From Old and New Friends

Series of Lectures with Helmy Abouleish through Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.

Four days, seven lectures and countless encounters, with people who support SEKEM in thoughts, through strong interest or great commitment. At the end of September, SEKEMs CEO Helmy Abouleish travelled through southern Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland and presented the activities and developments of SEKEM Initiative at various events.

His journey started at the international Group of Companies Weleda, that produces natural cosmetics and herbal medicines. Here, Helmy Abouleish presented SEKEM as a model for the future and illustrated how different cultures work productively together in Egypt. In Stuttgart’s city hall, where the German SEKEM Friends organized an information evening on the current developments of the initiative, Abouleish focused on the SEKEMSophia project and reported on the recently opened “Space of Culture”. The lecture was also attended by Stuttgart’s mayor, Werner Wölfle, who, in cooperation with the SEKEM Friends Association Germany, promotes and supports the cultural activities of SEKEM.

There are deserts in Holland too

Several events followed in Holland. The Dutch SEKEM Friends had organized a huge and varied program for SEKEMs CEO. It started with the visit of a project for Organic farming in Holland’s “green desert”. For even in a seemingly fertile country there are deserts, in which biodiversity is missing. In Midden-Delfland the fields are covered with lush green grass, but which at the same time prevents the growth of other plant species. As a result, the quality of the soil suffers and the number of insects has already decreased by 75%. The project Op Hodenpijl tries to bring back biodiversity, soil quality and insects through Organic cultivation methods and thus revive the “green desert”. In an old church building on the premises of the Organic farm, cultural events are held regularly. Here, also Helmy Abouleish was invited to tell about SEKEMs foundation and how his father, against all odds, succeeded in founding the SEKEM Initiative in the Egyptian desert. About a hundred people were listening to his story, including the two long-standing SEKEM friends and Organic-pioneers of the Netherlands, Volkert Engelsmann and Willem van Wijk (founders of the Dutch Organic company eosta and members of the International Association for Partnership (IAP)).

Overcoming borders

The following day started in a huge tent in the midst of Holland’s idyllic forest. Here, in particular many young people were dealing with the question: How can borders be overcome and a sustainable future be shaped? By telling the history of SEKEM, Helmy Abouleish showcased how even under the most difficult conditions something hopeful can be created and thereby encouraged the young people in their commitment. “To see all these young committed people, who are concerned about how our world can become more sustainable and who are developing innovative ideas, is at the same time also encouraging us in our vision and activities for a global sustainable world that knows no boundaries between cultures,” the CEO of SEKEM states.

“Only through the help of other ‘crazy people’, the SEKEM miracle could become reality.” Helmy Abouleish

The journey then brought Helmy Abouleish to the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam, where he was invited to report on SEKEMs development path and the connection of sustainable land restoration and community building at a very popular evening event. Afterwards, Peter Blom, the CEO of SEKEMs shareholder TRIODOS Bank, the Dutch politician and Middle East expert Petra Stienen and Willem Ferwerda, founder of Commonland, discussed the challenges Egypt faces and what kind of solutions SEKEM offers. Everyone agreed that the SEKEM model is not only working on the ecological problems of the country, but has also answers to the social crises through its holistic approach. In this context, Helmy Abouleish stressed on the meaningful role that international partnerships, such as with the TRIODOS Bank play: “The SEKEM miracle could only be realized with the support of many like-minded people, companies or organizations, that might even appear at a first glance as ‘crazy’.” Some of those “crazy people”, who attended an event on global challenges on a Friday evening, instead of having fun with their friends, seemed to be in the room. This impression was also supported by the many comprehensive questions coming from the audience.

Inspirations for the future and many new friends

Two other like-minded people from Belgium invited Helmy Abouleish to Ghent. There, Luuk Humblet and Mia Stockman founded the first Organic shop 30 years ago and are very engaged into fostering a dialogue on the topic of associative economics. In an atmospheric old university building, Helmy Abouleish talked about the inspirations that led his father to establish the SEKEM Initiative 40 years ago, and how the different impulses from Orient and Occident influence SEKEM. During his journey through the Benelux countries, Helmy Abouleish was accompanied and supported by the Dutch SEKEM Friends, especially Bert de Graaff, Corien Hoek and Hendrik Jan Bakker. The long-standing SEKEM supporters also presented the newly published Dutch edition of the book “The SEKEM Symphony” by Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish during the trip.

Before Helmy Abouleish made his way back home to Egypt, he held a final lecture in Switzerland. He was invited by the Goetheanum in Dornach to talk about “Individual and social responsibility in dealing with business, the environment and the future” within the framework of the congress “Impulses for the Future”. The SEKEM CEO is regularly visiting the Centre of Anthroposophy since he is an active member of the Social Science Section.

“I return to SEKEM with many new impulses and inspirations”, Helmy Abouleish summarizes his impressions. “We are very grateful that we have so many friends in Europe who support us with such a great commitment. And it seems to me, as if there were even some more joining us in the past days.”

Christine Arlt

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