As elsewhere around the world, especially in developing countries, women in Egypt are disproportionately represented in the informal economy. This term refers to economic activities that are not subject to contracts or governmental regulation and do not offer protections like social security, health insurance, and pension benefits. Women selling fruit and vegetables at roadside stands, seamstresses, cooks, caregivers, cleaners, agricultural laborers, and dairy producers are a few examples of such jobs. In Egypt, an astounding 71% of women are economically active in this informal economy.

In late 2020, HANDS facilitated a training and capacity building exchange to support a large-scale EU-funded program implemented by one of our Egyptian partners, CEOSS, which aims to create opportunities for vulnerable women working in Egypt’s informal sector. CEOSS works with such women to either help them transition into formal employment or to offer community-based centers that act as umbrellas and represent them as small businesses.

To support the effectiveness of such centers, HANDS created a space for their leaders to connect with U.S.-based counterpart organizations that assist economic activities of marginalized groups, especially women. While we originally planned this to be an in-person experience taking place in Philadelphia last March, the COVID-19 pandemic made us redesign our plans and move the program online. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as, ultimately, we were able to connect even more participants from both countries.

The culmination of this program was in December, when we hosted numerous online sessions, during which enthusiastic participants from Egypt and the U.S. discussed topics such as small business financing for marginalized communities, entrepreneurship training, and types of small business development centers. During this process, they also learned about each other’s cultures and pledged to deepen the connections made online through future in-person exchanges as well as finding ways to connect the beneficiaries of the programs they implement in local communities! HANDS could not be prouder to see the immediate results as well as the seeds of future impact planned through this online exchange.

We remain grateful to Herman Nyamunga (Director of Power Up Your Business Program) for helping connect us with transformative organizations and delivering an inspiring presentation on entrepreneurship development. Additionally, thank you to Bassem Mina Sourafim (World Bank small business development expert) who provided training on the tools necessary to grow businesses and help communities thrive.

Thank you to the many US-based organizations that participated in this enriching program. Our discussions with you were empowering, and we are delighted to have made such fruitful connections between the US and Egypt. These organizations include:

·     Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians

·     Philadelphia Fashion Incubator

·     Women’s Business Enterprise Center (WBEC-East)


·     Temple University Small Business Development Center

·     Community College of Philadelphia

·     Neighborhood Development Center (NDC)

·     Robin Hood Ventures

Economic empowerment of women remains an important topic for civil society, governments, and the private sector around the world, particularly in Egypt and the greater Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Women remain both the greatest untapped economic resource and also one of the groups most vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation. With much work still to be done, we look forward to making a positive contribution by continuing to build transformative partnerships and supporting local efforts.