With our resources running low, our climate changing rapidly and the cost of energy on the rise, green technology is starting to make more sense as a viable alternative to traditional consumption.
Hoping to consolidate that concept in Egypt is icecairo; a global project under the name ice (short for innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship) that creates and strengthens networks of innovators and entrepreneurs interested in green technology and environmental sustainability. Unlike many international initiatives that briefly stop by developing countries to lend money or foreign assistance, icecairo wants the change to come from within the community so that it can eventually stand on its own two feet when it comes to sustainability and technology.
Adam Molyneux-Berry, an Egyptian-British cofounder of Nawaya, a social enterprise for agricultural sustainability, and Jay Cousins, a community catalyst and globetrotter from England who found himself in Egypt six months ago, joined the icecairo team as firm believers in sustainable energy and community development.
“It’s about creating a shared environment where people can share their skills and their knowledge, experiment with new technologies,” says Cousins. “Where communities can come together in a space […] look at what solutions [already] exist to problems and experiment with how these problems can be solved so together they can grow stronger.”
The concept of ice started a couple of years ago in Ethiopia with the launch of iceaddis in the city of Addis Ababa. The program is sponsored by GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), a German development corporation, although the team hopes that it will become fully local in the near future.
“The ultimate thing for us are products that address a need in the community, made by the community and bring income into the community,” says Molyneux-Berry. “It’s empowering the young, pushing the industry, getting people talking and creating a market for green tech.”
As for their method, icecairo is very strict in what it provides for the local community. Rather than throwing money blindly at an idea, it would rather see it develop before its eyes.
“We’re quite specific in our mandate,” says Molyneux-Berry. “We create events, networks, strengthen networks, get people talking about green tech. We have fab labs which help take your idea and turn it into a product.”
Aside from hosting events where people of similar interests can meet up and collaborate on ideas, icecairo also provides technical support in the form of a “fab lab” — a space that provides tools and resources that enable people to physically produce their ideas.
Icecairo’s fab lab is located in Heliopolis, and it is currently in the process of creating another space in Fagnoon.
“These are tools that allow you to do everything from programming your own micro-computer, printing your own circuit board. You can make components of electronic devices, you can make machines that produce other machines,” says Cousins.
“On the one hand, we have very high-tech capabilities, and on the other we have low-tech and accessible ones. The combination of these things allows us to build infrastructure or for the community to build its own infrastructure,” he adds.
In Egypt, the team has found an abundance of ideas to help develop. “There are billions of ideas and hundreds of people doing them,” says Molyneux-Berry. “But, they’re not working together.”
Which is where icecairo comes in, to help create a strong community that works together for more improved and efficient results.
One of the icecairo network members with an idea is Mohammed El Raffie, founder of CORD, a science communications project established in 2007 and incubated by NGO Nahdet El Mahrousa.
CORD started out as a student project in Ain Shams University to organize robot contests on engineering school campuses but later expanded into a social business.
“The idea behind it [was formulated when] engineering students couldn’t find any cheap, beneficial way to experience what they learn,” says El Raffie. “Science was not being communicated in an entertaining or illustrative way to the public, so scientific research was not being supported by the public.”
After joining icecairo, El Raffie has been able to bring contestants from CORD to witness the innovation and production process of socially conscious ideas. They will start providing workshops on how to build robots from UpCycled material, which is made from waste material or products.
“I basically recommend collaboration,” says El Raffie. “We are tackling a very rough problem that has been there for the longest time, and we need time and persistence.
Eventually we will get there; collaboration will cut the time needed in half.”
Cousins and Molyneux-Berry share the same sentiment and strongly believe that civil society and grassroots initiatives are the answer to society’s most pressing needs.
“There’s an increased global awareness among the younger generation, a strong desire to do things which are meaningful and conduct your life in a way that makes sense,” says Cousins. “So there is a very strong, more socially oriented transition, and a lot of NGOs have sprung up post revolution. People felt that they could take responsibility.”
At the same time, they believe that there is a shift in government policy toward the environment.
“The priorities in the government now are all environment-related priorities, transport, energy, water and food,” says Cousins. “Fuel is so subsidized now in a way that could potentially bankrupt Egypt in a few years time. That’s a major political concern as well.”
Hayssam Samir/Egypt Today
With going green at the top of the list of priorities, there’s also a realization that the old system was not effective in solving issues related to the environment.
“Speaking strictly about the environment, what I understand is that the way the Ministry of Environment is functioning right now is there are a lot more academics and a lot less military generals, and that’s already having an impact,” says Molyneux-Berry.
According to Molyneux-Berry, the current government is a lot more open to leaving rural problems to be solved by NGOs and civil society.
“In a country that is 96% desert and has nothing but sunlight, the fact that we are still using fossil fuels and thinking about implementing nuclear reactors — it’s beyond comprehension,” he says. “And so it’s really up to civil society and people in the private sector to come up with solutions.”
Yet Cousins believes the government still has an important role. “Where the government is important and where it does come into play is leveling the playing field,” he says. “At the moment, fuel subsidies are making it a lot more difficult to introduce energy solutions to the market. If green energy was subsidized in the same way, that would create an even playing field. If we can balance this so green tech has a fair chance to prove itself in the marketplace without giving advantage to something that is not sustainable.”
Whatever responsibility the civil society decides to take on, icecairo will be there to support its members along the way.
“We’re one of the newer networks, [launched] at the beginning of this year so it’s still starting,” says Molyneux-Berry. “What icecairo will be has not been decided yet because it’s a community project, and ultimately it’s what the community shapes it to be.”
The two members of icecairo each still have their own vision of how they see icecairo in the future.
“I’d like to see a network of hubs serve as a focal point. Each one is a place that you can go to, see what works, solutions to your problems, see it working, learn, so the community can address its problems on a personal level and an entrepreneurial level,” says Cousins.
Molyneux-Berry envisions a wider prospect. “I would love to see a whole bunch of innovation hubs, creating tons of jobs and a realistically green Egypt, not a utopia where everyone is using solar power but where houses are built using cheaper material, creating more jobs,” he says. “An Egypt that’s nicer to live in, that’s less polluted. An Egypt that can see that it can be green.” et