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Helping HANDS in Egypt - Empowering Women in Low Income Egyptian Communities through Development Aid and Outreach

Several years ago, I spend a summer interning at Hands Along the Nile Development Services (HANDS), a non-profit organization whose mission is to connect Americans and Egyptians for intercultural understanding and community development. Although not all of their outreach is focused specifically on women, many of the initiatives undertaken by HANDS provide the opportunity to empower women in low income urban communities in Egypt, and to make their lives safer. The organization connects young Egyptian entrepreneurs with American counterparts, and vice versa, thus promoting collaboration and the sharing of ideas and resources. Image credit to, and more information can be found at: http://www.handsalongthenile.org/index.html

Photo of Nadia Eldeib
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     While at HANDS, I worked on a variety of projects. One of the most exciting was researching and developing a buisness plan for Egyptian entrepreneurs seeking to create a work environment in which physically handicapped individuals could thrive. The particular case I worked on involved developing a buisness model for a wooden walking-stick company. Other initiatives at HANDS include the Association for the of the Environment (APE), which is a literacy and job-skills training cetner for women in Cairo. APE enables girls and women who reside, and whose families reside, in "Garbage Cities" (trash dumps in poor areas of Cairo in which many individuals earn their living as garbage collectors) to gain education and training in various trades. 
     Organizations like HANDS have the potential to connect women, or other groups of individuals in low income urban communities, with the resources and background information to get their ideas off the ground. By aiding women in their business aspirations, HANDS helps provide support to both help them individually feel a greater sense of empowerment, and to enable them to get their start-up off the ground, potentially improving the community around them. 
    One question worth some thought is how to build a larger scale effort to empower and provide a safer community to women in low income areas? Part of why HANDS succeeds, in my opinion, is because they have a closely knit group of professionals at their core that possess great knowledge about the Egyptian community, along with a greater support base of donors who feel connected to the cause. But because of the specificity of this organization's mission and interest group, it might not succeed if it suddenly chose to expand to similar projects in a vastly different community. So how do you keep the person-to-person connections, while adapting a program to a vast range of low income communities with different histories and needs?

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Great share, Nadia. Thinking of scale while maintaining community connections, the work of SEWA. Their main goals are to organise women workers for full employment and self-reliance. Check out more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-Employed_Women's_Association_of_India It's membership is close to one million women and they have a number of initiatives across the country – a few of which I've visited in Ahmedabad and have been highly impressed with. The World Bank has also been impressed by their success and has pursued replicating their model elsewhere.

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