Helmy Abouleish

Sekem Group
Year founded: 

By supporting economic, social and cultural institutions, SEKEM aims to realize a vision of sustainable development for individuals, society and nature.

Focus: Agriculture, Education, Enterprise Development, Environment, Health and Rural Development
Geographic Area of Impact: Egypt
Model: Social Business
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 30,000 (2010)
Annual Budget: US$ 40 million (2010)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 98% (2010)
Recognition: Schwab Fellows of the World Economic Forum

Egypt faces problems of overpopulation, environmental degradation, inadequate education and healthcare. Agriculture occupies 40% of the workforce, yet remains the least developed sector of the economy. Costs of agricultural production have increased while the resource base has diminished. Today, Egypt is one of the world’s largest importers of food. SEKEM has built a thriving social and cultural base to address Egypt’s deteriorating health conditions, as well as its educational and cultural development capacities.

Innovation and Activities
SEKEM is the first initiative to develop biodynamic farming methods in Egypt, building up fertile soil structures, improving agro-biodiversity and promoting organic composting; all products of the system can be sold, used in processing or re-used in cultivation. SEKEM’s strong commitment to innovative development led to the nationwide application of biodynamic methods to control pests and improve crop yields. For example, in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture, SEKEM deployed a new system of plant protection for cotton, reducing total pesticide use to less than 10% and leading to a ban on crop dusting within the country.

SEKEM has grown exponentially in the last decade to become a nationally renowned enterprise and market leader in organic consumer goods. Apart from strong and long-lasting export partnerships in Europe and the US, today more than half of SEKEM’s overall sales are domestic within Egypt, making the country home to one of the largest markets of organic products outside the western world.

In recent years, the SEKEM Group has established a professional management system of corporate sustainability, including a comprehensive annual report on sustainable development, and progress analysis and monitoring of 40 performance indicators related to economics, society, culture and the environment.

To extend its commitment to sustainable development, SEKEM is currently establishing the Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development. It firmly believes in the role of academic institutions to actively contribute to social innovation and to helping solve the major challenges of our times.

The Entrepreneurs
SEKEM is the vision of Dr Ibrahim Abouleish, an Egyptian pharmacologist. He earned a doctorate in medical chemistry in Austria, where he then worked initially in research and development. Upon returning to Egypt he was overwhelmed by its pressing problems in education and overpopulation, which led him to implement biodynamic farming methods for the first time in the desert. For this unique approach, SEKEM was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, in 2003.

Helmy Abouleish, Managing Director of the SEKEM Group, joined his father’s quest for sustainable development by building SEKEM into a leading entrepreneurial corporation. He is a recognized leader of sustainable change in Egypt and beyond, driving a number of initiatives that address major challenges like climate change and food security through organic agriculture and social entrepreneurship. In 2007, he established EcoTec Holding, to invest in ecological technologies and green business ideas in Egypt.