As the chairperson of RAMSCO, Rawya Mansour has been a successful interior designer for many years. She developed a new passion after attending a conference on the environment in Vienna in 2007. She became very environmentally conscious and has since made it her goal to give back to the community through helping Egyptians live in healthy environments where they can achieve their full potential. Mansour is involved in a number of initiatives with the ultimate goal of creating zero waste scenarios based on the recycling of agricultural waste and creating renewable energy. She has a project in the New Kalabsha Village where a number of vegetables are being cultivated without any chemical pesticides and through methods that save more than 60% of the irrigation water. eniGma’s Lina Ashour talked to Rawya Mansour about her two passions in life and her views on how to promote sustainable development in Egypt.
How did you decide to pursue interior design? What was the most fulfilling aspect of it for you personally?
As a child I used to love to play with boxes and use them to decorate a room. I love to surround myself with beautiful things, and not necessarily expensive ones. Creating beautiful, innovative surroundings is an art that comes naturally to me and makes me happy. I succeeded as an interior designer and I was happy that through my business I employed people and helped them to provide better opportunities for their children. I feel it’s my duty to pass on to others some of the opportunities I have been blessed with.
Do you think people can create a beautiful environment to live in without spending much money?
Of course. You just have to be in touch with how things make you feel. Your house must be in harmony with who you are and it also should be harmonious as a whole. Something as simple as flowers and their beautiful colours can add to your home, or even a simple chair. I am now applying the same concept to ecotourism, for example; designing a whole village in that same simple style is the challenge that I’m enjoying the most now.
You recently became an environmental activist, how did this come about?
I always hated garbage, it’s bad for the environment and it’s bad for people’s health. So when I got this invitation to attend a conference on the environment, I felt like it was a message from God. It was a new start for me. When I went to Vienna I saw how they have been practicing solid waste management in Europe since the early 20th century and here we’re still discussing whether or not to implement it. I found that shocking. Especially since solid waste management actually provides a country with an extra source of income. By recycling resources, you shift from a linear to a circular economy. I believe this is the solution that will eradicate poverty.
Some people have difficulty understanding the relationship between environmental development and the eradication of poverty, what is the connection?
I come across this difficulty a lot. In a conference with members of the European Union a few years ago I asked why we were not paying more attention to sustainable development and the environment and I heard someone in the audience complain, “not the environment again!” But we have to realise that poverty and poor environmental conditions are two sides of the same coin. You cannot ask people to be healthy and productive when there is improper infrastructure, no sewage systems, no drinkable water. Many developing countries have included sustainable environmental development in their constitutions as a means to eradicate poverty and it has helped them develop economically.
So is there is a problem of lack of awareness?
Yes, we do have an awareness problem. What people don’t realise is that God created a green economy without any waste. For instance, the cow after it eats, creates manure that is used to fertilize the ground. There is no waste in nature. So my main concern is creating a similarly self-sufficient system in our deserts.
What other obstacles have you faced in pursuing this goal?
I have faced a lot of problems actually. First of all, a lot of men had no problem listening to me as an interior designer and I competed successfully in that field. However, when it came to providing an economic solution, I faced a lot of resistance; especially since I was not specialised in this field. They assume that because I come from a different background then I cannot know enough about it and could not possibly have solutions. In fact everyone can provide solutions.
What are some of the projects you’re currently working on?
When I realised the importance of recycling, I wanted to do something about it. I worked with the Egyptian government and the United Nations on recycling agricultural waste and using it as fertilizer to increase food production. When I first started working on this in 2007, chemical fertilizers were very expensive and ultimately the high price of food was one of the causes of the revolution. Egypt is heavily dependent on food imports and the economy is struggling as a result. There has to be a way for us to become self sufficient, that’s why I’m happy to see that these policies are being changed now. Another issue I am concerned with is pollution. It causes asthma, kidney disease, birth defects, hepatitis, and many health problems for the Egyptian people. This is something we have to address. All these concerns are intertwined, so the solution must be a holistic approach. My holistic solution was to go to the desert and create zero waste eco-villages with proper infrastructure and to plant organic vegetables so we don’t pollute the water sources. I tried to create as much exposure for this project as I possibly could, so I attended conferences, spoke to television stations and newspapers, and discussed the idea with many regional leaders. Now people are beginning to learn about the work we’re doing at our research centre in Ismailia and we’re getting visibility for our pilot trials with organic produce in New Kalabasha village. The vegetables from this project are now part of a RAMSCO supply chain and are being sold in various supermarkets across Egypt. In the long term, this approach would also help us slow down the negative effects of climate change, so everyone benefits in the end.
Tell us about the protocol you recently signed with the Council of Arab Businesswomen.
After a tour of the New Suez Canal Project and the work being done at New Kalabsha Village, we signed a co-operation protocol with Sheikha Hissah Al-Sabah, Chairperson of the Council of Arab Businesswomen. She was very impressed with the work that was being done and said it was a source of pride for all Arabs. The co-operation protocol is designed to support the growth of organic produce and gender equality in Egypt and to find funding and partnerships for two zero waste eco-villages that also employ women. The Council shares our vision of environmentally friendly, cost-effective and market driven methods in agriculture.