Vigour, conviction and commitment in Egypt – revisting ICA MENA

This post was written for ICAI Winds and Waves, September 2015 issue.


Martin with some of the new staff of ICA MENA Bayad June 2015I joined the ICA MENA team as an international volunteer in 1989, and wound up joining the permanent staff and staying for 6 years in Egypt before I left now 20 years ago. When I visited again this June I had not been back for maybe 10 years, so it was great to be back, and to reconnect with old friends and colleagues and to a place and context where I spent some formative years.

Much has changed in Egypt in those years, as it has in the world at large and in ICA and my own life as well. So my visit gave me plenty of cause for reflection.

It also gave me a welcome opportunity to use my Arabic again among those with whom I learned it – which I was pleased to find relatively effortless compared to other countries in the region that I have visited more recently, where quite different dialiects are spoken.  I visited Egypt from Beirut, after completing a strategic planning assignment there with the Safety & Security Committee for Lebanon.

Of course the effects of the revolution and subsequent events were noticeable everywhere, from the security in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to the burnt out government buildings in Beni Suef, and the ever-present talk of politics – that had previously been forever absent.

ICA MENA staff lunch in Bayad June 2015Egypt’s population has continued to grow at a tremendous rate over recent decades, and so has its urban sprawl continued to extend into the desert. The desert village of Bayad El Arab was accessible only by boat at the time that ICA began work there in 1976. During my time it was accessible also by bridge from Beni Suef and by desert road from Cairo, but it was still a remote and clearly distinct community. Now it has been entirely absorbed by the greater city of Beni Suef – there is a new university campus next door, apartments have been built on ICA’s demonstration desert reclamation farm and many of the stone houses of the village have been rebuilt or replaced in concrete. The ICA training centre itself, however, remains remarkably as I remember living and working in it myself.

ICA MENA staff August 1995During my time with ICA MENA the staff team grew from a low of around a dozen resident volunteers in Bayad to around 35 salaried employees in Bayad and Cairo, with up to 15 or 20 grant-funded programmes operating at any time.

In subsequent years the staff grew to over 100 in five offices nationwide, operating more and larger programmes across Egypt and the region. It then shrank again to the small core team who have remained with ICA all these years, and who have now been able to sustain the organisation through changes in leadership, a dramatic fall in project funding and then the turbulence of the revolution as well.

Sabah presents the ICA MENA strategy in Bayad June 2015I enjoyed meeting again with numerous old friends and colleagues from my own time in Egypt, those still with ICA and some who are not. However it was also very exciting to meet some of the 65 or so bright young staff who have newly joined ICA in the past year, to meet some of ICA’s long-time external partners and supporters in Cairo as well, and to learn of ICA MENA’s new programmes  new strategies and plans for the future.

I witnessed a new vigour to ICA MENA, as well as a deep conviction of the valuable role that ICA has to play in Egypt’s future and a strong commitment to that – and to renewed collaboration and partnership with ICAs and others beyond the region as well.

I was inspired and am grateful to our colleagues in Egypt for their tenacity and commitment through what have clearly been challenging times, and I urge ICA colleagues everywhere to support them in whatever ways they can – and in the process to take the opportunity to learn from their rich experience as I have.

ICA MENA logo‘Like’ and connect with ICA MENA on Facebook, and watch out for an update from ICA MENA Director Sabah Khalifa in the September issue of ICAI Winds and Waves magazine.

ICA International Board update, June 2015

ICAI Global Buzz, June 2015
This post was written for ICAI’s monthly bulletin the Global Buzz, June 2015. This month’s issue includes updates from ICAs in Cote D’Ivoire, India, Japan, Nepal, Spain, Taiwan & USA.

The Institute of Cultural Affairs is a global community of non-profit organisations advancing human development worldwide. The ICAI network comprises member organisations and related groups in over 40 countries.  The role of ICA International is to facilitate peer-to-peer interchange, learning and mutual support across the network, for greater and deeper impact. ICA International maintains consultative status with UN ECOSOC, UNESCO, UNICEF, WHO & FAO.


Raising our ambition – a face-to-face meeting of the virtual ICAI BoardLast month provided a rare and invaluable opportunity for the largely virtual Board of ICA International to meet face-to-face, in conjunction with the East & Southern Africa ICA regional gathering held near Arusha in Tanzania – see my review of the Board meeting Raising our ambition – a face-to-face meeting of the virtual ICAI Board, and please SAVE THE DATE for the 21 July ICAI General Assembly (online sessions 10am & 2pm London time).

Four Board members stayed on for the regional gathering, which will be reported separately.  A WhatsApp group has since been established for the region, to enable participants and others to share reflections and photos and to stay in touch and to facilitate peer-to-peer support and collaboration.

The following week I travelled to Moscow to deliver ToP Group Facilitation Methods and Action Planning training with Victoria & Segey Bekhtereva of Rules Play, who are working to promote ToP facilitation and ICA in Russia.  I was pleased to be able to meet also one evening with them and another 8 or so Russian ToP facilitators, to hear more of their interests and aspirations for ToP and ICA in Russia, including making ToP training and Certified ToP Facilitator certification available in Russia.  We also spoke of how they might make best advantage of Bill Staples’ planned trip to Moscow from Canada in October.

While in Moscow I spoke with Sabah Khalifa of ICA MENA in Egypt, and confirmed plans to visit them from June 13-17, after my next client trip to Beirut.  ICA MENA is now delivering a programme of community and youth development in four governorates of Upper Egypt, in partnership with the Ministry of Social Affairs, and curently has around a dozen staff plus volunteers in offices in Bayad El Arab (Beni Suef), Fayoum and Cairo – many of whom were already on the staff when I myself worked with ICA MENA from 1989-95.  So I am looking forward to revisiting Bayad and Beni Suef and meeting old friends and colleagues, as well as catching up with recent developments – I last visited over 10 years ago. I am also looking forward to supporting ICA MENA however I can in its current 5-year strategic planning, and in taking advantage of possibilities for peer-to-peer collaboration and support with other ICAs.