Ibrahim Abouleish

Aged 20, Ibrahim Abouleish secretly boarded a ship and left his homeland of Egypt. His goal: to study in the place where Goethe once lived.

As a youth, he had read Arabic translations of all of Goethe’s works. He settled in the Austrian city of Graz, studied pharmacology, married a local woman and had two children with her. During a visit to Egypt in 1977, he was so dismayed by his country’s problems – an educational crisis, overpopulation, environmental pollution – that he returned to his homeland the very same year, “to do something for Egypt”. On a 70-hectare area of desert around 47 kilometres northeast of Cairo, he founded a development project: SEKEM.

At SEKEM, using only organic methods, he transformed desert into fertile soil. “You have to see it with your own eyes to believe that such a lush paradise can grow in the desert. The fields are a deep green, the whole area is beautifully planted and its diverse array of trees, flowers, birds and insects are enchanting”.

Today, SEKEM is a market leader in organic agriculture, herbal teas and natural remedies. It also runs schools, employment and educational programmes, a medical centre (which not only serves employees but also 30,000 local people), and an academy for applied arts and sciences.

SEKEM provides 35,000 people with meaningful work, as well as the small-scale farmers who supply it with organic produce – most of which is grown according to standards established by Demeter, the largest biodynamic certification body.

In 2003, Ibrahim Abouleish received the Right Livelihood Award.