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The organization SEKEM (Ancient Egyptian: 'vitality from the sun') was founded in 1977 by the Egyptian pharmacologist and social entrepreneur Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish in order to bring about cultural renewal in Egypt on a sustainable basis. [1] [2] Located northeast of Cairo, the organization now includes: [3]

Egypt Country spanning North Africa and Southwest Asia

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country in the northeast corner of Africa, whose territory in the Sinai Peninsula extends beyond the continental boundary with Asia, as traditionally defined. Egypt is bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, Libya to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean lie Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, although none share a land border with Egypt.

Ibrahim Abouleish Egyptian chemist and medical researcher (1937–2017)

Ibrahim Abouleish is a philanthropist, drug designer and chemist. He began his chemistry and medicine studies at the age of 19 in Austria. He did his doctorate in 1969 in the field of pharmacology and then worked in leading positions within pharmaceutical research. During this time he was granted patents for a number of new medicines, especially for osteoporosis and arteriosclerosis.


Biodynamic agriculture method of organic farming

Biodynamic agriculture is a form of alternative agriculture very similar to organic farming, but it includes various esoteric concepts drawn from the ideas of Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925). Initially developed in 1924, it was the first of the organic agriculture movements. It treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care as ecologically interrelated tasks, emphasizing spiritual and mystical perspectives.

Organic cotton

Organic cotton is generally defined as cotton that is grown organically in subtropical countries such as India, Turkey, China, and parts of the USA from non-genetically modified plants, and without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides aside from the ones allowed by the certified organic labeling. Its production is supposed to promote and enhance biodiversity and biological cycles. In the United States, cotton plantations must also meet the requirements enforced by the National Organic Program (NOP) from the USDA in order to be considered organic. This institution determines the allowed practices for pest control, growing, fertilizing, and handling of organic crops.

Waldorf education educational philosophy

Waldorf education, also known as Steiner education, is based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy. Its pedagogy strives to develop pupils' intellectual, artistic, and practical skills in an integrated and holistic manner. The cultivation of pupils' imagination and creativity is a central focus.

SEKEM's goals are to "restore and maintain the vitality of the soil and food as well as the biodiversity of nature" through sustainable, organic agriculture and to support social and cultural development in Egypt. [1] Revenue from the trading companies grew from 37 million Egyptian pounds in 2000 to 100 million in 2003. By 2005, the organization had established a network of more than 2,000 farmers and numerous partner organizations in Egypt [4] and began increasingly to seek to extend its "experience and acquired knowledge" to other countries, including India, Palestine, Senegal, Turkey, and - in partnership with the Fountain Foundation - South Africa. [3]

India Country in South Asia

India, officially the Republic of India, is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by area, the second-most populous country, and the most populous democracy in the world. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal on the southeast, it shares land borders with Pakistan to the west; China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the north; and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. In the Indian Ocean, India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka and the Maldives; its Andaman and Nicobar Islands share a maritime border with Thailand and Indonesia.

State of Palestine De jure state in the Middle East

Palestine, officially the State of Palestine, is a de jure sovereign state in Western Asia claiming the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as the designated capital, although its administrative center is currently located in Ramallah. The entirety of territory claimed by the State of Palestine has been occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967. Palestine has a population of 4,816,503 as of 2016, ranked 123rd in the world.

Senegal republic in Western Africa

Senegal, officially the Republic of Senegal, is a country in West Africa. Senegal is bordered by Mauritania in the north, Mali to the east, Guinea to the southeast, and Guinea-Bissau to the southwest. Senegal also surrounds The Gambia, a country occupying a narrow sliver of land along the banks of the Gambia River, which separates Senegal's southern region of Casamance from the rest of the country. Senegal also shares a maritime border with Cape Verde. Senegal's economic and political capital is Dakar.


After a stay of 19 years in Austria, Dr. Abouleish returned to Egypt for a cultural trip in 1975. Touched by the deplorable economic and social situation of his country of origin, he decided to begin a project of cultural renewal on the basis of a synthesis of Islam and anthroposophy. Two years later he bought a plot of land in what was, at the time, desert bordering farmland of the Nile valley. The original goal was to develop the land and improve crop yields using biodynamic methods. A thick border of trees was planted to encircle the seventy hectares of land, and trees were planted along all the roads built; a forest was also planted on part of the land. (The initial planting included 120,000 casuarina, eucalyptus and Persian lilac seedlings.) The Bedouins who lived nearby, and sometimes on the land, were brought into the project, given work and helped with their living needs. Buildings were built using traditional adobe; some of these were designed by Hassan Fathy. The initial farm animals were Egyptian buffalo. The organization sold milk products produced from the buffalo milk and produce from the farm.

