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El Nafeza: Sustainable Artisan Workshop

17 November, 2014
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Located in Fustat is El Nafeza Foundation for Contemporary Art and Development; a small yet lively workshop where artisans work to revive the papermaking industry in Egypt. It is the sole establishment in Egypt and the Middle East involved in the art of papermaking handcrafts from agricultural waste, especially rice straw. El Nafeza creatively designs, produces and sells notebooks, photo albums, bags, frames, boxes, lampshades and stationery. Sharing with us his artistic vision and love for giving back to society is El Nafeza's owner and founder, artist Mohamed Abou El Naga.

What was the inspiration to combine art and development?
I believe art has a social and revolutionary role with an aim to change society for the better. It creates unconventional ideas which we have turned to creative products with a practical use.

Who are those eligible to work in El Nafeza?
There is a priority for marginalized people and especially women with disabilities.

Is the Papermaking Centre in El Fustat the main and only workspace for El Nafeza?
The headquarters, workshop and trainings are in Fustat. There are also external action program workshops such as a Kenyan institute that produces paper from agricultural waste, and inside Egypt there are several workshops in different schools in Upper Egypt, Alexandria and Cairo. In our practice we send out the message of environmental awareness elaborating the importance of recycling paper and agricultural waste.

Are these sales your main source of revenue? Are you financially sustainable?
El Nafeza is a success story when it comes to being financially sustainable. The foundation was initially supported but once on its feet it has not taken any financial support and solely relies on the selling of its products to local and global markets.

El Nafeza has gained international recognition. Could you tell us more about that?
Artisans are trained by the artist Inas Khamis and experience is gained over time. Our products are found in Europe showing that the quality of our products is of international standard. Even when El Nafeza was still under establishment, its products were part of an international exhibition in Alexandria in 2002 and 2005.

What can you tell us about you collaboration with Al Fanar? How has it helped El Nafeza?
The idea of El Nafeza was initially supported by the Artist Institute. Accordingly the institute proposed it to Al Fanar at the time and began their support that took place from 2005 to 2008. Thanks to them we purchased machinery, and rented out a place as the headquarters. Ashoka Foundation also supported us in this time. Today, Ashoka gives us continuous moral and media support. We know that financial support will not last forever, so we are now thankful to be unique enough that our products sustain us financially.

Image courtesy of El Nafeza

Tags agricultural waste recycling Artisan awareness Because Disabilities Egypt empowerment handicrafts paper recycling Social business social cause social entrepreneurship Social Good social impact sustainable businesses women workshop