In Egypt, Young Innovators Are Transforming Africa's Future

30 June 2020
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African Development Bank (Abidjan)

The sun has barely risen on the seaside village of Baltim, 200 km north of Cairo and twenty-year-old

Ahmed Abdel Salam is already at his laboratory - a start-up factory that has since 2019, been producing fish feed for supply to aquaculture businesses in the Delta region

From atop a ladder, Ahmed observes a school of tilapia swimming in an experimental fishpond: their appearance, taste, size and weight are all evaluated to guarantee the quality of his powdered tilapia protein, produced from recycled organic waste.

"It's been a year since I created my own fish food business with the equivalent of $20,000 seed money from my pocket. This adventure wasn't easy at first. In March 2019, when I started, only one fish farm was interested in my product. Now, I have six other customers. My revenue has jumped 25%, and it's still growing," Ahmed said with smiles.

To meet the growing demand for the product, he hired ten additional employees. "We've gone from five to 15 employees in just a few months," he said. The reason for his success is that his feed costs ten times less than competitive products and also boost fish productivity by about 5% more than the average production because of its high nutritional value, he explains.

Ahmed is part of a group of 45 young entrepreneurs supported by the "Leeha 2eema" (literally, "It has a value"), a waste management scheme which helps small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) specializing in the recycling of industrial waste. The program is funded with $2 million from the African Development Bank through the Middle East and North Africa Transition Fund.

As part of the assistance package, Ahmed received training in entrepreneurship, covering the development of a market study, designing a business plan and building a business network. He also undertook a study trip to South Korea, funded by the African Development Bank. As a result, Ahmed, who began as a young researcher in a university laboratory a few years ago, now directs a flourishing agribusiness providing the local market with fish food with plans to exporting the product to the rest of Africa and China.

And he's not the only one. A few years ago, Abdel Rahman Fahm, then an engineering student at the university, also enrolled in the program. He had helped to mobilize 150 young people from 20 Egyptian universities to participate in workshops on entrepreneurship in industrial waste recycling. That was when Abdel Rahman got his idea: "After receiving this training, I stopped my engineering studies and joined the army for a year for my compulsory military service. But the idea of creating my own business never really went away. With some friends, we created 'YouthinkGreen,' a consulting firm specializing in working with entrepreneurs in waste management and recycling," he says.

YouthinkGreen's employees increased from 4 in 2016, to 20 in 2019 and the company's annual revenue is now more than $100 000. The firm has formed a dozen partnerships with public and private entities, funders, and international organizations. The company now accompanies a new group of young entrepreneurs. Abdel Rahman's work has become recognized around the world. The United Nations regularly invites him to meetings on climate change. His name is also on a list of candidates who may one day become the 17 global youth ambassadors on the subject.

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