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Nr. 121 - October 2012


SEKEM‘s Journal for Culture, Economy, Society and Ecology in Egypt

Editorial Dear Readers, on 23 September 2012 the Heliopolis University opened its doors to its first cohort of students after about 10 years of planning. We thought, that‘s reason enough to devote a whole issue to the new facility of SEKEM.

Heliopolis Uni


Waldorf Education

Institution Welcomes First Students

Lebensbaum Aims to Save German Bogs

New Short Film on Education

Opening of Heliopolis University Concludes 10-year Development Phase On 23. September the Heliopolis University officially opened its doors to its first student cohort. During the opening week, they first got to visit the SEKEM Farm and learn more about its vision for sustainable development.

In this month’s lead article, we accompany the new students throughout their orientation week, an introductory offer provided by the institution to familiarise the students with their new learning environment and the SEKEM initiative. After our report on the innovative new Core Programme (see last issue of SEKEM Insight) the new article continues our series on SEKEM’s latest institution. The opening week also gave the students the first opportunity to get to know their future instructors. Many were impressed by the beauty of the farm’s flora and fauna and the spectrum of commitment of the initiative to development in Egypt. In the country SEKEM is primarily known as a producer of organic foodstuffs and less as a cultural initiative. That will certainly change in the coming years if the new education programme succeeds in attracting more and more public interest.

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During the introductory opening week the first students were given the possibility of a comprehensive visit to the SEKEM Farm. 50-100 students are expected during the first year.


t is an honour and a pleasure to attend the opening of a new university - and even more so that of such a special institution as SEKEM’s latest project. The young students attending the first courses now being offered at the Heliopolis University must have felt that way these last days during the inaugural ceremonies of their orientation week. Many of their comments show just that. For it is not just any university they have just begun attending,

but a unique institution, founded and realised in an integrated way directly building on the vision of truly ​​ comprehensive sustainable development. The Heliopolis University has now been constituted as a non-profit institution and fully independent organization. On 23 September the first group of students began their regular study programmes. In the coming weeks, another 50-100 newcomers are SEKEM Insight | October 2012 | Page 1


expected to join them. They begin their studies at the first three faculties of pharmacy, engineering and business administration. Within these, further concentration on subjects such as marketing, accounting, economics and environmental studies, renewable energy or water management is available to them. During their first week of study, the young men and women aged 19 to 21 enjoyed several days of orientation not only to the university’s premises but also to their teaching staff and the SEKEM Initiative itself. Here they learned everything they need to know about the initiative, its beginnings and its history, the global challenges that its aims to help solve, and the importance of sustainable development for the development of Egypt and mankind in general. Poor Reputation of Private Education in Egypt The university had cleared the last administrative hurdles only on 1 August. After that, everything went very quickly. But it had taken nearly 10 years of planning to get there. At the beginning of the last decade the idea had arisen within SEKEM to round off the existing educational institutions by an institution dedicated to higher education with a view to educating specialists of the future versed in comprehensive sustainable development practice. Klaus Merckens, who with his family had shaped the social work of SEKEM for a long time as CEO of the SEKEM

Foundation for Cultural Development, took to developing a concept. In 2003, with the assistance of professionals from Europe and Egypt, a „university team“ was formed for the first time, which set itself the goal of producing an initial set of documents for formal approval by Egyptian authorities. These not only had to include an educational concept, but also elaborated curricula, a financing plan, and information on the institution’s infrastructural dimensions. Even though the plans underwent many changes in the following years, at that time, the university buildings were in fact planned to be erected in the exact same place where they were eventually built. A first attempt to obtain approval was made in 2004 but followed by years of struggling with bureaucratic red tape. In the preceding years, a boom in private university education had spread in Egypt and formed a landscape of highly commercialized education that was characterized by low quality and high tuition fees. Cairo had enough educational institutions of this kind, it was felt, and approval was initially refused to SEKEM despite the favourable interest the innovative concept met with. Partnerships Helped Lay Foundations In parallel, the awarding to SEKEM of the Schwab Foundation Award for Outstanding Entrepreneurship and the Alternative Nobel Prize in 2003 had led to a significant expansion of international renown of the initiative. This development stimulated

