CAIRO - 1 September 2017: Inspired by the loving memory of the beautiful 19-year-old university student Nada who was killed in a tragic car accident, the Nada Foundation for Safer Egyptian Roads was founded in 2014 to put an end to traffic accidents in Egypt.
Since then, the foundation has become one of the most active on-the-ground initiatives and advocacy groups aiming to raise awareness of road safety and to bring it higher up on the agenda of different stakeholders.
Today, the campaign also collaborates with other initiatives and private sector companies concerned with road safety such as the Rotary Club, the Global Biking Initiative (GBI), the Automobile and Touring Club of Egypt (Nady El Sayarat), Cairo Scooters, Vodafone, Pepsico, the import and export company Samex, Uber and Axa insurance company.
Launched at the end of July, “Sayef Safely” (Spend the Summer Safely) is the foundation’s most recent campaign, organized in collaboration with Uber and Axa, to raise awareness of road safety. The campaign is mostly active in the North Coast, aiming to minimize the chances of collisions and to educate the public about the best ways to respond to accidents.
With the ongoing mission of empowering citizens, the foundation also launched a joint campaign with Vodafone, adopting the slogan, “Your safety is your responsibility…Speak up.” The initiative aims to make hazards to road safety a stigma, encouraging members of the public to speak up and object if they see a friend, professional driver or even their parents committing any act of distracted driving.
“Changing human behavior is a long-term mechanism; however, one of the most effective behavior change approaches is creating stigma around a certain negative behavior and showing it as an incorrect and unacceptable social norm,” says Nehad Shelbaya, co-founder of the Nada Foundation.
Apart from the public campaigns, the Nada Foundation has also adopted a major advocacy role, calling for roundtable discussions with stakeholders, meeting with policy makers and bringing back expertise from international conferences. They also urge government officials to recognize their role in the process which, Shelbaya says, is not to merely raise awareness or organize campaigns but rather to take action.
The most recent roundtable discussion tackled the new technologies and communication systems being rolled out on the road, such as fully automotive vehicles and smart buses. It brought together experts and government officials from different sectors to discuss a number of relevant issues, such as which of these technologies will be beneficial in terms of safety, whether the roads are being prepared to accommodate them and the government’s role in prohibiting technologies that do not meet safety requirements.
Doing it differently at grassroots level
Nada’s friends and family launched the initiative in 2014, less than a year after she had passed away, turning a sad loss into an incentive for a good cause. “We took a hard decision to deal with it from a positive side, to keep her smiling and keep her as happy as she had always been,” says Sara Amr Ezzat, Nada’s childhood friend and one of the first volunteers in the foundation.
First launched as a Facebook initiative in 2013, the Nada campaign has since grown into a fully established foundation that represents Egypt in international road safety conferences, talks to all stakeholders across different platforms and brings in authorities for constructive discussions.
“We started by shedding light on the issue and showing that behind the numbers there is a face and a family that has completely changed. We began to highlight to the citizens, the public and the government that the situation is dreadful, and to attract attention to a catastrophe that needs to be dealt with,” says Shelbaya.
Adopting an entirely scientific approach that relies on the expertise of public health doctors and road safety engineers, and seeking innovative community-based intervention tailored accurately for every stakeholder, the foundation has already managed to generate a vibrant buzz.
Although experts sit at the round table and talk policies and recommendations, it is the youth who make up an essential component in the foundation’s activities, working on the ground and conveying their perspective for influential slogans and approaches. They also act as the foundation’s ambassadors in the street and at different universities, such as Cairo University, the American University in Cairo (AUC), The British University in Egypt (BUE), Assiut University and Fayoum University.
“The youths are the ones we lose the most in road crashes […] They are the ones who need to be rescued the most,” Shelbaya says. “Therefore, when they are with us, they can change themselves and be catalysts of change.”
The Nada campaign took the streets for the first time in March 2015, where volunteers went out, simulating car accidents while running in the streets. Evolving from a virtual initiative to an active on the ground contributor, the foundation organized a fun run in Zamalek in collaboration with the Cairo Runners. Relatable, well-studied slogans like “Hayatak aham mn messegatak” (Your life is more important than your messages) and “La tatasel hata tasel,” (Do not call till you arrive) hit a chord on the street and had a long-lasting impact.
Recently, the Nada Foundation collaborated with the BUE, organizing an event in the memory of BUE students who lost their lives in car accidents. During the event, rap singer Zap Tharwat told the students a story of a personal motorcycle accident. He ended up taking an oath to do things right while driving, and the attendees repeated after him.
The foundation also encourages young members to deliver speeches at university panels, to escape “the atmosphere of a lecture or a class,” Ezzat says, pointing out that the volunteers are trained and accustomed to talking to people and making them understand the cause, especially “stubborn young drivers.” “We tell them we are just like you. At the beginning, we did not care about anything. We were living our lives, until this moment transformed everything 180 degrees,” Ezzat says, referring to the tragedy of Nada’s accident. “We tell them you do not have to wait until you feel the pain and then try to change.”
One of the major contributions of the foundation is also reaching out to survivors of car accidents and victims’ families, offering them support and seeking their input in achieving the foundation’s outmost goals. “The most memorable moment for the whole team was a speech by the father of a victim who passed away in a terrible accident; we were astonished by his emotional stability,” says Ezzat, recalling an event the foundation organized to commemorate the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. “He admitted it was his mistake that he gave his son the car although he had not practiced very well, and he advised everyone at the event against it.”
On the ground
Although the Nada campaign has already succeeded in moving the needle in terms of awareness and advocacy for the road safety crisis, the foundation is aiming at a higher goal. “Up till today, with all of the daily deaths we see, the issue is still not a priority on the agenda; and there is no political will to make it a priority,” Shelbaya says. “We call for a political will to make it a national issue, and for the foundation of an independent council for road safety, equipped with resources and authority.”
One of the tasks the council would be charged with would be identifying who is allowed to have a driver’s permit, whether they were properly tested and can actually drive, as well as the conditions of the car they will take on the road and whether it meets the basic standards of safety, explains Shelbaya. The committee would be also be in charge of the relevant infrastructure and the standards of the road, she adds calling for a “just” implementation of safety laws.
She adds that these elements could be the success formula for preventing road accidents, but that the lack of a system, implementation of the law and an accountable entity or official can be a formula for the death of many.
The recommended council should include representatives from all the stakeholders, such as the ministries of interior and health, the traffic unit, the ambulances system, the NGOs, the private sector and experts, Shelbaya says. “All of these have to research and assess the problem and come up with a solution and implement it […] They should become responsible and accountable.”