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For Sherif Kamel, solving his country’s economic woes is all about building an entrepreneurial culture. But the dean of the business school at the American University of Cairo admits that in Egypt today, this is no straightforward task. “It’s another culture we are trying to build.”

The facts speak for themselves, he says. More than 7m Egyptian people work for the government, meaning that around 30m of Egypt’s 90m population are dependent on civil service salaries. It is a situation Prof Kamel believes has to change.

His school is putting steps in place to promote innovation. Over the past four years 4,500 people have been trained, coached and helped to set up their own ventures by the business school at AUC, says Prof Kamel. “We have to create a strong impact in this area. We have to create a momentum and I think we have been able to do that.”

Business plan competition

While business school competitions and entrepreneurial teaching are commonplace in most business schools, the would-be entrepreneurs that AUC is encouraging are from outside the business school altogether. They are overwhelmingly young and mainly out of work, but they all have one thing in common – they have an idea they bring to the table, says the dean. He sees his school’s role as nurturing this. “The challenge you have today is that you cannot set up a business based on just an idea. I don’t think money is the problem. Shaping ideas and turning them into concrete proposals is the problem.”

The school is using social media to to advertise its business plan competition and it has proven particularly successful. “Two or three messages and the people come,” says Prof Kamel. And the would-be entrepreneurs are not just based in Cairo. “If you want to change Egypt you need to attract people from the remote areas and increasingly we are doing that.”

University incubator

At the end of June an incubator will be set up on the campus and will adopt an interdisciplinary approach to innovation, involving the other university departments as well as the business school.

Prof Kamel is no stranger to either innovation or interdisciplinary collaboration. After receiving his PhD from the London School of Economics in the UK, he went back to work for an Egyptian government think-tank that investigated the introduction of information technology into public administration. He became involved with AUC on a professional level in 1992 – he had previously studied there as an undergraduate – and joined the university full-time in 2001.

The school, which was set up in 1947, now teaches postgraduate degrees as well as undergraduate and executive programmes. Prof Kamel wants to grow the graduate programmes, such as the MBA, the EMBA and the masters degrees. And he believes that Egypt’s location in Africa but facing Europe, will enable the school to attract top students. “Africa is the continent of the 21st century,” he states.

Short executive programmes are also a mainstay of the school. “Since 1966 the school has been strong in executive education – these courses preceded the degree programmes,” he points out. “Executive programmes are important because they bring us closer to business. I don’t see business schools developing unless their rate of change is as fast as in the corporate world outside.”

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