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Nr. 88 - December 2009


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

Editorial Dear Readers, Copenhagen is history. Not so our daily struggle against climate change, a fact that was sometimes easy to overlook in the heated and near-permanent reporting from Denmark. Already during the weeks before the event one could have the impression that the fate of the entire world hinges on the successful conclusion of the Copenhagen event.

Climate Change



Helmy Abouleish in Copenhagen

Triodos Bank Opens German Branch

SEKEM Project Receives Prize

Helmy Abouleish in Copenhagen: More Attention to Agriculture

Copenhagen certainly was an event of global importance. The fact that many delegates could not stop proclaiming the failure of the conference long before it had begun may often have been smart political tactics. It also documents the inability of many to look at what is necessary in pragmatic ways and act accordingly. As important as Copenhagen was: the daily struggle to stem CO2 emissions that takes place in front of supermarket shelves is at least equally relevant. Through our purchasing decisions we influence the attitudes of multinational enterprises towards environmental protection. We should therefore heed Helmy Abouleish’s advice: „Copenhagen is only one stop along the road to limiting climate change. It has to be travelled by consumers and companies alike.“

Your Team of Editors

Agriculture and particularly meat production is producing excessive CO2

From 7 until 13 December Helmy Abouleish, CEO of the SEKEM Group, was part of the official Egyptian delegation at the conference on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the event he specifically aimed his involvement at the support to agriculture in the framework of a new global agreement that includes both the emissions of and the potentially negative risks for agriculture. The role of agriculture in fighting climate change was discussed in Copenhagen both in the framework of the follow-up Kyoto protocol and by those negotiators who had not signed the first document. Even though agriculture has been on the agenda in 1997 in Kyoto there are still practically no mechanism aimed at financially supporting the conversion to low-emission cultivation methods. However, the development of a comprehensive and at the same time simple incentive mechanism, says Helmy Abouleish, could on the grounds of the framework agreement of the Kyoto Protocol itself lead to quick successes.

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Exceeding the deliberations on the Kyoto-Plus-Protocol the delegates were also discussing so-called „sectoral approaches“ that emphasize the systemic importance of agriculture. Moreover it would be possible to add agriculture to the sector of “forest management”. However, both approaches would take time and additional research and development efforts that are not yet adequate. Had Helmy Abouleish initially taken a positive position towards the upcoming deliberations on agriculture in Copenhagen before he left Egypt then he now draws a more sceptic conclusion. Still he noticed a more substantial interest in its role in combatting global warming. The importance of integrating indigenous populations in the dialogue as well as the stronger emphasis put on so far less attractive aspects such as the preservation of biodiversity however still have to receive more attention says Abouleish. One reason for the many differences among negotiators is to be found in the drastically different economical and political dependencies from agriculture and its related industries. While many countries of the South Americas focus on forestry others emphasize the protection and improvement of soils. „However, the discussants have to shoulder the responsibility together in the field of agriculture. Tree cutting has to stop immediately and stopping it has to be financially rewarded. At the same time we need to have a clear future timeline” Abouleish remarks. Moreover all partners have to ensure that aside from the emissions the social and ecological aspects are not neglected lest systems are strengthened that could again pose a threat to other sectors. Helmy Abouleish thus calls on all “organic sectors” : „There is a real threat of conven-

After Copenhagen, the real work to create a true common basis for the commitments of the individual countries to reduce their CO2-equivalent emissions and further actions has only just begun - also for the group of SEKEM companies. The tables that should have contained the concrete emission targets of the individual countries are still empty in the final document of the Copenhagen Declaration. All of them now have until the end of January 2010 to individually name such figures. Plus, no financial commitments have been reached either. Also for the SEKEM Group Helmy Abouleish guarantees that the next goal after Copenhagen will be to work with the existing network of global partners to positively influence the impact the SEKEM and all its affiliates, friends, and partners can have. Martin Haagen, Bijan Kafi


More on the topic at:

GLS-SEKEM-Fund: Information Event for Fonds Subscribers On 14 December the German GLS-Bank invited the subscribers of their SEKEM-fund into their offices in Stuttgart. About 30 of the almost 270 subscribers to the fund that have allowed the GLS-SEKEM-Fund to reach its planned size of 5 million Euro by purchasing shares of 5.000 up to 500.000 Euro came to the event. Matthias Eisenhut of the GLS-Investment-AG was pleased to be able to announce that in spite of the challenging year 2008 the estimated return on investment of 6% in 2008 could be almost reached. Subsequently Helmy Abouleish, CEO of the SEKEM Holding, familiarized the participants with the recent developments at the initiative including an overview of its history and the current societal and economic conditions in Egypt. He put special emphasis on the new SEKEM farms on the Sinai, in El-Minya (Middle Egypt) and in El-Wahat close to the Bahareya oasis to demonstrate to participants how SEKEM uses new funds to invest in the extension of the bio-dynamic agriculture in Egypt and an advancement of overall sustainable development in the country.

Source: Wiki Bildungsserver

tional agricultural industries ‘hijacking’ the current development and, for instance, create huge mono-cultures that could again be harmful to the environment. The challenge of avoiding such a development through a comprehensive approach can only be tackled by enterprises, associations, and research institutions together.“

The event was accompanied by music performed by a classic duet and additional informational activities by the German support association. All guests were also able to purchase a selection of SEKEM products. A typical Arabic lunch concluded the event. Christoph Kampschulte

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Seven Steps Towards Cleaner Production at Naturetex Clothing made from organic cotton is easy to find practically anywhere. Many customers rightfully ask if all bargains offer the same quality - and how much they have to do with bio-dynamic cotton from SEKEM.

The term „organic“ is not protected for clothes or other textiles in Europe. Hence it is usually required to look for other indicators to make sure one is purchasing a quality product. Many private labels vouch for the use of, for instance, organic cotton or other advanced standards in the production of such textiles. SEKEM’s textiles are produced in accordance with the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and are certified by the fairtrade-criteria of the FLO (Fairtrade Labelling Organization). The comprehensive requirements are being verified by an independent control body. However, SEKEM even exceeds the requirements in many ways. Aside from the guarantee to confirm to the minimum requirements of global standards the values of the SEKEM initiative are also reflected in its production methods. Cultivation Starting point for all SEKEM textiles is Egyptian cotton. It is being cultivated by demeter-farmers in the Nile delta and in the Fayoum oasis and is renowned worldwide for its specific quality. Some Egyptian cotton varie-

ties boast especially long and tough fibres which allows the spinning of particularly thin yarns. The cotton fibres ripen inside capsules that are carefully picked by hand each autumn. The farmers also plant plenty of other crops such as onions, clover, herbs, or rice which are then purchased by the other firms of the SEKEM group. This allows for regular crop rotation on the fields and the long-term advancement of soil quality. Ginning and Spinning The cotton fibres are separated from the seeds in local factories. A little less than two thirds of its weight is made up by black seeds that are partially conserved for the next season and partially pressed to gain cotton oil. The cotton fibre is now spun into yarns in dedicated factories. It is an important task to ensure that the cotton from organic farms is not mixed with cotton from conventional growers. It is at this stage already that Naturetex indicates which yarns are needed and in what quantities to produce its various products. Each lot is tested for quality in dedicated laboratories before it is further processed. The remains that are produced by combing the cotton are used by Naturetex as fillings for puppets or other children’s toys.

to make sure that no water is contaminated in the process. For instance it is required to size the yarn before weaving it in order to avoid it ripping apart inside the machine. This is achieved by using starch that is later washed out of the fabrics. The finished balls of fabric are then checked for knitting errors, holes, or foreign fibres metre by metre at Naturetex. To achieve a flawless result backlit examination rigs are used to ensure that no glitch is overlooked. Additional aspects of product quality are subsequently checked for at the laboratories again to make sure the fabrics are not too light or too heavy and do not excessively shrink during washing. Dyeing and Finishing Most textiles are coloured. Either the fabrics are themselves dyed or the yarns are before the knitting starts. In accordance with the GOTS regulations Naturetex only uses a strictly limited number of dyes and auxiliaries

Knitting and Weaving

An open cotton capsule on SEKEM‘s fields

The yarn can now be used in production and is knitted into products or weaved into fabrics. This is again done in specialised factories that possess the required oversized weaving and knitting machines for the various different sorts of fabrics. If any additives have to be used in the process they also have to be bio-degradeable