representatives of the global education sector to take greater interest in SEKEM’s ideals and the concept of a „Euro-Mediterranean“ educational institution on a non-profit basis. In the following years a close friendship with the University of WittenHerdecke resulted in a substantial internal development process, a lively exchange of practical knowledge, discussions with several other universities and a first exchange of know-how and „best practice“. Leading European business schools quickly became partners of the newly proposed facility. Among others, the Alanus University Alfter (Germany) and other prestigious institutions from the USA to Australia rapidly joined. Out of these emerged some long-lasting friendships. First talks were also held with international funding agencies such as the World Bank. From 2004 to 2007 the European Commission supported several projects dedicated at developing the content for multiple study programmes. Humanistic Educational Concept At the core of these is the fundamental studies programme or „Core Programme“ that represents an offer independent of any of the specialised courses of study but mandatory for all students (see SEKEM Insight 09.12). The programme is based on a holistic concept of education, which actively addresses the advancement of the students’ personalities and encourages them to improve their more general skills through courses on social issues and aspects of environmental

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protection, the arts and culture, science, and entrepreneurship. During the orientation week, the students were given a taste of this integral element of their study programmes and other educational components through a presentation by Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish. He explained to them the global challenges of future generations and the responsibility of our deeds in safeguarding mankind’s natural resources and advancing its understanding of global interconnections. His speech offered the students a unique opportunity to benefit from his knowledge and tremendous experience. Integration into Life at SEKEM The combination of humanistic education with an instructional focus on the advancement of practical skills and a knowledge that focuses on concrete developmental challenges underlies

these elements of SEKEM’s concept of learning that does not solely concentrate on what seems to be primarily aesthetic education. The core of its concept of teaching and learning rests on a comprehensive understanding of sustainability that shall pervade all scientific and instructional practice at the institution: where a humanistic education focuses on the wholesome development of the individual’s personality, course content is based on regional development issues, and internships in SEKEM are provided by its commercial and other facilities to support a practice-oriented learning environment. The university will also make full use of interactive learning methods - another first in tertiary education in Egypt. During the opening week the students also had time to explore SEKEM and better understand the significance of its work and thus the intertwinedness of modern lifestyles with our impact on the natural environment.

Many were not aware of the exceptional range of activities of SEKEM in Egypt and globally. Studying in the Park Back on campus, their future teachers gave the students a taste of the first half of their upcoming studies, specifically the artistic offerings. They include eurythmy, visual arts, music and theatre, drama and speech. Everyone could immediately try out some of them giving them a great opportunity to explore physical skills and get to know their classmates. During the breaks, the students were able to enjoy the green park surrounding many university buildings. They already house a new art pavilion, several workshops, and the faculties of engineering and pharmacy, all equipped with modern laboratories and tools. At the end of their orientation week and after spending most of the time in mixed groups, the moment came to move into the new premises and meet the remaining teaching staff. As the institution aims to actively promote the involvement of students, the week also saw the first practical challenge for them: they had the chance to participate in the preparation of its official code of ethics and enthusiastically jumped at it. Another principle that points to the future. Bijan Kafi, Mette Solnordal

The Core Programme allows further specialization within numerous priority areas.


More information:

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Impressions from SEKEM


his summer SEKEM received a visit by a very special group of friends: a Japanese women’s choir, consisting mostly of the Cairo-based wives of Egyptians. They had visited SEKEM to perform a half-hour guest concert in the park in front of the SEKEM headquarters on the outskirts of Cairo on a beautiful Sunday morning. They had come with a beautiful programme composed of Japanese, English and Arabic songs, which they skilfully performed to the cheers of the SEKEM staff and their friends. The relationship of SEKEM to the choir of Japanese women was established by one of their singers who used to rehearse with SEKEM employees at a Cairo-based amateur choir. Angela Hofmann (on right), who is responsible for biodynamic agriculture at SEKEM, was in charge of assisting the group. What an example of a successful cultural exchange!

