of innovation and entrepreneurship spreading across the Arab world. The bad news is that micro and small enterprises (MSEs) -- mostly working in low-tech industries -- in Egypt are not getting the support they need to be part of this wave. This is despite the important role that MSEs play in creating jobs (they account for more than 3.5 million enterprises in Egypt and absorb about 40 percent of the total labor force). They receive none of the support that would encourage them to innovate and help them face fierce international competition.

CMIInformality is very common in the MSE sector, and could be one of the reasons for the lack of official assistance. It turns out that it is also an enormous source of innovation, especially in the manufacturing sector (which includes 14 percent of all Egyptian MSEs). Most of these MSEs are typically in industries that manufacture products with very low value added. However, as the expression goes “necessity is the mother of invention.” Informal MSEs find themselves “pushed” to innovate so that they can overcome the many constraints they face, most notably the lack of access to financing. These grassroots innovations usually have a spectacular impact on the profitability of these MSEs by either increasing their sales with the launch of new products or increasing the efficiency of their production processes. This is despite the fact that Egypt’s innovation system is considered as a “technology-push” one rather than being driven by market demand. [1] was launched to capture and formalize this spirit of Fahlawa -- an untranslatable Egyptian word that expresses the combination of  innovation, intuition, horse sense, and experience -- as a source of economic productivity. It aims to leverage the wisdom of the crowd and give MSEs working in low-tech, informal manufacturing a boost. The site links them up with students, engineers, researchers and other sources of knowledge and skills, to help them solve the many challenges they face.

How does it work? Yomken is based on an open-innovation model where a specific challenge (which can vary from challenges associated with  product design to the  building of small scale machines for manufacturing) is posted online, and solutions are sought from the extended web community. As well as crowdsourcing solutions, Yomken also offers a platform for MSEs and young, innovative entrepreneurs to look for seed funding and to market their products. This is achieved through "crowdfunding", where funding targets are met by inviting online customers to pre-order products.

ImageThe Yomken project received seed funding from the World Bank’s Youth Innovation Fund to train a number of volunteers and to develop the open-innovation and crowdfunding platform. The project was inspired by the recent Center for Mediterranean Report: Transforming Arab Economies: Traveling the Knowledge and Innovation Road (World Bank, 2013). The project has completed its pilot phase and was handed over to the Istebdaa’ Initiative (an Egyptian social enterprise) for future management. Given the success of the pilot phase, where one product out of every three was successfully crowdfunded and two out of every three challenges found solutions, the platform is currently working on partnering with a number of local NGOs to expand its activities to  a national and potentially regional level.

The Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) is a multi-partner cooperative arrangement to facilitate access to advanced knowledge and best practices while generating support among public and independent institutions to increase cooperation, enhance sustainable development, and integrate policies in the Mediterranean region. More information is available at:

For more information on Yomken, contact Tamer Taha ( ).
Facebook: | Twitter: @Yomkencom

[1] Which means in Arabic “it is possible.”


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