Open village workshop - Cairo

photo taken by Ahmed Hamed

Last Saturday some of us got together at the Fablab space in Maadi, Cairo to discuss the openvillage project at the workshop. It was a nice meeting with a small group of people and the discussions went on and ended up with @karimyassin volunteering to organize a trip to sekem, and discussing the different possibilities of the Reef in an Egyptian context ( @m_tantawy - @mohabessam already started to explore here and here ) , besides other talks on decentralization and getting outside of Cairo [or not ].

so briefly we were:

@Nashat_3 briefly an IT entrepreneur, experimenting in Iot with farming, and smart Gardens, He participated in different hackahtons and entrepreneurship training/competitions, Fablab trainings. He is looking to know more like minded people and share more ideas and get feedback from the community.

@M.Elshafey works on this carpooling app and this idea for building a community in an island

@m_tantawy working on this open source furniture and Maerfa cultural project

@karimyassin working on Cilas an alternative institute for liberal arts and sciences education in Cairo.

@mohabessam a community architect participated in Elzeba project in Egypt and worked on a publication in Germany.

Neveen : she came from Alexandaria, living and working there in the field of cost accounting and import/exports. most of her work is now done online, she wants to move to Cairo as their are more opportunities and in Alexandria most of the work is managed by families. she studied in Sohag, love to draw and thinks Cairo is better place for young initiatives.

Aya : Also came from Alexandria, she is doing a masters degree in Anthropology, writing about new technologies and knowledge economy. She used to work as an assistant manager in a company but she quite because here interests were somewhere else, now she is looking forward to get into organizations working in development, she volunteered in different projects.

@Tahra.Tarek working in the media field, now doing a diploma for cultural awareness, she worked in organizing several lectures in the journalism syndicate and other places, wrote some articles, Joined 8 months ago “el-Beet” ( literally the home ) a participatory art space in downtown. they provide several workshops for writers, artists, …etc on storytelling an other skills.

Assem : fresh engineering graduate, now waiting to join the army, mandatory, and he is part of the fablab community for the past 3-4 years, expert in digital fabrication, now teaching the maker diploma, he likes music and plays oud.

@ahmedhamed : a multi-media journalist, part of Aswat Masria team ( from the early beginning till the end ) , photographer, and filmmaker ( one of his films, his first work )

Ahmed : 21 years old from Cairo, now studies computer science in Sohag, he is passionate about information technology, and organizing thoughts wants to change the way of thinking, routine, and he is a kick boxing player. ( he is also starting an initiative in his university to improve the way of teaching )

Amira : from Mesaha, now working on an Eco-lodge / farm in Siwa with other friends. and works alternative care.

after getting to know each other in small groups and then within the large group, discussing the difference between Sohag, Cairo, and Alexandria. we got to discuss and explore the concept of open village and how it could be done in the Egyptian context. We discussed the other living communities, such as Sekem, crafts villages as Tunis in Fayoum, and how they are surviving and got initiated.

one interesting example was mentioned by Ahmed Hamed about Evelin in Tunis village, she started as she saw that young girls are getting no education and are experiencing a lot of abuse. so what she did (as a foreigner ) she didn’t start a women rights organization or a campaign against child abuse, she started a crafts school to teach pottery, so this school was a place for the girls to go and get some education, express themselves and it changed a lot of lives, One of which he followed after seeing an old documentary about her as a child, she is Rawia, she has now a big workshop and she told him that this school changed not only her life but other girls as well.( short documentary about Rawia ) and this raised the question of documenting such success stories and learning from them, and monitoring the impacts of our projects. Ahmed even thinks that may be one day he can start a film school in a small village and live there.

Tantawy mentioned that, there are different initiatives working and struggling already, and we should build a bigger community using the platform and share our experiences. He sees the potential of such a platform and sees it as a chance to useful collaboration instead of competing which is a mentality that is found within some local groups and initiatives. Also a method to get out of the general depression that is in the air.

Amira explained what is happening [going to happen] In Siwa, this is a solid long term project, where a group of people is going to buy a land in Siwa, already scouted the potential places, and then start building with local methods learning from the existing architecture and farming depending on the available resources. a potential house to be linked in the openvillage network. she mentioned other far away places where this could happen as El-Qusair.

Neven raised the issue of exporting goods, as the Government is encouraging this with some benefits as tax reduction ? which could generate revenue for such a local place that is well connected globally.

Karim explained the idea of Cilas and how it was formed through different metaphors, and mentioned that some Alumni are discussing opening a Center in Alexandria. and he is open to replicate the experience in other places as well.

this was mainly the main topics that we touched upon, and we continue online.


Great to see all of you making progress with vision and action! Not too much I can contribute right now, but this:

That’s a really good idea for a revenue source of an OpenVillage house. With some caveats: importers are usually exploitative wholesalers and one of the reason why some countries don’t get paid a fair livable price for their products, esp. for agricultural ones. So you need some hacks. From our experience with “fair and direct” coffee sales from Nepal to Europe, here are some general recommendations:

  1. Try to find a product that you can market from within Egypt, because without European wages for marketing, much more of the final sales price will arrive in Egypt. Even more when marketing to final customers, not to intermediate traders who will only sell it again with their 30-50% margin added. For this type of marketing, you want to market to small and medium businesses, because they will be ok with communication in English, and because they are a target group that you can easily find out about online. A good example is marketing coffee to cafés – in our case together with a unique story that they can tell their customers.

  2. Your advantage with this direct sales strategy is that, by cutting out a lot of middlemen, you can have really competitive prices and still get a better profit for yourself. That will help to offset the slightly weird scenario of being approached by an Egyptian company you don’t know. Even better to offset that is to partner with a European NGO dedicated to supporting such products, so their name can appear in the marketing communications you create in Egypt.

