Tour of the Middle East- Part 3: Egypt
– This series of posts will take you on a country by country tour of the Middle East, showing how economic and social development occurs in one of the most unstable regions in the world.
To say that Egypt is at social, economic, and political crossroads would be an understatement. The transition from Hosni Mubarak to a new form of leadership has hardly gone smoothly. Certainly, it is not what citizens who led protests had planned when they initiated their efforts to move the country in another direction. However, certain aspects of Egyptian life cannot stop in the face of turmoil. Someone or something has to step up and help the country progress in light of a transitional government. What has become common in Egypt over the last few years and more defined over the last six months is the rise of private ventures taking on social and developmental challenges.
But is funding social welfare projects an appropriate role for corporations? According to Nihad Shelbaya, External Public Affairs Manager for ExxonMobil, the answer is an emphatic yes, explaining,
“the importance of the citizen is the main motivation for all the corporate social responsibility [CSR] programmes the company funds.”
ExxonMobil strives to educate the underprivileged and has backed this talk up by helping educate over 1,000 women spanning 20 villages and establishing a leadership trainee program in companies that work in tandem with Exxon. The philanthropic activities that companies like ExxonMobil participate in would be impossible without the joint help of local NGO’s and charities. These organizations know the ins and outs of local society and are often called upon to do the work while the companies fund all associated expenses.
A prime example of such initiatives is a program supported by Mobinil, a leading Egyptian telecommunications company that established an initiative to put over 100,000 unemployed citizens to work, at a time when Egypt’s unemployment rate is at 11.8%, three percent higher than last year. By aligning with 5 NGO’s who represent the blind, the mentally handicapped, and women, Mobinil hopes to reduce unemployment.
A number of different companies and organizations have joined with NGO’s and charities to develop different social aspects throughout Egypt. McDonalds donates a portion of all happy meal sales to establish schools in slum areas of Cairo. Chipsy works with the UN World Food Program to keep students in school. Resala, a clothing charity, is working to clothe all of Egypt. Pepsi sponsors grassroots sports, working to keep students away from the trouble that is often associated with slums. International telecommunications company, Etisalat, works to provide clean water to millions of northern Egyptians. The list goes on but the same question arises: Should it be the work of companies to sustain social development when that same role is usually assumed by government?
This issue is being argued from all walks of life in Egypt. Screenwriter Nadin Shams questions the role of government if corporations are relied on too heavily to provide basic and typical government services.
“With cooperation between NGOs, companies and government, things can only get better.”
– Mahmoud Abdel-Fadil, professor of economics at Cairo University
Khaled El-Balshi, editor of the leftist daily, shares Abdel Fadil’s position. However, he argues that initiatives that are intended to directly benefit a company should not be publicized. When it comes to a company giving back to the community for the sole benefit of that neighborhood, then it is the right of the people to know who is doing what to benefit their society. Company involvement should not be criticized when a company uses resources, time, and money to positively affect social welfare programs. The upside can best be described by Shelbaya, who says that
“when a project is implemented successfully and people reap its benefits, this is the most effective form of publicity for any company.”