This year, the “World Day to Combat Desertification”, June 17th, comes as all who work in this field mourn the passing of Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish, the founder of the Sekem community in Egypt.
Dr. Abouleish was one of most knowledgeable and successful practitioners of combating desertification. He led a large and growing community that created a thriving and sustainable landscape from barren sand dunes in Egypt.
All who knew Dr. Abouleish were moved by the great joy in which he lived his life. He will be greatly missed. Fortunately, the Sekem community is strong and Dr. Abouleish’s son Helmy and his Son-in Law, Maximillian and hundreds and thousands of others have been steeped in the work and will most definitely carryon this urgent and important mission.
Our hearts go out to the Abouleish family and the entire Sekem Community.
Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish, Founder & Chairman of SEKEM
“Sustainable Development is one of the most important challenges to man and it means the creation of living conditions today which will still allow future generations to live with dignity.”
Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish was born in Egypt 1937. In 1956 he moved to Graz, Austria, where he studied chemistry and medicine. After his studies, he engaged in medical research and was Head of Division for medical research. In Europe, Dr. Abouleish was influenced by antroposophic philosophy, arts and culture, which later made him to shape the SEKEM-Vision.
In 1975, he visited his home country Egypt, where he was confronted with the urge problems of the country: poverty, overpopulation and pollution. This visit was a crucial experience and the SEKEM-Founder decided to act. He came to the conclusion that only a holistic approach could help to solve the main problems of his country. He started to develop the SEKEM-Vision, which he describes as: “Sustainable Development towards a future where every human being can unfold his or her individual potential; where mankind is living together in social forms reflecting human dignity; and where all economic activity is conducted in accordance with ecological and ethical principles.”
In 1977, the scientist went back to Egypt and bought 70 hectares of desert land northeast of Egypt’s Capital Cairo and founded the SEKEM Initiative. The name SEKEM means according to an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph „vitality of the sun‟. The Entrepreneur and his helpers started against all odds to revitalize the desert soil by using biodynamic agricultural methods and succeeded in cultivating herbs, fruits, vegetables, cotton and other crops. SEKEM grew and Dr. Abouleish incorporated other companies under the umbrella of SEKEM to continue processing the crops, like ATOS Pharma for pharmaceutical products in 1986, LIBRA for Biodynamic cultivation of crops in 1988, ISIS Organic for production of processed organic foodstuff 1997 and ConyTex (now NatureTex) for manufacturing organic textiles in 1998. The companies have been united under the umbrella of the SEKEM Holding since 2000. Due to the holistic approach of Dr. Abouleishs vision, SEKEM obligated itself to serve the society and established several institutions. In 1989, a School was created in SEKEM and a Medical Center takes care of SEKEMs employees and the surrounding residents since 1996. One year later, the SEKEM Vocational Center and an Arts School were introduced. In 2009, the Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development received its acknowledgment by the Presidential Decree No. 298 and opened its gates for Students in 2012.
Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish was multiple awarded for his achievements, among others with the Right Livelihood Award, better known as “Alternative Nobel Prize” in 2003. Today, SEKEM is not only a company, but a living community of about 1200 people, where mankind is encouraged to unfold its full potential and different people of different cultures meet and work together hand in hand to realize the vision of SEKEM.
I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Abouleish together with his Son Helmy several years ago at the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security. Dr. Abouleish’s work was featured in the second of the Green Gold Documentaries made by the Dutch Public Broadcaster VPRO. Watch Green Gold II.