Building a better Egypt
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Building a better Egypt

Radwa Rostum, the founder of social enterprise Hand Over, talks to Alicia Buller about leading Egypt’s sustainable construction revolution

The Egyptian construction sector, like much of the rest of the world, is battling slowdown effects from the coronavirus pandemic.

Even as its capital city Cairo gingerly reopens following a nationwide lockdown, construction firms face a range of challenges such as socially distanced labour shifts and therefore lower capacity. That’s according to Radwa Rostom, the founder of Hand Over, a design and build company dedicated to bringing sustainable buildings to Egypt’s masses.

She says her mission is “to transform the construction industry by creating an alternative that is sustainable and cost-effective, as well as inspiring a community development approach through social projects”.

Founded in 2015, the ten-person enterprise has already successfully delivered on a range of projects, such as a community centre for Bedouins in Saint Catherine, in collaboration with the ‘Catherine Exists’ initiative; a community school on the outskirts of Giza, in collaboration with ‘Man Ahyaha’ NGO; and the environmentally ­­friendly headquarters of a new agricultural start up company.

Rostom says Hand Over will be pushing ahead with a new spate of projects, despite some clients having faced funding issues due to the economic effects of coronavirus.

“It hasn’t been a smooth ride but we are trying to be visionary and look ahead… the virus won’t always be here,” the construction entrepreneur says.

The upcoming months will see the commencement of phase two of the Bedouin community centre – an adjoining education unit. Hand Over is also working on a healing retreat building and has plans to build a community school in Upper Egypt, with funds from local corporate social responsibility campaigns.

She says: “We utilise sustainable materials that are available within our community and show how we can use them wisely. We involve the community in the construction, so they will also gain new knowledge that they can use by themselves.”

Most of Hand Over’s current development projects are administered hand-in-hand with local NGOs, however Hand Over is also making a play for the commercial sustainable construction market.

“As some of our NGO-partnered projects are hold, we have begun promising discussions with real estate firms for professional design and build contracts. We have also established conversations with Egypt’s growing community of ecotourism developers,” Rostom says.

Hand Over uses innovative building techniques, such as the ‘rammed earth’ technique. The company also promotes the idea of sustainability in design and makes use of natural resources, such as sunlight.

“The rammed earth technique is a cheaper alternative to using concrete and steel. It is good for hot climates because it provides good insulation.”

By using local materials and labourers, Hand Over’s construction costs are lowered and the revenues are flowed back into the community. The company’s projects are often structured around a ‘wall bearing’ system, which means the building is dependent on a wall for support – this type of solution is cost-effective.

In the coming months, Hand Over will explore the provision of consultancy services, such as energy efficiency simulation, to further support the local construction industry. The company is also looking into supplying the sector with ‘blocks’ (bricks) made of sustainable materials.

According to Rostom, the Egyptian construction sector is still in the early stages of take up of sustainable solutions. “There is so much awareness building still to be done. We have work to do to show how buildings can be sustainably erected, right from the start of the process,” she says.

“We want to showcase that it is possible to use sustainable materials, designs that make use of natural resources, all while engaging local hiring to support the community.”