Meet the winners of UNICEF Egypt’s first social innovation competition
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As the world is still struggling with the post-COVID impact on business, a group of young people from Cairo University are developing a business model from and for their local community to create jobs, save an industry and the planet.
The story started when these young students met through Enactus, an international non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring university students to improve the world through entrepreneurial action. In Egypt, Enactus has more than 50 teams in different universities across the country. In September 2021, UNICEF partnered with Enactus to build on its experience in outreaching and mobilizing young people’s learning, innovation, participation, and engagement. The starting point was through “Meshwary”, a UNICEF-supported program in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth and Sports funded by the Netherlands, the Swiss Development & Cooperation and USAID in several governorates. UNICEF trained 130 youth leaders from Enactus to become trainers for “Meshwary” modules to reach out their peers in the 50 Egyptian universities and institutions with life and employability skills they’ve learned. The training also provided them with the fundamentals of developing innovative business solutions for urging community issues.
After these trainings, UNICEF announced its first social innovation competition sponsored by USAID, the Embassy of the Netherlands in Egypt and Swiss Development & Cooperation.
Enactus Cairo University team decided to apply with a unique business model called Gelifish: an eco-friendly affordable source of gelatin using fish.
Tanneries (places where animal skin are tanned for industrial use) are the hubs of Gelatin manufacture in Egypt, a very important industry that contributes to 200 million EGP annually. With the surge in raw material prices due to the dollar price increase in 2022, there was the additional cost following a governmental decree to relocate all tanneries to new hubs outside Cairo, which led them to downsize and layoff thousands of workers.
Following thorough research, the students found that an alternative raw material animal skin was needed to save the gelatin industry, and fish skin was their choice.
Ghadeer Osama, team leader and 21-year-old dentistry student, explains: “Fisk skin turned out to be 35% more affordable as almost 1.5 tons of fish skin is discarded annually. It also uses 50% less chemicals than animal skin which causes a lot of health problems to workers. It also provides 30% higher quality gelatin.”
On January 2022, Ghadeer and her team started contacting fish farms offering to take their fish skin waste for free, and tanneries offering to do capacity building trainings for their workers on the know-how, the quality control and safety precautions measures of the new method. They also sent samples of their higher-quality gelatin to pharmaceutical companies, as gelatin is essential in their industry, to start doing business with them.
Soon enough, they created a full business model that they submitted for the competition among 35 teams from 30 universities in April 2022. On the 16th of May, Enactus Cairo University team was announced as first winners.
Ghadeer was particularly proud of this achievement: “Although we won many competitions before, we’re proud to win in UNICEF’s first-of-a-kind competition for social innovation. We are also grateful for the trainings that were facilitated by the organization as part of the Meshwary program.”
Ghadeer is excited about COP27 being held in Egypt and the MENA region for the first time: “I believe this will drive people and entities’ attention here to climate issues that the whole world faces, so we can develop more ideas and projects in this direction.”