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Sustainability Report 2015 – Societal Life
“The main thoughts and requirements for a future society are laid down in SEKEM.”
Every morning SEKEM co-workers gather in their companies to speak some powerful words together and to become aware of the new day and of each other. SEKEM is known to gather in circles, which shall contribute to raise awareness about each others, the individuals and the different teams, contributing to an overall goal. This is fostering self-knowledge and trust in others; a symbol for equality – simple and powerful.
SEKEM unifies everything that is related to the relationship between people, community and society in the dimension of Societal Life. In 2015, SEKEM experienced a flourishing Societal Life, which is a consequence of the intertwining circles within SEKEMs wonderful network of partners and supporter.
The cooperation happening between the overlapping circles has been conveyed by the newsletter SEKEM News along the year 2015. After reinventing SEKEM.com from scratch, SEKEM Insight was redesigned. The monthly SEKEM newsletter that was sent as a PDF file in the past is now continuously published in form of individual articles through an independent website: news.sekem.com. The publications focus more closely on what is happening inside SEKEM on a day-to-day basis by featuring a greater number of stories from the perspective of employees and by telling them in more personal ways. Hence, there is a series of monthly articles entitled “People in SEKEM”, which is portraying SEKEM co-worker.
For a Society with Two Wings
Generally, the societal year 2015 was strongly focusing on gender equality. In September SEKEM Initiative published a comprehensive Gender Strategy for a Balanced Society in an official event that representatives from different ministries, the German Embassy as well as the GIZ (German Development Cooperation) attended.
Gender equality is already based in SEKEMs holistic vision but it still needs to be strengthen in everyday life by raising awareness. Hence, during 2015 SEKEM (in cooperation with the GIZ) organized various activities that shall contribute to the empowerment of women.
“We do not only empower women to promote gender equality but for a much higher goal: A sustainable future. We know that gender equality is one of the basic conditions to reach a sustainable society.”
At the beginning of the year, a team of young female employees of SEKEMs company NatureTex visited Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development (HU) and discussed with students the role of women in the Egyptian society. Both, NatureTex co-workers and Heliopolis University students are from the same generation but come from completely different backgrounds and lifestyles. Thus, the visit and exchange allowed them to peek into the life of the others, which has been an enriching and strengthening experience for both.
As NatureTex co-workers and HU Students committed themselves together to gender equality also SEKEM pupils experienced the gender topic through different ways. On the International Women’s Day female students from SEKEM School got insights to professions that are offered by SEKEMs Vocational Training Center and which are traditionally occupied by men, such as carpentry, mechanics and electrical engineering. Boys and girls spend a first and very successful “Girls’ Day” together.
Breaking Down the Walls in Our Minds
In addition to the internal activities to strengthen the balance between women and men, SEKEM tried to raise awareness about the importance of gender equality by sharing its commitment on different events. Of worldwide interest was the G7 Summit in Berlin, Germany. Thomas Abouleish, SEKEMs Chief Relations Officer, attended a panel discussion at the G7 conference under the headline “Economic Empowerment of Women – Unlock the Potential” next to key representatives from governments, private sector and civil society. In his speech Thomas Abouleish emphasized on the problems women are facing in society when seeking for equality. Through that high-profile summit, SEKEM gained a huge international recognition of its “Gender Strategy for a Balanced Society”.
“By Dr. Abouleish’s living vision, SEKEM became a lighthouse project, receiving recognition all over the world and building a role model for other nations and their development projects.”
Klaus-Peter Murawski, Minister of the German governorate Baden-Württemberg
International recognition has also been conveyed by different awards that SEKEM received in 2015. In November, Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish was honored with the “Staufermedaille” from the German governorate Baden-Württemberg. The German accolade is given to people, who made special efforts towards Baden-Württemberg and can be considered as recognition for the German-Egyptian relations, strengthened by Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish in cooperation with highly committed partners, such as the SEKEM Friends Association Germany, who strongly support the SEKEM vision.
Likewise, the Austrian SEKEM Friends Association contributed to another accolade that was given to Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish in May: The Golden Diploma from the Technical University Graz. The SEKEM founder graduated 50 years ago from the renowned university after studying chemical engineering there. The Austrian SEKEM Friends then organized internships for two HU Students at the same university and supported them by accommodation and cultural activities during their stay in Austria.
“We are impressed by your organization’s achievement in revitalizing dry lands through biodynamic agriculture methods.”
Furthermore, the year 2015 witnessed one of SEKEMs most prestigious recognitions: The Land for Life Award. On the occasion of the 5th Kubuqi Desert Forum, SEKEM was internationally honored for its “outstanding commitment to combating soil erosion and protecting soil fertility through sustainable agriculture” and its “continuous contribution towards human development” by the UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification).
Maximilian Abouleish, Chief Sustainable Development Officer, who received the Land for Life Award on behalf of SEKEM then also traveled to Ankara to attend the Twelfth Session of the Conference of Parties (COP 12). SEKEM was invited to showcase its success in reclaiming desert land in a sustainable and inclusive way and developing communities with a holistic approach at the high profile event regarding desertification. Afterwards, SEKEM organized an event itself in cooperation with the Heliopolis University that addressed the Land for Life-topic: combating desertification. The workshop on possible routes towards advancing sustainable agriculture on a national scale in Egypt took place in September and was attended by national political decision-makers, academics and business leaders, among others the former Egyptian Minister of Agriculture Professor Dr. Salah El Din Helal.
“A further step to take over the responsibilities of our generation and to transform the challenges of today into the solutions of tomorrow.”
Sustainable farming was also addressed at the German-African Agribusiness Forum in Cologne that was initiated by another SEKEM long-term partner the German Entrepreneurial Development Cooperation (DEG). Back then, DEG was the first and only bank ready to support a visionary project in the Egyptian desert that many people considered as unrealistic.
