Preserving Egyptian traditions while generating jobs

March 19, 2015


  • A project by an Egyptian psychiatrist is kick starting eco- and cultural tourism to generate local jobs
  • Foods and handicrafts at risk of dying out are being revived to sell to visitors
  • Grantees are given seed money to develop social enterprises with the potential for community impact

About 320 kilometers south of Cairo, Egyptian psychiatrist and Egyptologist, Dr. Mervat Abdel Nasser, has chosen Tona el Gabal village in Mallawi district, Minya Governorate as the site for her project, “New Hermopolis”.

With many years of working abroad, Dr. Mervat hopes to put something back by highlighting aspects of Egypt’s rich heritage to help stimulate the local economy.

Her project is an environmentally friendly village that will be used as a location to promote interest in antiquities, as well as hosting concerts and other cultural events. She hopes this will develop sources of revenue for the local community. Among other things, she wants to encourage women in Tona el Gabal and neighboring villages to generate an income from selling traditional food.



Redha, a 20-year-old mother of two, works on the project, offering tourists and other visitors specialty foods local to Upper Egypt. “I got this job after I visited the project out of curiosity,” she said. Redha used to work outside in a field opposite the project. 
Another lady, Um Amr, a woman from a neighboring village, said her husband encouraged her to expand her skills and earn money working on the project.

Mervat spent part of her career teaching psychiatry at universities in the United Kingdom. Back home, she wants to draw attention to the attractions of Egypt’s ancient architecture and preserve foods that are in danger of disappearing. 

The project is set up on two feddans in Tona el Gabal, less than 3 km from the ancient city of Hermopolis, which dates back thousands of years to Pharaonic, Greek, and Roman times. The scope of the project includes a hotel built in keeping with the ancient architecture the area is known for, and a cultural center. Mervat’s ambitions do not stop there, though; they also stretch to planting the types of fruit trees that were grown in Pharaonic Egypt, including olives and pomegranates.

The World Bank Group’s Development Marketplace, in collaboration with international and local partners, chose Mervat’s Foundation for Innovation and Development as one of 35 grantees across 14 Egyptian governorates selected for the 2013 Egypt Development Marketplace (DM). Each grantee was given US$ 25,000, as well as capacity development and technical assistance to improve the sustainability and scalability of their project.

Financed by the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and a number of donor countries, the Egypt DM provided US$ 1.25 million to help create jobs and revive and preserve handicrafts at risk of dying out.

The Development Marketplace is a multifaceted program dedicated to identifying, supporting and scaling up social enterprises with innovative business models that have the potential for significantly improving the lives and services of impoverished and under-served communities.