Yomken. It means “it is possible” in Arabic. This is what two young staffers in the Cairo office thought when they designed and implemented a website linking low tech and informal manufacturers in the Arab world with solution providers and funders.
Yomken.com is the brainchild of Raghada Abdelhady and Tamer Taha. It works like this: the manufacturers post their challenges on the site and “the crowd”― entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, students, researchers―is invited to provide solutions. Volunteer experts review the proposed solutions and choose the most suitable and practical ones to be matched with manufacturers. The resulting products or business ideas can then be “crowd-funded.” In return, the problem solver gets a share of the profit if a business is born out of the match.
In crowd-funding, potential buyers pre-pay for products online. If enough buyers pledge enough funds to cover production costs and deliver a profit, the workshop owner, in partnership with the innovator, can start producing. Funders can track the use of their pledges during the production process. For more information on crowd-funding, watch Yomken's explanatory video.
The aim is to bring-up innovative products from the informal sector in the Arab world and to use the “wisdom of the crowd” to help start businesses. Abdelhady and Taha are winners of the Bank’s Youth Innovation Fund, which made the project possible.
Shaker, a shoemaking workshop owner in Cairo says the site will help local products compete with imported ones. “Yomken will also help us reach our customers and provide us with an efficient method for raising funds,” says Shaker.
Micro and small enterprises in Egypt have limited sources of financing, which makes it difficult for them to develop new products or modernize production processes. Yomken.com addresses this challenge by connecting them with sources of “crowd funding,” along with solution providers.
M. Ashour uses Yomken.com to showcase his innovative design of a new foldable mother of pearl table to play chess, backgammon, and other board games.
“Although our handmade products are of a very good quality, it was a great risk to try to innovate. Also, being at the end of the value chain put limitations on our ability to negotiate prices. That was indeed discouraging,” says Mohammed, a wood products workshop owner in Cairo.
Yomken.com’s kick off in July began with 18 volunteers screening more than 60 manufacturing workshops for potential innovations. The workshops―all based in Cairo’s Manshiet Nasser mega slum of 800,000 residents―were as diverse as their products, which ranged from toys, souvenirs, and plastic gadgets, to handmade furniture.
“This is one of the few times that we found collaboration with an international organization credible and worthwhile. I am proud of our cooperation and willing to pursue the effort further,” said Ismail, one of the volunteers from Mansheyet Nasser.
“It was a rewarding experience to be in direct contact with the beneficiaries and to listen to their priorities, needs and dreams. Sometimes financing is not the only priority. It is even more effective if combined with know-how and shared expertise," said staffer Abdelhady.
Yomken.com is now managed by Istebdaa', an NGO established in partnership with Mesaha for Community Development, which has played a key role in the project since its inception.
“It would not have been possible to achieve this work without the continuous support of the colleagues at the World Bank in both Cairo and Marseille offices, who assisted and encouraged us all along from the concept note to the implementation phase. With their help, we developed a better understanding of the Bank's guidelines,” says staffer Taha.
Yomken.com volunteers during their training sessions. Volunteers helped review and match solutions between solution providers and manufacturers.
The website was launched in July 2012 but the marketing campaign will be rolled out this month. The website already includes a number of interesting ideas that are scheduled to be published in December. For more information please visit Yomken’s facebook page or follow them on Twitter.
The project was inspired by the Marseille Center for Mediterranean Integration’s work on the "Knowledge and Innovation-based economy in MENA" and by MENA’s "Emergency Labor-Intensive Investments" program both of which aim at introducing a new innovative model for growth and employment.
The World Bank’s Youth Innovation Fund provides opportunities for young Bank staff to design and implement youth development projects in client countries. The initiative provides funding, technical assistance and knowledge exchange through partnerships with local youth and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The projects, administered byout eh Youth2Youth network focuses on innovation, efficiency and impact on youth development, have contributed to increased employability, community engagement, and life skills.