We speak to Muhammad Al-Fouly, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact Network Egypt, about how the nation has progressed on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
What is the current appetite that you see from the private sector in the commitment towards the different sustainable development goals of the UN, and how do you compare it to other countries?
I would tell you something. Generally, there’s a very high appetite towards advancing the SDGs for many reasons. The first reason is that the majority of the challenges addressed by the SDGs globally are experienced through our country. When businesses meet the 17 SDGs, they could recognize that those are real challenges as they deal with them on a daily basis. They can see the poverty, hunger, education level, health, equality and inequalities at certain levels. So, addressing such challenges was the role of the Global Compact in the country.
We raise the awareness related to the SDGs and work very optimally to define the SDGs not as challenges, but as opportunities. That makes businesses in Egypt take it with high consideration and very seriously. We have done a lot of research over the last few years, since the start of SDGs late in September 2015. We could see how businesses are advancing the SDGs. So, yes, their appetite is very high and we are advanced in the SDGs based on belief that they are leveraging more opportunities than themselves being challenges. That itself reflects on the advancement and development of the national economy. The examples related to that are definitely unlimited here.
How aligned do you see Vision 2030 towards the principles of the UNDP and how do you see the synergy between public and private sector in terms of SDGs?
The SDGs and our global compact principles are almost the same structure. Definitely, Egypt 2030 is aligned from the first day to advance the SDGs. Egypt 2030 is based on 10 directions to be achieved. Each is working from the prospect of economic, social, and environmental point of view. Each of the 10 mandatory pillars are actually advancing certain SDGs in specific areas. It’s by default aligning with the SDGs.
Likewise, other national development plans of other counties like Tunisia 2020, Ro2eya in Saudi, and other countries. They are defining their national strategies advancing their SDGs or what is the timeline assigned for each plan. So, in Egypt, they structured it from the very beginning, to go all along the 15 years with the SDGs. This is why they call it Egypt 2030. The structure of the strategy is already based on SDGs now.
When it comes to implementation, we can very clearly see that, what has been defined along the national strategy is already hitting the facts and reality. You can see changes taking place in relation to development from different prospects and sectors. For example, renewable energy SDG can see the engagement of the government in creating the first energy hub.
So, this kind of development or move was actually a real demonstration to what’s being planned in the strategy, and how the government can develop advancing its SDGs through its internal national roadmap.
As you mentioned, renewable energy is one of the key policies. In your opinion, when you look at the country and the different SDGs, would you say Egypt is doing well and is quite advanced, and where would you identify the main challenge that still remains?
It’s always the challenge of Zero Hunger and No Poverty in relation to the SDGs. If we talk about Egypt, it’s because of the population. There are almost 100 million citizens in the country. So, when we talk about the challenges, they are always there. For the country level, it’s meant to be a national target of no poverty, or at least raising the level of the minimum wage or income identifying people on the line of poverty. So these are very recognized challenges.
Now, when it comes to climate change for example that’s also one of the major challenges we are facing today, not only due to pollution but also the manufacturing structure. It’s about restructuring the mindset of the manufacturing organization, and their engagement to be more environmental. That’s why I have mentioned the importance of the industrial parks becomes very clear here. They provide the business space, which is completely environmental friendly. They are engaging them in practice in such environment, which urges them to create, commit, or go through internal organizational changes to cope with what’s required from those industrial parks and put them online to be responsible towards the environment.
We are doing great in terms of sustainable cities and communities, decent work and economic growth because they are very related, in terms of gender equality and education. Our ministry of education is almost changing the entire structure of education that has been running for the past almost 100 years. They are pushing education into new areas that is dependent on research. It’s completely independent, and not anymore relying on students remembering the content of certain syllabus or curriculums, reaching the exam just trying to pull off what’s being stored in their mind, and once they’re done with the exam, they forget everything. They are now structuring our students to go deeper into the research. They need to learn by research, practice, engagement their own efforts. They started for the first time in Egypt that the exam is based on an open book.
There’s one challenge that comes to mind when talking about sustainability in the case of Egypt and it is the extremely high population growth. How can Egypt deal with another 2 to 3 million people every year?
The same way they deal with the 100 million existing today. The regular number of children in an average Egyptian family is between 2 and 4. This in itself is a large number. We have different receptive elements of the number of children per family or the increase in the population. Of course, this is a huge load on the government because they have to avail more and more every day, but that’s the case everywhere in the world. I don’t think it’s only specifically Egypt. Look at China and the States for example. I’m not saying about the increasing number of population, but there are migrants and people who are reaching the country every day. Every morning there are new people on the ground there and in Europe too. This is always a challenge. So, as a country that has been able to conduct or go through such very tough economic reformation, and succeed solidly with confidence, 3 or 4 more million people will be the real challenge yet, I believe. I still totally agree with you that there should always be a way to have control on this element. This is not only for the responsibility of the government but for the people living today and the future because if we keep this increasing birth rate and population number, nobody will invest here.
I also wanted to highly highlight that the roadmap structure and the plan by the government today is meant to engage everyone in the development scheme. It’s not only the government or the business or the civil society’s responsibilities; it’s actually also extending the responsibilities to the individuals.
So everyone is responsible for tomorrow. That makes everyone in the picture completely aware of the responsibility they carry, and they have to commit to it. That results in better engagement, quicker advancements, more solid results, and more opportunities. If this is the way it goes, you should expect that you’d be able to overcome whatever challenge because now everyone is concerned and everyone is doing his role as supposed to, or at least trying.