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News in Brief

GLS Bank Makes Investment Into Electric Mobility

Lebensbaum Foundation Supports German Moors

New Short Film on Education at Waldorf Schools

GLS Bank’s staff was recently handed the keys to six electric cars. The cars are part of a research project of the Ruhr University Bochum (RUB), in which the GLS Bank participates as project partner.

More than 60 land owners in an extensive fenland close to the German city of Diepholz have in recent weeks been named “heroes of the moor”, the Ulrich Walter GmbH, which has its headquarters also in Diepholz, recently announced. The company and customer of SEKEM, had encouraged the small-holding land owners to donate their land, which covers a total surface area of ​​about 50 acres, to the Lebensbaum Foundation, and to thereby pave the way for a less bureaucratic and more effective protection of the third-largest peat bog in northern Germany.

The global Federation of Waldorf Schools recently released its second short film entitled “Ecological Education at Waldorf Schools.” By doing so the federation, which represents all Waldorf- and Rudolf-SteinerSchools worldwide, does the next step towards greater involvement of modern, video-based communication tools in its public relations efforts. About a half year ago, the association had published its first production on the profession of the “Waldorf teacher” opened an entirely new chapter in the way it relates to the general public.

„Electric mobility is an appropriate and important step if tight networking with renewable energy sources and public transport, local and long distance car sharing can be implemented. That is exactly what we aim to do in this project”, says CEO Thomas Jorberg. „These six electric vehicles are the most visible sign of our commitment to new mobility concepts that is why we opted to participate in a scientific project,“ said Jorberg. The electric vehicles were purchased by the Bank and have now been made available to GLS Bank employees for regional business-related trips. Plus, they can also be hired privately through an internal car-sharing model. The aim is to produce as much data relevant to the research project as possible. The cars can be booked during non-office hours, over the weekend or according to a weekly or monthly rate.

Lebensbaum wished to celebrate the results of its initiative and therefore invited the former landlords and presented the “heroes of the moor” to Diepholz to thank them for their generous donations. Around 30 of them and their families came and celebrated with coffee, cakes, and sausages produced through carbon neutral methods of production. „You are all part of this unique action enabling regional climate protection and environmental conservation,“ said Ulrich Walter, founder of the company, in his address.

Through the project Prof. Constantinos Sourkounis and his team of researchers from the RUB examine if and how electric cars are already practical enough for everyday use, if range restrictions are a limiting factor, and what measures can be implemented to improve their value for business clients.

The draining of the marshes and the ensuing reduction of the formerly extensive Northern German fenland have had a profound impact on the landscape. The restoration of this natural heritage marked by rugged beauty is urgently needed to safeguard the habitats of the local flora and fauna. A targeted rewetting of the area shall furthermore stop the release of climate-damaging carbon dioxide that takes place wherever moors fall dry. For the lowland bog in Diepholz experts have calculated a release of 900.000t of carbon dioxide per year into the environment.

Source: GLS Bank

Source: Ulrich Walter GmbH

The six cars have their dedicated parking spaces on the bank’s premises that have been equipped with a charging station. The bank also plans to unveil a public charging station available to customers and visitors in 2013.


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The new film can be viewed on the Internet on the video site YouTube: Other movies by the federation on the profession of the “Waldorf teacher” and on various educational topics (e.g. eurythmy instruction) are also available here. Source: Association of Waldorf Schools


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Masthead: The editors of SEKEM Insight wish to thank all contributors to this issue. Editor: Bijan Kafi Contact: SEKEM-Insight c/o SEKEM Holding P.O.Box 2834, El Horreya, Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt Pictures: Pages 1,2,3,4: SEKEM No republication without written consent by the publisher.

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SEKEM Insight 10.12 EN  

SEKEM's monthly journal on economy, society, culture, and ecology in Egypt.