Interview on SEKEM’s Sustainability Approach

Interview with Maximilian Abouleish-Boes, Ph.D., SEKEM Sustainable Development Lead

Maximilian Abouleish-Boes was born in Germany and lives in Egypt since the end of 2009. His mission is to become a social leader who helps to transform SEKEM’s organizational structures and ecosystems towards higher resilience and serving the purpose of sustainable development. Currently, he fills the role as Sustainable Development Office for the SEKEM Holding that aims towards balancing the economic, societal, cultural and ecological life of the SEKEM group with its subsidiaries by improving and supporting their respective innovation, research and development efforts together with partners. 

Besides that, Maximilian supports the subsidiary NatureTex in the role of Merchandiser by exporting organic baby textiles. He is also father of two kids and lives at the SEKEM Farm.


SEKEM News: What does sustainability mean for SEKEM?

Maximilian Abouleish-Boes: Ideally, it means that we as humans develop ourselves and the earth and live in harmony with creation and the universe. Practically, it means managing trade-offs resulting from the attempt to balance economic, cultural, social and ecological life and needs.

SN: Describe one of SEKEM’s key sustainability dilemmas? 

M.A.: The strong environmental pollution in the crowded delta and Nile region makes it strategically important to grow organically and biodynamically in the desert. This often requires tapping into fossil water sources, which is not sustainable. But, we believe that showing sustainable agriculture and community building in the desert as part of our value creation is an important priority to respond to Egypt’s burning issues overall and to offer solutions that can be upscaled in other parts of the world. 

SN: What have been the key achievements of sustainability at SEKEM in 2020? 

M.A.: We have proven our resilience by achieving most of our financial and sustainability objectives despite the global pandemic and continued to set a positive signal of development to the world by continuing our Greening the Desert project and working on our other vision goals. 

SN: How does our sustainability work link to that of our customers, and what is the impact? 

M.A.: With our SEKEM Vision Goal #11 Economy of Love, we strive to make the economic, social, cultural and environmental impact of the consumer’s buying decision transparent with a holistic and true cost perspective on the product level. 

SN: What does our approach towards sustainability look like?

M.A.: We follow our SEKEM Vision Goals 2057. Around each goal a vision group is formed that acts as a steward. We create an organization or department that can act as a container to offer products and services and break down the goal to concrete yearly objectives. Then we engage in research or prototyping in order to learn. Our approach is to learn by doing and to strive for incremental improvement instead of perfection.

SN: How do we check our approach? 

M.A.: Each organizational entity that is striving for a goal needs to define checklist items and metrics to judge on the ability to serve their respective purpose serving our Vision Goal. Additionally, we define yearly objectives with regard to these metrics and track them on a monthly basis with responsible people. The most relevant data culminates in this yearly report to be shared with our key stakeholders and approved by our board of directors.

SN: How would you describe SEKEM’s strength and weakness? 

M.A.: Our strength is our ability to integrate and maintain the holistic approach to value creation including all spheres of life. We are a microcosm of different institutions with a strong network of partners that offers solutions for societal challenges. This is a very complex endeavor, and of course, we can always learn from others in terms of operational excellence. Another issue is that our products are often more expensive than the global competition. We always argue to take into account the true costs and values of products in order to compare.

Read more on SEKEM’s approach to Sustainable Development in our 2020 Report!