The Egyptian Revolution in 2011 was one of the main catalysts for Laura Tabet in co-founding Nawaya. But inspiration also came after a move from the busy streets of Cairo to the surrounding countryside.
“Cairo is growing on a massive scale,” says Laura, “and we had moved out of the city to a small rural area, very close to Cairo. We were buying all our groceries and produce from the city and that was frustrating when you’re living in the countryside. But then when you go out to the local markets in the countryside, the quality of the produce is sometimes quite poor. I wanted to eat good food. And I wanted to eat food that’s supporting small scale farmers, too.”
And that’s where Nawaya comes in. The program and its members believe in sustainable agriculture as the core driver for productive communities that flourish from the bottom-up. Nawaya works on transitioning small-scale farmers’ livelihoods towards sustainability by developing their food production skills across the value chain. By empowering rural communities with access to knowledge, markets and appropriate technologies, Nawaya creates alternative income streams in agriculture that are innovative, yet still rooted in tradition
Growing a like-minded community
Laura is half British and half Egyptian, but grew up in Canada. Eventually she returned to Egypt and, following the revolution, found herself amongst a group of like-minded individuals. “When it happened,” remembers Laura, “there was a lot of good energy. After the revolution, I met my co-founders.”
The group is now driven by the co-creation of self-reliant, bountiful and resilient Egyptian communities. They work closely with communities across three pillars: community participation in program design, education and training, and hands-on prototyping, all of which are designed to help rural famers create sustainable businesses, crops and products.
One of Nawaya’s most recent developments has been a community kitchen where local women work to develop new products. “We’ve created this educational kitchen and production space where we work with nearly 50 women to develop different product lines,” says Laura. “Some of them learn to be teachers, and they also learn about products, labelling and general nutrition.”
Different skills for different days
Like any new business, Laura and her team carry out multiple roles, and although Laura’s own education was in environmental studies, she now takes on a range of jobs at Nawaya. “We’re a start-up, so we don’t really have a regular day. I could be doing anything from training or attending a festival, to meeting advocates. My role is a lot to do with strategy, so unfortunately I spend a lot of time behind a computer screen! But I also got an opportunity to learn how to do video production, and we now make farmer-to-farmer training videos. And that allows me to get in the field which is good.”
Nawaya is an educational program and start-up which has been recognised with funding from the Drosos Foundation for a 2 year ‘sustainable agriculture’ pilot program in Abusir, and the program was also incubated under Nahdet el Mahrousa NGO Egypt. Along with this support, channels such as Facebook let Laura and her team quickly spread the word about news and new initiatives. “We’re so overloaded,” she says, “Facebook is tool that lets us quickly send out information without having to manage a website. It’s a quick tool we can access from our phones or computers.”
Building a sustainable future
With plans to open a commercially approved kitchen, Laura is excited by the next steps Nawaya will take, but she also notes that one of the goals is creating self-reliant communities. “What we’re aiming for, eventually, is that we’ll be training new teachers, and creating long-term programs with our farmers,” says Laura, “the ultimate goal is to not have to be needed.”
Learn more about Laura and Nawaya