Harvesting cotton on SEKEM‘s fields

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that may not contain any harmful substances such as heavy metals or other toxic elements. All chemicals used may neither be harmful to the workers at the dying plant nor the users of the textiles or the groundwater. Precise regulations prescribe the requirements concerning the bio-degradeability of the individual substances

Fabrics are turned into garments at SEKEM‘s Naturetex plant

used. However, it is also important that the colours are preserved for a long time and do not dissolve either through washing or, for instance, the saliva of a child. They must also not be destroyed by direct sunlight. This is why synthetic colours still have to be used as natural colours cannot yet be used on an industrial scale or require such a high use of chemicals for fixation that the environment is actually polluted much more through their use than through modern artificial colours. Cutting, Sewing, Packing The fabrics are cut and processed into complete garments at the Naturetex plant on the SEKEM farm. The design and preparation department initially produces the templates and has negotiated the precise specifications with Naturetex’ customers. According to the templates the fabrics are now cut by placing several stacks of fabrics on

top of each other and cutting them all at the same time with a special pair of scissors not dissimilar to a saw. The individual parts are now recombined into T-Shirts, bodies or pyjamas. Each seamstress or sewer may only execute a single step of the workflow and then passes on the part to the next coworker. Many side steps are required to produce buttons, apply accessories, or attach size labels. Furthermore, each seam has to be checked as have to be the sizes of each of the garments. Eventually, all parts are ironed. A speciality of the production process at Naturetex is the exclusive use of natural materials in the manufacturing of accessories. Buttons are produced from parts of plants, ribbons and other applications from cotton even the sewing yarn is 100% cotton thus requiring co-workers with a special ability to use the material that is more fragile than a synthetic product. Subsequently all products are packaged according to the wishes of the individual customer and the motto: as little as possible, as much as necessary. All packaging also has to be fully bio-degradeable, too. Fair Trade and Development Fair trade is not a buzzword but a comprehensive concept of globally integrated economic activity forming the basis of all commercial activity at SEKEM. The cotton farmers receive a competitive price from SEKEM that does not only cover their production costs and thus ensures the survival of their families. It also allows them to invest into their long-term development. The network of cooperation among the demeter-farmers plays a vital role in this. As SEKEM does not only buy cotton but also creates markets for the other products forming a part of the annual crop rotation additional opportunities for income generation are created for the farmers that result in greater independence from the fluctuating world market prices. Naturetex as a firm in the organic textiles business and part of the SEKEM group through its profits also sup-

Quality control of the final fabric

ports the social and cultural institutions of the SEKEM initiative and thereby creates chances for education and development for the people in the vicinity of the SEKEM farm and in the surrounding villages. Such opportunities are also provided to the co-workers in the SEKEM firms in the form of, for instance, further education and courses in the arts during regular work hours. The SEKEM hospital also provides for comprehensive medical care. A fund ensures the financial security of pensioners and the „Cooperative of SEKEM Employees“ allows for coworkers to participate in the shaping of the social conditions of work, the social culture inside the firms and their departments, and the expression of their influence on the management. Use and Recycling The careful production methods at Naturetex lead to textiles and clothes that are a pleasure to wear, do not pose health risks, and have an impact on the environment that is as small as possible. Principally they could even be recycled through composting. Clothing made by Naturetex is more than the sum of its parts, the standards that guide manufacturing, and the steps that lead to its production. Aside from its function as clothing and fashionable expression of individuality their purchase in the US or Europe is also directly helping the people producing it and thus serves as a contribution to a more inclusive globalization. Christina Boecker

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Triodos Bank Opens German Branch: „Entrepreneurs are Part of Society“ On the occasion of the opening of the German branch of the Triodos Bank Bijan Kafi, editor at SEKEM Insight, spoke with chief operating officer of the Triodos Bank Peter Blom.