  3. Europe seems a good export market for Egypt, as it’s close, has a high price level, and is well connected (container shipping in the Mediterranean and up North). Also, there is a single market inside the European Union, so once the goods passed one of its borders, they can be distributed to any European country without additional customs formalities.

  4. For exporting to Europe, at first start with a product that has few customs formalities, and low customs rate. You can find that out in the TARIC database. You don’t want to have to deal with phytosanitary certificates (“food hygiene”), or with controlled substances. So don’t go for meat products or hempseed oil, instead for something like coffee. For these goods, a counterparty on the European side can get the goods through without much hassle (we’ve done it).

  5. The hassle for customs is the same for each type of item, independent of the amount of the item. So 20 tons of coffee is the same form-filling hassle as is 100 kg of coffee. To keep overheads low and manageable for yourselves, go for larger amounts of one product, not for many different products. This way, you can prepare the forms yourselves, not needing costly “professional” help except the first time, where it is advisable to get a “template” for the following trades.

Only half of the above is tested, the other half is what we’re doing next based on previous experience (read, failures). So take with a grain of salt, and welcome to ask for details or feedback when you get closer to this business model for an OpenVillage space :slight_smile:


Seriously? You guys seem super-active and energetic… you don’t seem depressed at all. Can you elaborate, @hazem?

Also: good work!

While I was in Berlin, an Egyptian I met told me the same - that most of his friends are depressed and seldom feel like leaving the house or taking on new things. It’s because they have somehow lost hope and dont see opportunities. Mostly, they dont feel free to be, and anything they would build would just risk being hijacked or thrown out the door easily.


Unfortunately we are all depressed, but you can say we still fighting with a little of hope .


well @alberto the depression is overshadowing us from many angles. It hard to write an objective opinion on this but let’s say that yes as @noemi mentioned [quote=“noemi, post:4, topic:7062”]
It’s because they have somehow lost hope and dont see opportunities. Mostly, they dont feel free to be, and anything they would build would just risk being hijacked or thrown out the door easily.
this can happen. @Konnbat can say more on this if he likes [quote=“MatabNadim, post:5, topic:7062”]
but you can say we still fighting with a little of hope
or in other words people are working as you can see, there are lots of other initiatives and projects that are working knowing that there is a chance of shutting down, but waiting for the right moment, when it comes at least we can be prepared.

This means that the hopes changed, people after 2011 had lots of hope of changing a lot of stuff and believed thay they can but now the “ceiling of hope” is back to continue sustain what you do in a low rader, waiting for a bigger moment.

A lot of youth are leaving or willing to leave. a lot of active youth who are involved in different initiatives left already or at least traveled to study somewhere or moved outside of Egypt for a while not that they lost hope but it is not satisfying anymore to do very small knowing that your work can be shut down anytime, plus this feeling of detachment from the outer society.

you can get a feeling from the development of Mesaha , CILAS, Marefa ( no very public events, not a lot of engagement with the neighbors due to security reasons ) this is an adaptation but it is not that satisfying for all, also because people experienced a bit more freedom and going back knowing that you can do more is just depressing. I mean if your core work includes working with the public and then you realize that the lite limited version of your work is limiting you to your own bubble, this doesn’t make sense.

to give another example that this depression is a big issue. a while ago, I believe last month, there was a suicide or two from very young people early twenties, that was all over facebook and other social media. this lead someone in his thirties, he is known or at least I know him from some funny sarcastic videos, to ask the “younger generation” on why is this happening, suicide literally and metaphorically, as they are young and didn’t experience his “false institutions” they are free to explore what they want as all the old institutions collapsed in the last years, and they didn’t experience any of it deeply anyways. the collected comments [written in egyptian arabic] were “Sad” in the direction of that 2011 was their begining of awakening but when it collapsed, everything collapsed with it and they don’t believe in the normal way of life anymore so it doesn’t really matter. This is just an indicator that there is a general mode of depression everywhere. but this doesn’t deny that people are working…


Totally agree with you @hazem , I believe that one day our dreams will come true :slight_smile:

I agree on the above, but different models succeeded. e.g. Karm Solar. They build houses, produce energy and I believe some agriculture is involved. And also other large farms.

Maybe we should create the open village the way round. Ask ourselves what is our objective, then we can reach this objective while respecting the local culture, rules, politics, etc

I do not say that it’s easy, but that there is a way to make it happen now. I think the problem lies in our western education, and I was once told by a successful Tunisian architect when I complained about the lack of system and clarity, that we do actually have a system and there are ways of doing things and dealing with governmental officials, that is different from the system that we were taught at school. That it’s all is Ibn Khaldoun writings.

In a way, it makes sense. The intellectual educated people are fragile they leave the country seeking systems that they are familiar with, while people who have a long experience dealing with local governments in villages and small cities are taking their place, because they are familiar with the system and are more resilient! =D I am not sure I am making sense. I am thinking out loud. :slight_smile:

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@lilitmidoyan has a similar take on Armenian youth, she thinks there is a deep lack of hope coming into full manifestation ever since Electric Yerevan, which itself followed 10 years of (mostly) unsuccessful activism in the country. We discussed it in depth these days - it is heartbreaking… the question was: how can we turn the pessimism into an opportunity to break through? can new energies be found?

Lilit I hope you have the time to read Hazem. Hazem was a community mobilizer back in the days, for Spot the Future, and now leading efforts in 6 countries. He is also one of the first movers into a new community space we are finding in Morocco, where people from all over will join to roll out new projects (sustainable!). It could be that in such a community space (private, not a public space like in Yerevan) freedom and hope can be found or regained.

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I missed this.

Having the optimistic approach to the things we do is a must!