Desert Land Blooms Again
Forty years ago, the idea of bio-dynamic farming at the edge of the Egyptian desert within a socially responsible business model seemed an unlikely prospect. SEKEM, founded in 1977, has turned what was once a dream into reality.
Today, SEKEM (its name derives from the Egyptian hieroglyph for vitality) has nine companies which employ around 2,000 people. It produces organic food, textiles and herbal medicines with an integrated value chain supplying national and international markets. SEKEM cultivates its own biodynamic farms, and buys from local farmers who it has helped to shift from conventional to biodynamic agricultural practices (read more about SEKEM’s impact on its supplier farmers here.)
SEKEM established its own foundation in 1984, which runs kindergartens, a regular school, a school for children with special needs, a vocational training centre and a medical centre. These institutions are open to SEKEM employees, their families and the local communities. This approach of integrating the social and cultural development of society with a commercial business resulted in SEKEM and its founder Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish receiving the Right Livelihood Award in 2003.
In addition to working under Fairtrade and biodynamic (organic +) principles, SEKEM has developed a gender strategy. SEKEM believes in gender equality as a necessity for sustainable development towards a balanced society and tries to support women proactively.
SEKEM has been an Oikocredit partner since 2012. Oikocredit had been interested in financing SEKEM for several years before, given that both organizations’ philosophy and values were well aligned. However, when a partnership agreement was concluded in 2011, riots broke out in Cairo’s Tahrir square as part of an uprising against the Egyptian government. Oikocredit and SEKEM agreed the to put the disbursement on hold in view of the ongoing political instability. After careful review and discussions, the funds were finally released in March 2012.
Oikocredit’s initial support came in the form of a convertible loan of $ 7 million. The funds were used to invest in tea-packing machines and additional land reclamation investments. In 2015, part of the loan was converted into equity (€ 4,6 million) and Oikocredit invested additional funds in the form of a 5-year loan with $ 5,3 million outstanding.
SEKEM is a successful example of a social business which has not only had a significant impact on its local communities, but also on Egyptian society. To gain a better understanding of this impact and to see how Oikocredit’s funds work in the field, a number of Oikocredit investors and staff are visiting SEKEM this week.
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