Islam is an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion teaching that there is only one God (Allah), and that Muhammad is a messenger of God. It is the world's second-largest religion with over 1.9 billion followers or 24.4% of the world's population, commonly known as Muslims. Muslims make up a majority of the population in 50 countries. Islam teaches that God is merciful, all-powerful, and unique, and has guided mankind through prophets, revealed scriptures and natural signs. The primary scriptures of Islam are the Quran, believed to be the verbatim word of God, and the teachings and normative examples of Muhammad.

Anthroposophy philosophy founded by Rudolf Steiner

Anthroposophy is a philosophy founded in the early 20th-century by esotericist Rudolf Steiner that postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world, accessible to human experience. Followers of anthroposophy aim to develop mental faculties of spiritual discovery through a mode of thought independent of sensory experience. They also aim to present their ideas in a manner verifiable by rational discourse and specifically seek a precision and clarity in studying the spiritual world mirroring that obtained by natural historians in investigations of the physical world.

Hassan Fathy Egyptian architect

Hassan Fathy was a noted Egyptian architect who pioneered appropriate technology for building in Egypt, especially by working to reestablish the use of adobe and traditional as opposed to western building designs and lay-outs. Fathy was recognized with the Aga Khan Chairman's Award for Architecture in 1980. In 2017, Google celebrated Fathy with a Google Doodle for "pioneering new methods [in architecture], respecting tradition [Egyptian heritage and tradition], and valuing all walks of life".

The first large economic venture of the community initiative was production of a medicinal compound, ammoidin, an extract of Ammi majus (laceflower). The manufacture of herbal teas and a company to market fresh biodynamic produce in Europe followed. The needs of these companies led to many farms throughout Egypt switching to biodynamic methods; the SEKEM organization began an active advisory service to aid these farms in the transition to and the maintenance of biodynamic standards. Sekem leased many of these lands.

<i>Ammi majus</i> species of plant

Ammi majus, commonly called bishop's weed, false bishop's weed, bullwort, greater ammi, lady's lace, false Queen Anne's lace, or laceflower, is a member of the carrot family Apiaceae. The plant, which has white lace-like flower clusters, is native to the Nile River Valley.

Community projects began early in the initiative's history: a medical clinic using anthroposophic medicine, and a Society for Cultural Development sponsoring lectures, concerts and other cultural activities.

Anthroposophic medicine

Anthroposophic medicine is a form of alternative medicine. Devised in the 1920s by Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) in conjunction with Ita Wegman (1876–1943), anthroposophical medicine is based on occult notions and draws on Steiner's spiritual philosophy, which he called anthroposophy. Practitioners employ a variety of treatment techniques based upon anthroposophic precepts, including massage, exercise, counselling, and substances.

In 1987, the center for adult education (Mahad) began its work; children with handicaps are also educated in this center. In 1988, SEKEM opened a kindergarten also open to the local Bedouin community; this grew into the SEKEM school, educating children from kindergarten through twelfth grade (about 18 years of age) on the basis of Waldorf education. "The school serves Muslim and Christian children alike encouraging them to live in harmony and have respect for the other's religious practices." The school also operates a literacy center for illiterate children between ten and fourteen years of age.

In response to the use of child labor in Egypt, SEKEM founded the project Chamomile Children, which offers children between ten and fourteen an education, vocational training, meals, and medical care in conjunction with their work; the children's teachers look after the children the whole day. There is also a cooperative for employees to organize the social processes (the Cooperative of SEKEM Employees), an independent organization with members from all the businesses and cultural institutions associated with SEKEM.

In 1990, SEKEM founded the Centre of Organic Agriculture in Egypt (COAE), an independent organization that inspects organic farms in Egypt, Iran and Sudan.

Faced with pesticide residues in their products that came from aerial spraying on nearby farms, SEKEM took up an initiative to eliminate such spraying in Egypt. As cotton production depended upon the sprays, SEKEM explored organic cotton production on initially small fields. The experiments were successful and yields actually were better than non-organic production achieved. The Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture sponsored further and more extensive tests. Within three years, the ministry agreed that organic pest suppression was superior for cotton farming and began converting the entire area of Egyptian cotton, 4,000 square kilometres, to organic methods for controlling pests; the conversion took two years. The conversion resulted in a reduction in the use of synthetic pesticides in Egypt by over 90% and an increase in the average yield of raw cotton of almost 30%. [1] SEKEM then created a company to process organic cotton using mechanical rather than chemical methods, NatureTex.

In response to increasing publicity about the novel methods employed by the community in many realms, the association of Muslim sheiks in Egypt gave the community a plaque verifying that SEKEM is an Islamic initiative. This was the result of intensive meetings between SEKEM and Muslim religious leaders.