To spread the idea of a holistic and sustainable community, representatives of SEKEM contributed to different other international events in 2015. Hence, Helmy Abouleish, CEO of SEKEM Group, held a speech at Cradle to Cradle Congress in Germany that was targeting “Rethinking for a Positive Footprint” by discussing perspectives for a world facing the most urgent challenges of the future.
In Italy he spoke at the “Think More About”-Congress about equilibrium and the meaning of finding a balance between the different dimensions of SEKEMs Sustainability Flower. Helmy Abouleish joined several more conferences and invested time in different media interviews about SEKEM, its vision and sustainable development.
“What is right today can already be wrong tomorrow. Every day we have to reinvent ourselves.”
Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish published a revised edition of his well known autobiography “Die SEKEM Symphonie” and visited various conferences and gave several other contributions about SEKEM and Sustainable Development. The SEKEM Day in Stuttgart, at the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development or at the International Conference “Alliances for Feeding the Planet” in Italy. On this occasion, Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish met an old friend that played a significant role for SEKEMs development: Guilia Maria Crespi, the current chairwoman of the Italian Environmental Fund, taught the SEKEM founder the Biodynamic agriculture principles 38 years ago. Actually, SEKEMs strong Societal Life is fertilized by the long-term friendships that Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish is keeping since decades.
SEKEMs Cooperation with Contracted Farmers All Over Egypt
SEKEMs partnership with the Dutch financing organization Oikocredit brought important impacts as well. The reliable SEKEM partner conducted a comprehensive “Impact Evaluation Study” on SEKEMs cooperation with contracted farmers all over Egypt. This did not only show the benefits of SEKEMs approach but also helped to see where the initiative needs to improve its activities. The Impact Study concludes, among other results that SEKEM farmers receive higher incomes and benefit from guaranteed markets as well as better work opportunities in adjacent villages and towns. The research team also did some recommendations including for instance the suggestion to identify relevant interventions in health and education, especially for women and young people.
Besides, an active member of Oikocredit, Eberhard Proissl, who attended a SEKEM Shareholder Visit, showed amazing efforts in presenting SEKEM after his return to Germany in various events. Later on, Oikocredit celebrated its 40th Anniversary. Helmy Abouleish conveyed his congratulations by emphasizing on the significant role Oikocredit plays as a strong partner, who believes in SEKEMs vision.
SEKEM did not only attend events but also hosted different workshops and conferences itself in 2015 to spread its idea of a sustainable community in different fields across the society. SEKEMs great experience in Organic agriculture or alternative medical approaches have been conveyed through workshops and conferences at Heliopolis University, attended by professors, experts or politicians. Hence, for instance the challenges Organic agriculture in Egypt is facing have been discussed and possible solutions were developed.
Demeter in Egypt in 2020
In summer Demeter International members came to SEKEM Farm to deal with the topic “The Soul Qualities in Biodynamic Agriculture”. During the 19th Demeter International Conference Helmy Abouleish presented SEKEMs vision for Demeter in Egypt in 2020. It includes four sectors: training, research and development, a focus on regionalism, and advocacy. Hence, there is the plan to offer a university course as well as training in Biodynamic agriculture at SEKEMs Vocational Training Center. Above, SEKEM intends to strengthen research projects that support the significance of Biodynamic food production, for instance through “True Cost Accounting” that reveals the true prices of Organic and conventional cultivation methods. Furthermore, SEKEM aims to cultivate three times as much biodynamically in the year 2020 compared to 2015.
“A fair and sustainable world is not only possible; it is on its way. In quiet moments, we can clearly become aware of it.”
Kosha Joubert, Founder of GEN Africa
SEKEMs Societal Life was crowned by an international event that was in the same time an anniversary celebration: The Global Ecovillage Network Africa (GEN Africa) celebrated its collaboration with SEKEM, which has been initiated in 2012 and the 20th anniversary of the international initiative. Representatives from different ecovillages under the umbrella of GEN Africa attended the event and represented their projects in regards to social innovation activities. The main pillar of an ecovillage is defined by engaging the youth to environmental conservation and living in harmony with nature.
“In Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development we encourage our students to become the change makers of the future, which might help to create more innovative social entrepreneurs.”
Mohamed Sultan, SEKEM Employee
SEKEMs contributions in regards to Social Innovation were also addressed by Mohamed Sultan at the first Social Entrepreneurship Conference in Egypt. Mohamed Sultan as a representative of SEKEM underlined that the awareness and consideration about the social potential takes a huge part in prosperous businesses.
However, the year 2015 was not only flourishing through SEKEMs external societal circles, but also on the inner-scale including SEKEMs co-workers and students. Hence, SEKEM co-workers from different companies have been committed to social activities such as a soccer tournament or Bothmer Gymnastic Courses.
One of SEKEMs renowned guests in 2015 was the human rights activist Rupert Neudeck. He said: “What Albert Camus once wrote about Sisyphus, can be said about the people I met in SEKEM: I can imagine them happy”. This is what SEKEM is striving for in its Societal Life Dimension, by giving people the chance to feel safe in the community and free in their individual beliefs. The inner and outer circles of supporters are fundamental and enabled all societal progress in the year 2015.
UN Global Compact, CEO Water Mandate & Women’s Empowerment Principles
SEKEM joined the Global Compact Initiative of the United Nations (UN) in 2003. The company is committed to the ten principles of the UN Global Compact concerning human rights, labor standards, environment protection as well as anti-corruption and their implementation in all business processes. We demonstrate as well our ongoing support of the CEO Water Mandate, and the Women’s empowerment principles, and our commitment to apply all required actions in all areas of our business.