So here’s a challenge: name three cities that have pyramids in their skyline. And no - Las Vegas doesn’t count. In fact, there may only be one: Cairo. Remnants from the past are everywhere in the Egyptian capital. But in the shadow of Giza, a new future is taking shape.
Granted - walking around in the sprawling capital, it is tempting to dwell on the achievements of the old Egyptian empire. The silhouette of the grand pyramids, especially, serve as a testament to human engineering and imagination. And while it might be less visible, similar ingenuity and desire for progress are currently inspiring a new direction for the country, perhaps even the whole region.
The main driver of this change is, as with most changes, a problem in need of solving. High unemployment rates and social inequality have been at the core of social and political momentum across the the Middle East and North Africa over recent years. The Arab Spring in 2011 was at least partially driven by a desire to do better for the younger generation in the region, which is faced with the largest youth unemployment rate in the world. Young women are particularly prone to being left out of the workforce.
Faced with these challenges, which were exacerbated by the global pandemic, a new generation of changemakers started to emerge: the social entrepreneurs. They typically operate locally, applying a business mindset to issues that the public and private sector cannot or will not address. They operate where traditional financing is absent. In doing so, they help provide employment opportunities to local communities. They teach valuable skills, bring innovation and help close gaps on the social ladder.
But whereas some progress has been made in the Middle Eastern and North African countries, the true potential of this growing group of social entrepreneurs is yet to be released. Often, little to no legal framework exists to facilitate their work, and their access to finance and credit is typically quite limited. Relatively few financing vehicles target social entrepreneurs, which means investors do not favour directing their investments there.
All the more reason to turn your eyes to Cairo. November 14th marks the start of the annual Venture Capital Summit, which unites venture capital firms, investors and investment funds from a wide range of countries. For the first time, the event includes a track on impact investing. The host of this track is Hivos, a transnational development organisation that champions investing for impact in the region. They are a pivotal partner in the Impact Together!-project. Initiated by EVPA in 2023, this EU-funded project aims to accelerate the expansion of the social economy in the MENA region.
“It is the first time that there is such an impact investing focus at the Venture Capital Summit, and the first time in Egypt, as well”, says Mariam AbdelKarim, Business Development Manager at Hivos. “The organizers, Changelabs, are a long standing partner of ours, and saw that this was an important and upcoming topic”.
The track hosted by Hivos starts with a keynote speech by Florian Kemmerich of Bamboo Capital, an experienced voice in the space of hybrid financing. On the second day, a panel of stakeholders will discuss opportunities, strengths and examples of impact investing in the MENA region and in Africa. For EVPA, our market building lead Ewa Konczal will be in the panel.
The final day features a roundtable with different angel investors, impact fund managers and other stakeholders from the region. They will aim to shed light on the current state of policy around impact investing and make recommendations. These will be collected and processed in the form of a policy paper, that can help local and regional governments better support the impact investing space in their jurisdiction.
While Hivos introduces new impact people into the fold at the VC Summit, another Impact Together!-partner also has a big calendar moment on November 14th. Enroot Impact Catalyst is our local Egyptian partner - they are planning their official launch event. With a new logo, a new website and a revamped online presence, they look towards the future with enthusiasm.
The launch dinner features welcome notes from Ewa Konczal for EVPA and Hany El-Salamony, CEO of Enroot Consultancy.
Where Hivos is mainly concerned with the larger impact investing ecosystem and advocacy efforts, Enroot’s main focus is on directly working with social organisations and entrepreneurs. Enroot will be looking to set up an impact investment fund that can help support and scale social businesses in Egypt. But for now, the focus is on creating a network, reaching out to possible partners and making possible investees ‘investment ready’.
At EVPA, we are eager to kick off this journey together, and we will be posting regular updates in the months to come!