How To Unlock Egyptian Abilities

Before founding Egyptian Abilities, an organization that assists Egyptians with disabilities in finding employment while taking the nature of their disability into careful consideration, the idea that I would one day be considered a social entrepreneur never crossed my mind. Today, in addition to working as a job scout at Microsoft, I run an organization that connects disabled Egyptians to companies that are looking for employees with their skills.

People with disabilities in Egypt are severely marginalized. With limited education opportunities and a lack of accessibility in cities as well as rural areas, they usually spend their entire lives trapped inside their homes. Though companies with more than 50 employees in Egypt are legally obliged to fulfill a five-percent disability quota within their workforce, this rarely occurs. On the rare occasion that a company does hire an employee with disabilities, they are marginalized and ignored by the company. Though their name might be written on the list of employees, they very rarely are called into the office to actually work. This problem is even direr in rural areas, where little to no distinction is made between physical and mental disabilities, and both are considered to bring immense shame onto the family.

Since the revolution, more light has been shed on this issue and Egypt has witnessed small steps toward improvement. For example, the Ministry of Communications recently began providing specialized trainings to Egyptians that have physical disabilities, mainly those who are in wheelchairs, to work in call centers and customer-service departments.

I had worked previously as a volunteer with Education For Employment (EFE)|Egypt, where I had participated in a training program that gave me marketable skills and linked me to job opportunities. But it was by pure chance that I stumbled upon the spark that would lead me to establish Egyptian Abilities. After volunteering with an EFE campaign at Cairo University that encourages Egyptian youth to choose their own career paths in life, a group of youth contacted me via Facebook. They were interested in organizing an initiative to benefit Egyptians with disabilities and, seeing the past experience I had as a volunteer in the employment field, wanted to get my opinion on their ideas.

What they didn't tell me via Facebook was that they themselves were a group of very capable Egyptian youth with disabilities. Meeting them and seeing how eager they were to help their peers inspired me to do more than just advise them. After our first meeting, I decided to work with them directly in founding a training and employment organization to help disabled youth pave their career path as the first step to living a dignified life. In under a year, Egyptian Abilities has placed 64 disabled youth in private-sector jobs. To raise awareness about disabled people in Egypt, we cooperated with the Ministry of Interior and organized the first-ever event in Egypt to honor the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Activities during our event included talks given mainly by disabled people as a way to empower them, as well as specialists in the field, on topics ranging from the lack of educational integration in Egyptian schools, to the importance of communication skills for Egyptians with and without disabilities.

Today, Egyptian Abilities is the only organization in Egypt that works specifically on facilitating the employment of people with disabilities, but it has not been easy. My colleagues and I all still work on a volunteer basis and have not yet secured funding, being sustained solely by small contributions from family and friends. We have had to deal with complicated legal procedures, but the greatest struggle I have dealt with personally has been a lack of faith in the fact that a woman can not only be a successful employee, but can also be a successful entrepreneur that works to empower herself, her family and her community.

Despite the setbacks, what keeps me going is the knowledge that through Egyptian Abilities, I will help Egyptians live dignified lives and provide for their families. I encourage youth to find their passion and become entrepreneurs, because they are the keys to the future of this country. If you are passionate enough, any young person can become an entrepreneur. What I have learned through my experience with Egyptian Abilities is that all you need is the desire to help your community, a plan of how you can do so and cooperation with the right individuals and institutions that will stand by you in founding your initiative.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Education For Employment (EFE), the leading youth employment nonprofit network in the Middle East and North Africa. EFE has affiliates in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and has a presence in the UAE. The series is being produced in conjunction with the launch of HuffPost Arabi, the newest international edition of The Huffington Post, and the posts in this series will be published in English and in Arabic. The focus of the series is on social entrepreneurship, as part of HuffPost's continuing "What's Working" initiative.