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Akher Kalam: Sara Ali Imagines the Future

"This year, I had a life-changing experience..."

By Sara Ali | This regular guest-written column appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of AUCToday

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Sara Ali. Photo by Ahmad El-Nemr.

Team leader Sara Ali is an undergraduate student majoring in construction engineering and minoring in business management. Her team in Shell’s Imagine the Future competition was made up of Ahmed Samir, economics; Salma El Maghraby, political science and anthropology; Salma Morsy, actuarial science; Mohamed Saad, petroleum engineering; Rana El Semary, mechanical engineering; and Ahmed Azzam, who is pursuing a Master of Science in construction engineering. AUC’s School of Business and Shell Global collaborated to provide the six semi-finalist AUC teams with training sessions on campus, delivered by AUC faculty members and both Shell Egypt and Shell Global stakeholders.

This year, I had a life-changing experience, to say the least. I, along with my team, won second place in Shell’s Imagine the Future competition in Singapore, where participants were required to build scenarios of what cleaner energy would look like for an Egyptian city in 2050.

I was in the library when I read about the competition, and this is where we randomly formed our group. I met a couple of my friends who were participating individually, and we decided to form a team, calling other friends who were interested. Our team was made up of seven AUC students — all from completely different majors, which I believe helped us the most throughout the competition.

As a team, we all had very strong personalities, which made it difficult for us to agree on an idea — and this was our major setback. Everything that we began to work on was eventually thrown away, and we had to start over. But then we found that we were running out of time and had to compromise a little. It was then that I realized that when we combined all our perspectives, we were able to actually visualize the scenario of Egypt more clearly.

It wasn’t just our majors, but also our skills and characteristics, which we gained either socially or through AUC’s cocurricular activities, that made all the difference. Our team included the creative, analytical, bold, attentive to detail, research-focused and goal-oriented. It was a good mix.

The process of scenario-building is very complicated, but AUC’s School of Business organized several sessions in collaboration with Shell, featuring AUC professors as well as professionals working in Egypt’s agricultural sector. This helped us define and refine the scope of our research.

We found out that Egypt has taken steps to overcome its energy problems stemming from its rapidly increasing population. In addition, the country took several renewable energy initiatives. And this was another impediment, since we had to focus on factors other than renewable energy as we know it.

As part of our scenario-building, we had to imagine external and internal factors in 2050 that would affect the form of renewable energy that will be used in Egypt. We came up with two scenarios: 1) A centralized Egypt, where the government would own most of the industries and would regulate agriculture. Thus, the government’s resort to renewable energy solutions would be in the form of large-scale investment technologies, such as real-time maps to advise farmers on which plants to grow in certain areas and advances in solar water systems. 2) Entrepreneurship driving Egypt’s policies and economy. The second scenario would adopt a completely different form of renewable energy — a variety of solutions enough for a small business or startup to be profitable. Entrepreneurs would be given room for research, which would lead to innovations such as smart fertilizers, use of artificial intelligence to monitor crops and multiple sources of energy.

Our presentation consisted of two animated videos showing how the daily lives of Egyptians would vary according to each scenario. We also had a presidential debate between two candidates, each promoting one of the scenarios. It was very challenging competing against smart, well-driven groups from prominent universities such as Yale-NUS College in Singapore, which came in first, and Chiang Mai University in Thailand, which came in third.

During an interview in Singapore, I was asked the question of how we as Egyptians can help the government and society adopt these scenarios and technologies. I really believe that Egypt as a country has shown its ability to overcome a lot of challenges, and it has started to develop and ease the process of foreign investment in the country. In addition, a lot of startups are being introduced in Egypt, with venture capital companies and events that cater to the startup arena, such as the successful RiseUp Summit.

So in answer to the question, I believe that Egypt is already taking significant steps toward advancement. We just need to change our mindsets toward energy usage in terms of water, food and electricity. We need to make the community aware of the dilemma that Egypt will be facing. We need the government’s support in doing what it takes to actually make Egypt as progressive and self-sufficient as it ought to be. We can do it if we all work together for the sake of our beloved Egypt.

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