Dutch Triodos Bank N.V. on 2 December opened its German branch offices with the first Triodos-Bank-Dialogue event in Frankfurt am Main. After it had initially expanded from The Netherlands to Belgium, Great Britain, and Spain at the beginning of the 90s the pioneer in sustainable banking now aims to enter one of the most important European markets. Bijan Kafi spoke with CEO Peter Blom on the occasion of the opening festivities. Mr. Blom, sustainable economics generate a lot of controversy at the moment. On the one hand we seem not to have learned much from the financial crisis. On the other hand issues like the basic income are on many political agendas. Are we witnessing a true paradigm change towards an “enlightened capitalism”? We currently see two tendencies in society and economics: some people, entrepreneurs, and decision makers are waiting, hoping that everything will soon return to normal; others are working for a paradigm change because they feel that we simply cannot go on like this. Some

leaders have been charging ahead for years or even decades. The sustainable banks also show for the banking sector that a change of paradigms is possible, reasonable, and desirable. For the Triodos Bank the goal is clear: maximize sustainability, not profit. Many people in industrialised countries would like to invest in developing nations. You have created a green fund for SEKEM. How are these instruments received? Two years ago in The Netherlands we experienced a huge demand from potential investors - the fundraising even had to be cut short. Today we still feel the strong interest by investors in SEKEM - they understand that they are investing in their own future. What was your core interest when making the decision to invest in SEKEM beyond the entrepreneurial challenge? For us SEKEM is the perfect example of how to shape a leading enterprise in a sustainable and thus truly holistic manner. Next to financial rentability SEKEM also pays attention to environmental protection, individual advancement, and people’s culture. These are exactly the fields that are also relevant to the any engagement of the Triodos Bank anywhere. „Social entrepreneurship“ is very popular. Muhammad Yunus would even like to see „social businesses“ to solve the most urgent global problems. But how much can social entrepreneurship really achieve?

President of the Triodos Bank, Peter Blom, with Helmy Abouleish and Thomas Jorberg (GLS-Bank)

Businesses that pursue a social goal while aiming to be profitable

are certainly part of the equation and one key to the solution to many pressing problems. Their effect will, however, depend largely on existing framework conditions specifically in developing countries. One must not overlook these: education and infrastructure, public health, good governance, the social and cultural role of women etc. Your colleague, CEO of the GLSBank, and current laureate of the „future award 2009“, Thomas Jorberg, recently said: „Those who do business, shape society.“ I fully agree with him. Entrepreneurs are a part of any society and they bear a great part of responsibility. I would even go beyond Mr. Jorberg’s assessment. I would like to stress that the economy can best contribute to the positive development of society if the right framework conditions are in place. That means that its impact will be highest if politicians have the will to actively push the sustainability agenda. For us at Triodos Bank this is the only way to encourage economics to positively contribute to the development of society. Politics also have to create the necessary public support systems such as a strong basic education system, ensure that further education is strengthened, and professionals in these sectors are adequately trained.


More on the 1. Triodos-Bank-Dialogue as well as video footage of the speeches are available at:

Visit SEKEM yourself:

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SEKEM Architecture Project Receives Prestigious Prize Niel Mazhar receives achdiploma-prize for residential architecture project at SEKEM

“archdiploma 2009” is the title of the biannual exhibition of the best diploma projects of students at the Technical University Vienna. The show that presented around 40 works last October is aimed at giving young architects and urban planners a chance to present their innovative works to the public and help them launch their professional careers. The event is also meant to advance public dialogue on innovative solutions to today’s urban problems. This year’s “archdiploma 2009” was held at the Vienna Kunsthalle from 7 to 13 October 2009. The event was held for the first time in 2000 and is being organised every two years for an audience that has increased substantially from 3.000 to much more than 6.000 visitors in 2007. As the group of curators within the faculty of architecture of the TU changes in regular intervals the “archdiploma” always offers a unique portfolio of works. For the first time this year the event also included works from spatial and urban planners and not only architects. Aside from classical architectural concepts the show also presented a range of research-based studies and theoretical works. The show’s primary goal is to demonstrate winning alternatives to monumental and monolithic forms of building and spatial design. Sustainable construction is another hot topic at the “archdiploma” as well as social compatibility of the projects. Thus it is no wonder that Niel Mazhar’s work „A residential building complex for the SEKEM farm in Egypt“ is among the winners. Mazhar focuses on a residential building appropriate to the SEKEM ideal that also includes climatic considerations and the selection of the proper building materials. Thus aspects of monumental grandeur were not among the primary considerations. Instead Mazhar aimed at the appropriateness of the living and work conditions to the extreme climatic environment of the Egyptian desert.

