The Sekem Initiative, Egypt

The Sekem Initiative, Egypt

What was the nature of their innovation and how did it contribute to humankind? The Sekem Initiative is a successful holistic social enterprise employing some 2,000 people that operates on organically managed farmland reclaimed from the desert outside Cairo. Sekem aims to establish a healthy economic model for the 21st century, based on holistic, humanistic, cooperative and ecological principles. It was the first enterprise to apply biodynamic farming methods in Egypt, and its commitment to innovative development led to the nationwide application of biodynamic and organic methods in Egypt to control pests and improve crop yields. Over the past decades Sekem became a local market leader of organic products and phytopharmaceuticals, which are sold locally in Egypt and exported to Europe and other countries. SEKEM is building an ‘Economy of Love’ to demonstrate that cooperating with business partners need not be about gaining the highest possible profit, but rather about creating respectful social and ecological relationships. Sekem started with the vision of Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish. After training in Austria in chemistry, medicine and pharmacology, he returned to Egypt in 1975, where he was overwhelmed by his country’s lack of education, overpopulation, and pollution, particularly from chemical pesticides. A vision was kindled, and in 1977 he returned to establish Sekem, which means “vitality from the sun”. “I had a vision of a project that would allow me to contribute to community-building, humanity, and healing the Earth. The desert was like the canvas of a painting, but without a frame.” He founded Sekem on a 70-hectare patch of scrub and desert near Belbeis, 60 km north-east of Cairo, on the eastern edge of the southern Nile Delta. With a group of Europeans and local Egyptian farmers he planted many trees, bringing life to an untouched part of the desert with the aid of natural biodynamic organic fertilizers. As the soil improved, they planted herbs, and started producing and selling herbal medicines. By 1983, they were harvesting their first crops of organic fruits, vegetables and spices. Sekem has grown into a rich community of businesses, schools, and non-profit societies that employ some 2,000 people. Sekem seeks establish a blueprint for a healthy corporation in the 21st century, and to show that profit-making can go hand-in-hand with social and cultural enrichment. To quote Dr. Abouleish: “We strive at Sekem to build a community in which people of all nations and cultures work and learn together with the aim to acknowledge, nurture and love the super-sensible world and noble ideals.” As well as producing a large variety of organically grown consumer products of high quality, and restore the earth by means of biodynamic agriculture, Sekem seeks to achieve a greater integration of the arts, religion and sciences, with the main aim of developing people. Sekem Holding represents Sekem’s eco-industrial activities: • ISIS Organic, producing fresh organic fruits and vegetables, juice, dairy products, oils, spices and tea), herbs and spices • ATOS Pharma, manufacturing plant-based pharmaceuticals • SEKEM Health, producing organic medical herb products locally and globally; • NatureTex, producing colourful baby and children’s clothing, dolls and toys, home textiles, fabrics and assorted adult clothing using organic Egyptian cotton • Lotus, producing organic herbs and spices from Biodynamical plants. By 2005, Sekem had established a network of more than 2,000 farmers and numerous partner organizations in Egypt, and began extending partnerships to other countries, including India, Palestine, Senegal, Turkey, and South Africa. SEKEM works with Fairtrade International to help producers develop better trading conditions and promote sustainability. SEKEM's ecological goals are to restore and maintain the vitality of the soil and food and the biodiversity of nature through sustainable, organic agriculture, and to support social and cultural development in Egypt. Sekem does not aim for profit maximisation. It shares its returns with 400 smallholder farmers who are members of the Egyptian Biodynamic Association, who uphold Sekem’s ecological commitments. Sekem for Land Reclamation reclaims desert land; Libra practices organic cattle management; develops organic farming and seedlings, fertilization and pest control, generating profit that can be used in cultural life. 10% of Sekem’s profits are given to the Sekem Development Foundation, which has launched many community initiatives including schools, a medical center, celebrations of culture and diversity, and initiatives to promote peace, cooperation and understanding. Since 2012, Sekem’s Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development has become a leading contributor to cultural development. The Cooperative for Sekem Employees represents Sekem’s social and political aspirations and its concern for human rights. In 2003, Sekem received the Right Livelihood Award for being “a business model for the 21st century” in which commercial success is integrated with and promotes the social and cultural development of society. In 2015, Sekem was awarded the Land for Life Award for its influence in combating land degradation and its “achievement in revitalizing dry lands through biodynamic agriculture methods, … continuous contribution to sustainable land management as well as the contribution …towards human development.” The Cooperative for SEKEM Employees has 220 members who promote meaningful work in a healthy, safe and humane environment with the goal to achieve social justice and a decent human life for everyone in the SEKEM Initiative. It operates a pharmacy, a library, a cafeteria that provides healthy meals for Sekem employees, and transportation for workers. Sekem supports the participation of women in public life and their right to employment and to earn their own income by promoting gender equality throughout SEKEM. In 2004, the World Economic Forum selected Sekem’s founders as outstanding social entrepreneurs, establishing the blueprint for the healthy corporation of the 21st century. Sekem has a deep aesthetic commitment to beauty. The farm and other buildings are painted in pastel colours, and the pathways are all lined with flowers and trees, in striking contract to the chaos, noise, dirt and smog of nearby Cairo.


I am nominating Sekem because over 40 years they have demonstrated that it is possible to build an "Economy of Love" that generates successful businesses, respects people, builds community, and protects and nurtures Nature.

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