Greenish is an Egyptian foundation that aims to achieve sustainable development. Peter Gerhardt from EPN reached out to Mohamed Kamal, Co-Managing Director at Greenish.
Why did you become an environmentalist?
We have a massive issue with waste in Egypt. I spent part of my childhood in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where this problem is less severe, and was shocked by the level of pollution every time I came home to Egypt. This is why I became an environmentalist, personally. I studied in the UK, became a public health engineer, and over the years, an expert on solid waste management. With Greenish, we realized that the general awareness of environmental issues is still very low in Egypt and want to take part in changing this.
What was the idea behind Greenish, how was it initiated?
Greenish started off as a journey in 2016, when the two founders, Shady Khalil and Medhat Benzoher, realized the severity of plastic pollution in Egypt and the low awareness of the issue. They started organizing educational workshops and clean up campaigns across the Nile river and the coast of Egypt and, one year later, founded Greenish. It started as an environmental enterprise, trying to bridge between environmental awareness and art, aiming to engage different audiences and make environmental awareness interesting.
What is Greenish about today? How would you describe your work?
Over the years, our work has changed. Today, our working focus is on environmental advocacy, climate change engagement and environmental education. The people in Egypt are not connecting the problems around them to climate change or pollution, but we think it is important to create this awareness, in order to successfully implement climate change solutions. We also do our own research, mainly on climate narratives.
Can you give us an example of your work? Tell us about a specific project of yours?
We have a really successful project called “Greenish clubs”, where we create clubs in Universities and conduct workshops on environmental issues in a gamified manner. More than 1500 students from higher Universities come together and create ideas on how to find community-based solutions to environmental problems. In the end, we organize the annual “Greenish festival”, where the students can submit their projects and win an award, to help them actually implement their ideas. In 2021 we brought together 3000 people from across the region, different organizations and sustainable initiatives.
How many people are working for Greenish?
We are 10 people empolyed at Greenish, plus several volunteers that are part of the team. Greenish started off as an enterprise, because it is much easier to get registered, before we eventually managed to register as a foundation.
Is it difficult to be an environmental activist in Egypt?
Yes. The civil society engagement situation in Egypt is complicated, making it hard for us to advocate. We have to be very careful with the narratives we work on and communicate. There are quite a few ENGOs in Egypt, the first ones emerging as early as the 1970s, but we do not have NGOs that focus on environmental activism per se. Most of them work on community level, such as development and empowerment, dedicated to specific problems, or conservation.
How is the perception of environmental issues in Egyptian society?
Although there is a general awareness about environmental issues, people are not fully aware of how they are actually affecting them. Pollution is a historic issue in Egypt, which has been discussed for many years. Climate change is a much younger discussion, and people still feel disconnected from it. This year we have noted a big positive change, thanks to COP27. For the first time in history, climate change is being discussed in national media. Regardless of the actual achievements of the conference, it massively increased awareness in Egypt, even in low-income regions in the country. Especially working in the field, this makes our life much easier, creating a basis for discussion and conversation.
In many cases, cutting single-use plastics comes at the cost of more single-use paper. Is this also a problem in Egypt?
In Egypt, we produce and manufacture plastics. We have a massive lobby of factories and companies, and it has literally become part of our culture to expect single-use plastic everywhere we go. This is why you will not find Egypt banning single-use plastics altogether. But there has been a small transition, attempts to reduce single-use plastics, especially from major corporations and the government itself. And yes, the alternative to plastic is usually paper. So we are transitioning from one problem to another. What we should try to focus on is avoidance. How about instead of plastic or paper, using a reusable bag?
What kind of work do you do on paper?
We do not manufacture paper ourselves in Egypt, and do not have forests, but our consumption is still unimaginably high. It is one of the top 3 categories of municipal waste and most of it is burned, because it is not considered a high-value recyclable, such as plastic or glass. This is the starting point for our work. We focus on the consumers, trying to increase public engagement and advocacy and see how we can reduce consumption. So far, not enough attention is being paid to paper and pulp in North Africa and the Middle East (MENA). We think building a global narrative on the issue could change that.
What was your motivation to join the EPN?
Most importantly, EPN allows us to learn from other organizations working in the field. We want to increase our knowledge, improve our advocacy and engagement with paper and better understand its value chain. Paper-related issues still lack attention in MENA, and we are the first organization from this region in the network. We hope for the EPN to broaden its scope and possibly further diversify its membership. It is important to compare, find similarities or differences between regions, and see how we can learn from each other and improve our cooperation in the future.
Thank you so much!