Egypt: Using Twitter to Help a Cairo Community

This post is part of our special coverage Egypt Revolution 2011.

After seeing the huge impact of social media on the Egyptian revolution, Egyptian blogger and Twitter user, Mahmoud Salem (@SandMonkey) decided to collaborate with a local non-profit organisation to help them raise funds using the power of Twitter to offer basic services in an impoverished neighborhood of Cairo.

Ezbet Khairalla is one of the largest unplanned communities in Egypt, with a population close to 650,000 inhabitants. It is a sprawling area of about 12 square kilometres on a rocky plateau that lies in the southern part of Cairo. Although Ezbet Khairalla is located within the boundaries of Cairo, most basic services are missing; not only sewage and garbage collection, but also inadequate education, poor health and social services. Hence the densely populated area is considered fertile soil for crime and social unrest.

Tweeps visited a kindergarten in Ezbet Khairallah, Cairo. Photo by @pakinamamer (July 30, 2011)

Tweeps visited a kindergarten in Ezbet Khairallah, Cairo. Photo by @pakinamamer (July 30, 2011)

Ezbet Khairallah street

Snapshot of Ezbet Khairallah street by @pakinamamer on Yfrog

To help improve the quality of life in Ezbet Khairalla, Khair Wa Baraka (Peace and Plenty), an organisation founded in 2004, started working on educational, health and environmental programs, especially after their research showed that the most important issue in the community was dealing with both solid and liquid waster (sewage). They also provide medical caravans and pilot educational centres.

With the support of people on Twitter, Peace and Plenty and raised EGP 2 million Egyptian pounds (over $330,000 US dollars as well as awareness for the community. Salem called his initiative “tweetback” (@tweetbackevent), and it relied on the social capital of 20 of power-Twitter users who collectively have around a quarter of a million followers. They each raised money from donors in exchange for giving contributing companies PR among their followers. They also created a buzz about the initiative and helped explain to people how they can help.

Tweeting from the Tweetback event. Photo by Rania Helmy, a co-organiser.

Peace and Plenty held a fundraising event on July 26, 2011 at the Marriott hotel in Cairo, where they announced that EGP 1,349,000 ($226,600) had already been raised.

The twitter users who were attending also tweeted about each of the donors and how much they donated, whether it was a beverage company, a mobile operator, or even donors who refused to reveal their identities. They also created a short-number for people to call to donate EGP 3 ($0.50), and again Twitter was used to spread the info.

The Tweetback organizers believe that this is only an initial step, and as Salem wrote in his blog, “More of these initiatives will only happen if you show support for this very first one, which by virtue of the timing, and novelty, is in desperate need for your sponsorship.” Peace and Plenty called Ezbet Khairalla, a prototype of an “unplanned community” in need of development. Perhaps we will soon see more initiatives to help develop other unplanned communities too.

This post is part of our special coverage Egypt Revolution 2011.


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