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Egypt is struggling with high unemployment and a low inclusion of women and young people in the labour market. The organisation El-Rehla got the different stakeholders in the employment sector together to find solutions to the issues and strengthen cooperation between relevant institutions and companies.

El-Rehla has successfully concluded its second edition of the employment ecosystem camp, held 15-17 November in South Sinai’s Ras Sudr, in collaboration with Wuzzuf – Egypt’s leading online recruitment portal – and supported by the Danish Arab Partnership Programme.

The three-day retreat attracted more than 50 professionals involved directly in the employment market, including HR managers, ‎business developers, learning and development coaches, and representatives from local and international organisations.

“The employment ecosystem was the first thing that came to mind when we were planning to hold a camp for the promotion of the sector, and the employment market is still tagged as one of the country’s pain points,” El-Rehla’s co-founder and learning director Dalia El-Said said.

Launched back in 2013, El-Rehla (translates to “The Journey”) has been organising and facilitating a variety of retreat camps for business purposes, and, since recently, sector-focused camps.

Egypt struggles – like many other countries in the region – with a high unemployment rate, especially among youth cohorts. The country has a large informal economy and a trend towards a declining participation in the labour market. Egypt is ranked 93rd on the World Economic Forum’s 140-country Global Competitiveness Index, up one place over last year.

These are some of the reasons the organisation El-Rehla has got stakeholders in the employment system together to find new solutions.

“With the repeated layoffs, and the wide skills gap between supply and demand in the market, we were struck by how  important it was to organise an employment ecosystem retreat, so that people from all sectors related to employment could get together and collectively come up with strategic collaborations,” El-Said added.

Connecting the dots

Several themes relating to the labour market were highlighted during the camp, including talent acquisition, blue collar employment prospects, , HR trends, a decent working environment, early retirement, the skills gap, the appreciation ‎and rewards system, consultancy services and organisational culture, and the future of the workplace for millennials and Gen Z. Head of Wuzzuf’s career coaches Amira Amin, said:

“The lack of collaboration among the stakeholders concerned is one of the main drags on the advancement of the employment ecosystem in Egypt. The retreat is a great opportunity for all stakeholders to get connected and to navigate through the common roadblocks along the way.”

Meanwhile, Youmna El Khattam, Youth Participation and Employment Program Coordinator (YPE) at Oxfam, said that one of the reasons why Oxfam is supporting the camp is that it offers a platform for different stakeholders to sit together and discuss possible synergies through diverse collaborative methods and within a casual, non-competitive atmosphere. This will eventually lead to a strengthening of the whole ecosystem.

“We do believe in the experience of bringing people together and giving them the space to create a synergistic ecosystem.. After a while, this ecosystem will grow organically and be no longer contingent upon external programme’ funding,” El Khattam added.

Changing the traditional form of networking

Getting people together in a conference room tochat and swap business cards is a thing of the past. El-Rehla’s industry-specific retreats overhauls the traditional networking as we know it.

One of the justifications for El-Rehla’s industry-focused retreats is that they include “white space time” for its participants.

“We take professionals with business or career interests in common away from their daily grind to a more intimate, relaxing setting that allows them to free up their strategic thinking process and get those creative juices flowing. This is in order to build cross-sector collaborations among participants and leverage a specific sector,” El-Said elaborated.

She added, “Location is key to the success of the retreat. By taking place in an “off-the-beaten-track” destination, the retreat provides an opportunity for participants to clear their minds, reflect together, and refine and assess business practices through a variety of activities that cannot take place in a normal office environment.”

“We always ensure the full engagement of the participants and encourage a minimal exposure to technology during the camp in order to get the most benefits,” El-Said went on.

To illustrate, Hassan Abdel Qahar, Managing Partner & Career Coach at Discover Your Talents (DYT) and one of the camp’s participants, said:

“The retreat is a perfect opportunity to break out from the everyday surroundings and the stress of being heavily immersed in the technical side of work. The retreat’s venue hits the perfect balance between talking business and bonding – which allows for that out-of-the-box thinking.”

‘It is not what you know, but who you know’

While talking shop is key to the agenda of the retreat, a big part of it is also dedicated to helping participants get out of their shells and share their side of stories, their insecurities, and their fears through suitable activities. There are no closed groups or “cliques” in the retreat.

El-Rehla’s co-founder said:

“When people get on board, they take off their agency hats and start making genuine connections with their peers based on respecting the commonality amongst each other.”

Amira Hossam, facilitator at El-Rehla, said:

“We discovered that when people get to learn more about each other, they can easily identify with each other. From there on, people can then trust each other and become more willing to engage in collaborative work together.”

Trust and identification lead to better outcomes, according to Hossam:

“One of the primary objectives of the retreat is to promote the employment sector by letting participants synchronise feasible strategies across the entire collaboration spectrum. And we make sure that all the stakeholders ‎who make up the employment ecosystem in the camp are engaged, ” Hossam said.

She added:

“The purpose of the retreat is to promote communication among participants and come up with feasible strategies to lift up the organisations of the participants and the ecosystem as a whole. [We] also organize a collaborative space where people from different organisations can seek either a partnership for their businesses or ideas for possible expansion.”

A platform and roadmap

The end is just the beginning. After the retreat is over, the organisers make sure that communications after the retreat are fruitful.

“We ensure that the ideas discussed during the camp and the ensuing recommendations are consolidated into a comprehensive and accurate record, which is later disseminated to everyone involved, and that everyone is linked up through online groups,” El-Said said.

Also, we organise a quarterly follow-up meeting for the participants to take stock of the progress that has been made in the area of employment, she concluded.