SEKEM's next initiative was the first private pharmaceutical company in Egypt, specializing in medicinal teas. The medical center had now grown to the point where it needed its own building; concurrently it considerably expanded its outreach into the Bedouin community, helping establish sanitary facilities and clean water supplies.

In 1997, SEKEM established a vocational training center offering trainings in metalwork, carpentry, mechanical work, electrical work, tailoring, biodynamic farming and trading. The vocational center also includes an art school. The German Society for Technical Cooperation helped establish this project. In 1999 the SEKEM Academy (now Sekem University) opened. Originally a center for agricultural, pharmaceutical and medical research, the University now also conducts studies and offers training in other areas.

In 2001, a holding company was established to administer the finances of all the SEKEM companies and to oversee developmental projects. The holding company includes a department to help each individual company with its developmental process, and is also responsible for the education and training programs for employees. [5]

Social connections

All SEKEM companies have a policy of ensuring transparency in the production, distribution and consumption of their goods. They work to ensure fair and secure prices for the farmers supplying them, basing their operations on the principle that the health of the economy depends upon producers, distributors and consumers cooperating to generate stable businesses. [1] SEKEM hosts a monthly gathering of all farmers working together with it; about 200 farmers attended these sessions as of 2004. It has created the following NGOs: [1]

SEKEM and Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish received the Right Livelihood Award in 2003 for integrating the commercial success with promotion of the social and cultural development of society. [7] The organization has been cited as a successful example of social entrepreneurship that has had a significant impact on Egyptian society both through its influence on the country's agricultural practices and through its educational and cultural institutions. [8] [9] Furthermore, Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish and his Son Helmy were named Social Entrepreneurs of the year 2003 by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, and Well known business schools like IESE and CIDA City Campus use various case studies (e.g. Harvard Business Press [10] [11] to illustrate this novel approach to sustainable social entrepreneurship. Recent visitors included the first lady of Egypt, Suzanne Mubarak, a group from the Fulbright Commission in Egypt, [12] the former Federal Minister of the Interior of Germany, Otto Schily and the founder of the Witten/Herdecke University Dr. Konrad Schily (a former member of the German Bundestag).


Yearly seminars to reflect on the aims and goals of SEKEM have evolved the following motto:

We aim towards living together according to social forms which reflect human dignity and further development, striving towards higher ideals. Our main goal is a developmental impulse for people, society and the earth. SEKEM wants to contribute to the comprehensive development of people, society and the earth, inspired by higher ideals. The cooperation of economic, social and cultural activities is stimulated by science, art and religion.
SEKEM has set itself the following goals for the economic sphere:
  • Healing the earth through biodynamic farming
  • Development and production of herbal remedies and any kind of product or service which relates to real consumer requirements and has standards of the highest quality.
  • Marketing in associative cooperation between farmers, producers, traders and consumers.
We aim to advance the individual development of the person through the cultural institutions. Education towards freedom is the goal of Sekem's educational institutions for children, adolescents and adults. Health care and therapies using natural healing remedies are provided by SEKEM. The SEKEM Academy for Applied Arts and Sciences researches and teaches solutions to pertinent questions from all areas of life.
Socially, SEKEM furthers a community of people from all over the world who recognize the dignity of the individual, enabling both learning to work and working to learn, and providing equal rights to all. [5]

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 CSR Europe Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
  2. "Abouleish's objective was to heal Egyptian society from the wounds of the past and to initiate holistic development able to create economic, social and cultural value in a sustainable manner." Seelos, Christian and Mair, Johanna, "The Sekem Initiative", IESE Business School case study
  3. 1 2 3 Right Livelihood Award Archived 2007-02-06 at the Wayback Machine
  4. Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair, Hope for Sustainable Development Archived 2007-03-01 at the Wayback Machine , pp.2-3
  5. 1 2 Abouleish, Ibrahim, SEKEM: A Sustainable Community in the Egyptian Desert, ISBN   0-86315-532-4
  6. 1 2 3 UN Global Compact report
  7. Right Livelihood organization Archived 2006-07-15 at the Wayback Machine
  8. Mair and Marti, "Social entrepreneurship research: A source of explanation, prediction, and delight", Journal of World Business 41 (2006) p. 38
  9. World Future Council Archived 2007-06-30 at the Wayback Machine
  10. Case Study published by Harvard Business School Publishing
  11. The Power of Unreasonable People (Harvard Business School Press, 2008)
  12. Fulbright Commission in Egypt Archived 2008-12-22 at the Wayback Machine

Books and articles about SEKEM

Coordinates: 30°25′10.9″N31°38′03.2″E / 30.419694°N 31.634222°E / 30.419694; 31.634222