Our impact, their voices

ILO's entrepreneurial skills development programme makes dreams come true

Instead of living in a stagnated environment, they started to see that community challenges and needs could actually activate community engagement and can even be the starting point of a social business that generates a living.

Feature | 18 September 2017
Hamed Abd-Elsalam, Minya governorate
Hamed lives in Portobat, Maghagha district, in Minya governorate. In late 2014, Hamed enrolled as a volunteer in the ILO ‘youth volunteer program’. Starting out with little trust in what his role could be, but with a strong desire that he can have a positive impact on his society.

During 2015, Hamed participated in capacity development trainings; had the chance to apply the training’s knowledge to identify social initiatives; prepare and plan those initiatives; and finally, implement the initiatives himself, with his fellow volunteers.

Hamed wanted to be a positive citizen and be useful to his community yet did not know how, and what exactly to do. This programme has given him the chance to find channels to communicate with his society and its challenges, to know better what his community members need and how to address them.

In his own words, after participating in the programme, Hamed noticed that children have no chance to gain access to cultural and educational knowledge. There are no forms of cultural participation in his village which leave children ignorant of the larger cultural heritage they are a part of.

Hamed believed he could have a positive impact by providing the children with the opportunity to visit cultural, educational, and entertainment places in Egypt. He started to lead his volunteer team in his village to conduct social trips for children with a goal that “every child must have the chance to discover themselves”. He did not have any financial means to overcome this problem; he started to mobilize community leaders and businesspeople to donate to his cause. His wife and his family gathered around him, giving him all the support they could give.

A social entrepreneur in the making

Late 2015, Hamed attended an awareness session on social enterprises. He found that his dream could come true; a way to benefit his society while maintaining his livelihood and daily substance.

Believing that the ILO could help him explore his potential and to provide him with the knowledge on how to establish and run a successful social enterprise, Hamed enrolled in the ILO’s entrepreneurial skills development programme within the framework of the UN joint project Hayat. He was one of the ten businesses that graduated successfully, receiving seed funding and started a children's club that now provides additional educational services. Through the entrepreneurship training programme Hamed was equipped to turn his idea into action and benefit the community while ensuring a livelihood for himself and several others.

A “leader” who can make a difference

Hamed organized six cultural trips to Minya city. He planned other trips to Minya’s archaeological places and other places in Egypt. What is more, his ambition is to use part of his land in the village to start a ‘children Centre’ aiming to do learning activities for children through entertainment.

After a year, Hamed felt the difference he made on children, and the behavioral gap between children who benefited from his efforts to the rest of the children in the village.

From apathy to engagement

Within the framework of Hayat project and in collaboration with Jesuits’ Brothers Association for Development in Minya, the ILO funded social initiatives and awareness raising events planned and organized with and by youth, in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth & Sports and local youth centers in the project target areas.

These initiatives supported local youth volunteering activities for community inclusiveness and cohesion. This happened by mobilizing youth to receive capacity/skills development programmes (e.g. planning skills, community resources mobilization, participatory planning, public speaking, teamwork skills, life values) in order to conduct ‘social initiatives’ (e.g. blood donation campaigns, environment days, village reconstruction and cleaning, orphan days, sports tournaments and school trips).

It wasn’t always easy though. “Initially the project faced some resistance from youth, as they did not see how volunteering could be beneficial, since their foremost objective was to find a job and secure an income”; said Amir Obeid, Project Manager of Hayat’s ILO component.

From volunteering to social entrepreneurship

ILO Cairo Director, Peter van Rooij, said that seeing successful community events, becoming familiar with the background and framing of social issues, while simultaneously receiving capacity development trainings, changed the mindset of many youth.

"Instead of living in a stagnated environment, they started to see that community challenges and needs could actually activate community engagement and can even be the starting point of a social business that generates a living"

Peter van Rooij, ILO Cairo Director

Summarized, the volunteerism approach worked as follows:
  • Through community events sensitizing and educating youth about social issues, such as garbage collection, blood donation, health-care, orphans, educational creativity for schools etc.
  • Hereby contributing to community development and social cohesion.
  • By being active and meaningful in the community increasing their social status and self-esteem.
  • Through increased experience and awareness, discovered skills and leadership ability youth increased their employability and inventiveness.
  • By actively engaging women in all activities and activating their role and opportunity in the society.
  • Through entrepreneurship training and financial support, livelihoods were secured and employment opportunities were grown through social entrepreneurship.

Social entrepreneurship

This approach proved successful in reaching, sensitizing youth and providing them with opportunities to practice the theoretical knowledge gained through trainings, while simultaneously becoming drivers of community cohesion, it also raised the issue of ‘social entrepreneurship’ as a key to address community challenges.

As a result the ILO increased the youth’s awareness of ‘social entrepreneurship’, by shifting its focus towards coaching, technical and financial support to potential entrepreneurs to help them establish their enterprises and ensure they are equipped with the knowledge to start and run a successful social enterprise.

Within the framework of a social entrepreneurship competition, ten business founders successfully graduated and were granted seed funding. These businesses have now created 51 jobs ranging from a government services advisory office for vulnerable groups, an agricultural waste recycling business, a rooftop gardening service, and a children’s club that provides additional educational services in areas with no such available services before.

In short, providing youth the opportunity to rediscover themselves, grow their skills, build their network, and for the first time realize that they can have an effective role in society; shifted their way of thinking from resistance to the idea of volunteerism to being totally involved and keen to implement social initiatives to address their communities challenges through starting their own businesses.