A small fraction of Egyptian heritage gets introduced via Charisma Arts

August 28, 2011 By Ahmed Maged
Vivian Labib, an Egyptian social entrepreneur, had to face many difficulties before she could launch her gallery that is helping some families stay afloat.

It is a small gallery that displays only a fraction of what represents Egyptian heritage.  However, it is the concept underlying that should set an example, as well as a precedent for the young people who are starting from scratch. In a global world, it is not only necessary to develop talent and hone it through study and practice, but also to promote and commercialize it. At this point, artist, social entrepreneur and owner of “Charisma Arts Gallery,” Vivian Labib, became aware of the importance of small and medium businesses in pushing her art to social and commercial circles.

A far cry from the typical individualistic approach aimed at promoting her own productions, Labib has crossed all boundaries to become, perhaps one of the first to market the work of impoverished and needy groups under the designation of  ‘social entrepreneur.’ The groups are none other than heritage preservers, who endeavor to earn a living by producing traditional handicrafts. Labib’s work found success after she was selected as part of a delegation that represented Egyptian entrepreneurs at a special conference organized in the United States in April 2010. “The conference came as an initiative by President Obama, who believes development can only materialize on a global scale through the interaction of entrepreneurs from different countries,” Labib tells Community Times.

“Charisma Arts” welcomes the work of any gifted group. The gallery displays a variety of merchandise such as handmade bags, glassware, candles, pottery, scarves and many more. For the time being, Labib is content to market handicrafts accumulated from all over Egypt at the gallery, located in Zamalek, or through her website. “I have paid thousands to fix this small outlet, which was originally a falafel shop. This was the cheapest place I could find in a district like Zamalek, where the majority of handicraft lovers reside.”

Labib says, “Many people living in the capital, as well as the provinces, are very talented, but lack the means to turn that into a business for many reasons.”

 “This is where the social entrepreneur should step in and play a role. It is a role based on marketing the production of these groups to enable them to press ahead with their work. It is a doubled-edged task in the sense that this type of marketing will help sustain the livelihood of many gifted but impoverished persons, and more importantly, help save the heritage since the majority are producing all types of handicrafts that are verging on extinction due to the lack of finance and marketing channels,” she adds.

A tour around the old markets of Islamic Cairo, home to Egypt’s Islamic heritage, would make one realize that the sons of inveterate craftsmen like coppersmiths, carpenters, traditional carpet makers and others, are refusing to pursue their fathers and grandfathers’ careers that have ceased to secure income or dignity. This happens partly due to the absence of proper marketing strategies and partly because the crafts bring little gain, when machine-made items are taking over.

 “Forget about the public markets in Khan Khalili and other bazaars,” argues Labib. “If you go to Upper Egypt, you would be surprised at the number of destitute villagers who are bound to live on producing handicrafts in hamlets and alleys for a small gain.” It was during one of Labib’s trips to Menya in Upper Egypt that she decided that her work should target those groups and their skills.

“I began my career as an interior designer and in the process I took interest in marketing some of the items that I used to produce for interior decorations. I set up a website and started to display my own items, as well as those of my colleagues. A few years later, the American University in Cairo, in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania, offered a course in entrepreneurship that aimed to educate 10,000 women owners of small businesses from the Middle East.”

Labib was among the first 35 women selected for the course that continued for several months. “The course emphasized on planning the business, exerting self-control when facing problems, and the ideal ways of running small organizations,” notes Labib, who also went to Italy to attend a similar course offered by the Catholic University of Milan on networking, communication and public relations.