„Many visits to Egypt familiarised me with difficult housing conditions in a country that is made up to more than 96% of sand. Egypt’s arable land is quickly disappearing due to the extreme rise in population. [...] This is the problem the SEKEM initiative focused at. [...] The core ideal of the initiative is to solve Egypt’s most pressing problems, the housing issue so far was not among them. [...] This is where my diploma project sets off“ says Mazhar. This, too, is thus one of the many important functions of the prize and the exhibition: they allow the students to develop innovative solutions to pressing problems on their own and in compliance with social and ecological parameters. Bijan Kafi with material from the Kunsthalle Vienna


More information: (Handelsblatt Österreich) (Archdiploma) Page 6


Ibrahim Abouleish Signs Magna Charta

“Clean-Climate-Project” Successfully Launched

Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish from 17 to 18 September 2009 took part in this year’s “Magna-Charta-conference” at the University of Bologna in Italy. On the occasion of the event he signed the Magna Charta on behalf of the Heliopolis University the purpose of the charta being to serve as a foundational declaration of commitment of participating higher education institutions to strengthen the role science and its institutions play in today’s societies worldwide.

SEKEM Insight reported on the “Clean Climate Project” for the first time in May of 2009. SEKEM’s new venture allows clients to offset their CO2 emissions caused by flights to any destination worldwide. The project finances initiatives that lead to reductions of CO2 emissions elsewhere and have so far avoided more than 130 tons of greenhouse gases in Egypt thus contributing substantially to sustainable local development.

The declaration emphasizes the cultural, scientific, and technological development that is primarily resting on the positive development of universities. The institutions as centres of the advancement of culture, research, and the application of knowledge are to a great extent bearers and representatives of the “wisdom of the world”. Plus, it is their task to not only produce knowledge but also distribute it and thus contribute to a healthy societal development. Their cultural, social, and economic future rests on the performance of universities and investments in the field. Moreover it is a part of the field of action of universities to introduce future generations to the specific contexts of the human world and its natural environment and its relevance for the happiness of mankind. The undersigned rectors commit themselves and their institutions to the preservation and advancement of these and other principles in their work and in their collaboration on a global level.

Specifically since the conference on climate change in Copenhagen the topic features prominently in the news. Public reporting ranges from doomsday scenarios to conspiracy theories. SEKEM would like to encourage a constructive debate. A number of readers of SEKEM Insight has already contacted the project coordinators with questions, suggestions, and constructive criticism. If you have any questions concerning the offsetting of CO2 emissions caused by flights, SEKEM’s multiple activities aimed at stemming climate change, or other environmental protection in general, please contact the team at

combine commercial profitability with respect for the environment and a high level of social and ethical standards. Each year the initiative holds a regular seminar on Islam that is aimed at European and international visitors wishing to learn more on the topic through a personal visit. Thus SEKEM also serves as a place for direct cultural encounters. The seminar will feature workshops with Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish, artistic exercises (Arabic script, recitals of the Quran, Arabic songs, eurythmy) as well as a day trip to Cairo with an emphasis on the Islamic quarter of the city and specifically its historic mosques. A supplemental programme is available that also allows visitors to experience SEKEM close-up as well as take individual trips to the pyramids of Giza and the Egyptian museum in Cairo. Applications and all inquiries should be directed at: Hr. Dietmar Kreuer Tel : ++ 49 (0) 7556-931384


More information:

A new website will be launched shortly that will feature more in-depth information on the project, supported measures, and opportunities for participation by friends, partners, and clients of SEKEM.

Islam Seminar to be Held Again in 2010 2010’s new Islam seminar will be held under the motto „Impulses for Renewal of Islamic Societies“ in SEKEM from 29 March until 3. April. The SEKEM-Initiative for sustainable economic, social, and cultural development in Egypt and several other countries of the Near and Middle East is renowned for its winning concept to

Imprint: Publisher: SEKEM, Egypt The editorial team of SEKEM Insight would like to thank all correspondents who have contributed to this edition. Editors: Christina Boecker Bijan Kafi Contact: SEKEM-Insight c/o Sekem Holding P.O.Box 2834 El Horreya, Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt

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SEKEM Insight  
SEKEM Insight  

SEKEM's monthly journal for economy, culture, and society in Egypt. English edition.