Case #2126.0

Transforming Desert Land & Human Potential: Egypt’s ‘SEKEM’ Initiative Reaches a Crossroads

Publication Date: May 31, 2018
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The SEKEM initiative, headquartered in Cairo, Egypt, was an unusual social enterprise by any standard. It produced organic products; provided health, education and arts programs to the local community; and—more broadly, sought to create a sustainable community that explicitly cultivated the human potential of its members. It reflected the vision of its charismatic founding director, Ibrahim Abouleish, who had run SEKEM with his son, Helmy Abouleish for more than 30 years. In 2017, SEKEM marked its 40th anniversary—a time for celebration, and also of transition for the initiative. Some of its challenges were typical of any organization at midlife. But for SEKEM, these were coupled with the loss of SEKEM’s passionate leader, Ibrahim Abouleish, who died in the summer of 2017. In addition, SEKEM faced the challenges of operating in a country that had, in rapid succession, experienced a revolution, military coup, and economic collapse. The case details the history and evolution of this unusual social enterprise and tells of the dilemmas facing Helmy Abouleish and his leadership team at this critical juncture.

Learning Objective:
The case is a strong vehicle for teaching about social enterprise, with a focus on decision-making in a tough environment; understanding the logic of hybrid organizations; succession strategies etc. It can also be taught with a focus on: strategic management (organizational resources, for e.g.); international business (risk, institutional voids and market creation); development (sustainable development in a tough environment); and leadership (roles of Ibrahim and Helmy Abouleish, succession).

Other Details

Case Author:
Pamela Varley and Christian Seelos
Faculty Lead:
Christian Seelos
Pages (incl. exhibits):
Funding Source:
Partial funding from the Social Innovation and Change Initiative (SICI), HKS