By Nudge Sustainability Reporter Mostafa Shahat
The tourism industry in Egypt dropped down after the Egyptian revolution in 2011, 30% of the tourism revenue has decreased because of the country's political and economic instability. However, an Egyptian civil engineer Ahmed Zakariya believed that domestic trips could be the quick solution to the current problem and that it will somehow bring sustainability to the tourism industry. Ahmed managed to start an initiative called Ana Awla Behalwtha (in English: I deserve its beauty) that helps youth to discover their own country and increase their loyalty by organizing domestic trips to all the touristic sights in Egypt. Ahmed, together with his team managed to organize more than 100 trips with more than 20,000 young Egyptians in less than three years. They work with volunteers and their revenues are reinvested in their organization to ensure sustainability.
Ahmed graduated in July 2014 from Shoubra Faculty of Engineering – Banha University. As he believed in the importance of the civil society, he served as a volunteer in many NGOs (Non Profit Organizations). His first volunteering experience started in October 2009 at RTC (Resala Training center) teaching basics of AutoCAD for beginners in engineering. RTC is part of Resala charity organization that hosts daily free of charge trainings for young Egyptians who are not capable of attending courses with fees. The Resala charity organization also helps poor and underprivileged families by providing the life’s basics (e.g. food) every month.
In March 2009, Ahmed volunteered at drug control which is a government organization that supports decreasing the number of topers by conducting awareness sessions and campaigns about the health damages of drugs. In 2011, Ahmed succeeded to be a trainer delivering awareness sessions in schools, universities, clubs and any youth community about how to protect yourself from drugs.
Ahmed continues with his passion to work in the civil society while studying.
Ahmed: “Doing so many volunteering activities has not affected my study, moreover; I believe that we live to give.”
He joined the Public Relation (PR) department for one of the most successful and sustainable youth organizations called MA’AN that supports the youth to qualify for the job market by offering career development, career counseling and soft skills trainings on a weekly basis. Ahmed has been involved in MA’AN from March 2011 until February 2014. He learned many personal skills and increased his network.
In August 2012, Ahmed served as a president for Enactus Shoubra faculty of Engineering. Enactus is an international non-profit organization that uses the power of entrepreneurial action to improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need. They provide a platform for university students to collaborate with business and academic leaders in the development of entrepreneurial-based projects that empower people to transform opportunities into real, sustainable progress for themselves and their communities.
Ahmed: “I was always following managers or/and leaders in my pervious volunteering experiences, but this time I was leading volunteers and transferring the knowledge and experiences that I have gained during the last three years.”
At Enactus, Ahmed and his team have succeeded to implement different community projects and they won various international competitions. The project that Ahmed and his team is very proud of and managed to win the 2nd place in the Kraft Foods competition on applying business solutions for community development, is the partnership with the Faculty of Agriculture – Ain Shams University. They convert agricultural waste into compost. The compost can then be bought by farmers for a cheap price. In six months, they have produced 100 tons of compost.
In September 2012, Ahmed’s life totally changed when he joined the EYouth Entrepreneurship camp. This one week camp brought together a big group of young people between 14 – 22 years from all over Egypt. The topics comprised Entrepreneurship, Business planning, Business modeling, project management. By the end of the camp, the top three successful and sustainable proposals were selected in order to be funded.
Ahmed saw many role models during EYouth, and he was so inspired and motivated to start his own project following those models. He thought of the idea of revitalizing domestic Egyptian tourism, after the drop happened in the tourism field in 2011. That was the time when the idea of Ana Awla Behalwtha came up.
Ahmed: “I was so inspired and motivated during EYouth. I was searching for a project that solves a problem, does impact and at the same time can sustain itself.”
Ana Awla Behalwtha started in September 2012 with a small passionate team wanting to help the youth to discover their own country and to increase their loyalty. Now, the organization has different departments like the social media & media department where all the trips are documented and photographed, the tour guide department where students and graduates who study at the faculty of archaeology and tourism guidance at the Cairo university explain each touristic sight’s history, and the program design department where all the trips are designed (e.g. choosing the trip safest path, choosing the trip’s touristic sights, and ensuring that there is a learning part during the trip like workshops on leadership or communications). Furthermore, the logistics & coordination department organizes the trips and coordinates the large groups of participants.
Ahmed: “When we started the first trip in September 2012, we had only 20 participants, the following trip, we had 350 participants, and we grew very fast.”
Ahmed has joined two programs since he started the organization. These programs have helped him to develop the project’s proposal to make it more sustainable and profitable. The first program was the MEPI “U.S. Middle East Partnership Initiative”. In June 2013, he was awarded with a full scholarship to travel to the USA to work on his project’s development, and upon his return he has been invited by US Embassy in Cairo to be rewarded for his efforts at Ana Awla Behalwtha.
The second program was the Enjaz Masr competition that helps entrepreneurs to meet and discuss their projects with investors, managers, community activists, and others. At the end of the competition, each entrepreneur had the opportunity to present his or her idea, and the winner ideas were funded. Ana Awla Behalwtha has been chosen as one of the top 6 successful and sustainable projects in Egypt.
Ahmed: “I was very keen to develop the idea by joining programs or competitions to make it more sustainable and profitable. It should not depend only on me, even if I left the project, it should continue.”
Ahmed dreams of organizing domestic trips for foreigners in Egypt with fair prices and high quality. Ana Awla Behalwtha is a real example of how social entrepreneurs can change their country despite of their educational background. Ahmed is an engineer but with his great passion he will bring sustainability to the Egyptian tourism field.