Laila has never known poverty, having been born into a wealthy family. But, after having seen how some of her fellow Egyptians eke out a living by recycling and scavenging for garbage, she was impressed by their earnestness. What else could she do but help these people, who were very much willing to do everything to help themselves?
Laila went on to establish an informal school which aims to equip people with basic know-how to create a systemic recycling industry. Most of the zaballeens she met were illiterate; for them to do business without being taken advantage of, Laila set up the “Community and International Development Group,” or CID. It’s a consultancy firm that helps grassroots communities thrive in their industries by equipping them with knowledge and business networks.
Engaging in Social Entrepreneurship
Laila Rashed Iskandar was born to a well-to-do family, and is a graduate of Economics, Political Science and Business from Cairo University. She then went overseas to secure her Master’s in Near Eastern Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Laila eventually completed her Doctorate of Education at the Teacher's College at Columbia University in New York.
Having been educated overseas, Laila saw a world beyond her home country. She could have pursued a more lucrative career with her impeccable credentials, but instead opted to stay in Egypt. In 1982, she discovered a community of “zaballeens,” or garbage collectors, living in the outskirts of Cairo. The people had to support their families by making use of what the city dwellers threw away. This practice somehow keeps the community clean; food that gets thrown is collected and fed to the pigs. Unlike most Egyptians, the zaballeens are predominantly Christian.
Laila saw an opportunity to help. With the zaballeens lacking education, she observed that they did their daily rounds without knowing basic accounting or being able to read. Their lack of education made them vulnerable to people who took advantage of their illiteracy. This was what Laila hoped to change.
“Kamel's Rug-Weaving Center”
The zabbaleens’ industriousness gave Laila all the reason she needed to do her best to give them a better quality of life. She established the “Kamel's Rug-Weaving Center,” where girls are taught how to weave using reclaimed cotton. Weaving has been an age-old industry in Egypt; by teaching teenagers and young girls to weave, they are made to appreciate their ancestors’ culture.
The “Community and International Development Group”
Laila also founded an informal school for the zaballeen kids. If the kids could be educated, then Laila knew she could help create a new generation of better parents and businesspeople. In the school, kids are taught how to read using the packaging of garbage containers they collect in a day’s round.
In 1995, Laila set up the “Community and International Development Group” to “enable individuals, organizations, and communities to grow and communicate more effectively.” In 2006, eleven years after its founding, CID won the “Schwab Award for Social Entrepreneurship.”
Serving as Minister of State for Environment Affairs
Because of Laila’s heart for service, she was appointed as Minister of State for Environment Affairs in Prime Minister Hazem El Beblawi’s interim government. She is still actively involved in Egypt’s grassroots communities and is a strong proponent of making recycling a social entrepreneurship.
She has convinced Procter & Gamble to pay kids for every container granulated and recycled to prevent counterfeiters from filling the bottles with fake contents to sell under their brand name. Now, the kids learn accounting and how to use excel sheets by keeping tabs of their earnings.
More than that, Laila keeps their hopes up by educating their youth. She’d like the community to make garbage collection less of a dirty job by creating a system, and that can only take place if the people in their industry are well-equipped to do their work not only with passion, but also with science. By teaching them how to read, for instance, Laila made map-reading possible for them. Now, they can do their rounds in a more organized way. Also, the zaballeens are being taught how to analyze contracts so they can do business and make recycling more of a career than a trade for those who have no choice but to do the dirty work.
Organizations and Programs Supported
- CID Consulting
- Kamel's Rug-Weaving Center
- Environment Affairs
- International Institute for Environment and Development
- Sinai Recycling Project
- Association for the Protection of the Environment
Awards and Achievements
- 1982: Collaborated with garbage collectors and founded an informal recycling school
- 1988: Served as Volunteer Field Director for the Rag Recycling Center at the Association for the Protection of the Environment
- 1994: Released Mokattam garbage village in Cairo, Egypt
- 1994: Received the “Goldman Environmental Prize”
- 1995: Founded “CID Consulting”
- 2005-2007: Acted as UNESCO’s UNLD Resource Person for the Arab region
- 2006: CID received the “Schwab Award for Social Entrepreneurship”
- 2007: Acted as Director and Lead Author of the Business Solutions for Human Development Report
- Serves as Minister of State for Environment Affairs
- Serves as a trustee at Alfanar
- Served as a consultant to the Egyptian Minister of Environment on Waste Management
- Served as a jury member to UNESCO’s “International Literacy Prize”
- Sits on the Board of Trustees of the International Institute for Environment and Development
- Executive Team Member of CWG
- Involved in the “Sinai Recycling Project”
Wikipedia (Laila Iskander)
Jadaliyya (Who's Who: Egypt's Full Interim Cabinet)
Daily News Egypt (Egypt’s new interim cabinet)
Skoll World Forum (Laila Iskandar - CID Consulting)
Goldman Prize (Africa)
PBS (In Cairo’s Trash City, School Teaches Reading, Recycling)
Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo: a story of waste mis management)
Al-Ahram Weekly (No time to waste)
Al-Ahram Weekly (Towards the inclusive city)
Al-Ahram Weekly (Educating working children)
Schwab Foundation (Laila Iskandar)
Mada Masr (No black cloud so far over new Environment Minister Laila Iskandar)
DW (Laila Iskandar: Consultant from Egypt)
1000 Cranes (Laila Iskander and the Role of Egyptian Recycling at the Social Enterprise World Forum)