Growing. Engaging. Staying Fresh: An Interview with Gamal Abou Ali of the Egyptian Junior Business Association

It’s a challenge maturing business associations face worldwide: how to grow and prosper but maintain the ability to pivot and evolve – all while engaging with key public decision-makers.

Gamal Abou Ali, Chairman of the Egyptian Junior Business Association (EJB), discussed this and broader challenges in his country in an interview with Stephen Rosenlund, Deputy Regional Director of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Department at CIPE and a leader of CIPE’s business associations working group.

Ali noted the importance of regular leadership changes in setting an organization up to pivot and evolve. EJB has term limits for board membership, chairmanship, and all leadership positions. “It’s not a mandated system, but a custom that we developed. In our 23 years of existence, I’m the 14th chairman. That ensures there is always new blood and a new vision. This is one thing I would invite all associations to consider.”

With new leadership comes new responsibilities, but “with CIPE’s help, we had training on how to run a business association, how to head committees and develop policy papers.”

Continuity and maturity are qualities that the EJB holds dear, too. Members who age out of the association – the maximum age for voting membership is 45 – can stay on and advise younger members.

Engaging policy decision-makers early in the process

Regarding policy advocacy, Ali advises early engagement with key decision-makers. “When we issue the policy papers, we engage the government from day one. We don’t issue the paper and then send it to the government. We try to have them work with us on issuing it. So that we know that they have seen it, they are aligned, or they agree with at least part of what we say.”

And active engagement has led to much policy work. In February, the EJB published a policy paper for industry development in Arabic (translation forthcoming). Their latest work builds on a track record of active public advocacy and outputs under Ali’s tenure, including publishing five policy papers (in Arabic) on improving and developing the business climate in Egypt. Topics covered in that series: COVID-era challenges in Egypt, legal considerations for developing MSMEs, the digital transformation and its impact on young entrepreneurs, financing for MSMEs, and export market penetration.

From humble roots to broad shoots

EJB was established in 1999 to give young Egyptian businesses and second and third-generation businesspeople their own voice and platform. EJB works on three main pillars: improving the Egyptian business environment, providing member benefits, and promoting community development from a business perspective. The organization focuses on advocacy, technical and vocational training for its SME members, SME financing, anti-corruption and integrity practices for companies, and more.

EJB is unique in that it is highly focused on supporting SMEs through its 18 committees in specialized cross-cutting sectors. The organization has branches in five governorates and aims to spread its services and community development support to target youth entrepreneurs, start-ups, and SMEs in all 27 governorates of Egypt. EJB’s main services include advocacy, public-private dialogue, and opening business opportunities for its members. The organization also maintains good relationships with domestic and international partners, including other business associations in Egypt.

During his term as Chairman, Ali has been grateful for EJB’s level of engagement with its partners, including more work with CIPE in the last two years than in the five years before.

“I think our board should be proud of its level of engagement,” Ali concluded.

Editor’s Note: This blog is part of the Policy & Program Learning Department’s Association Frontiers series.

Published Date: June 02, 2023