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Thursday, 13 February 2020

My Morning Routine: Hanaa Helmy

Hanaa Helmy, CEO of the EFG Hermes Foundation and head of the CSR department at EFG Hermes: My Morning Routine looks each week at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Speaking to us this week is Hanaa Helmy, CEO of the EFG Hermes Foundation and head of the CSR department at EFG Hermes, a leading investment bank present throughout MENA.

My name is Hanaa Helmy, and I’m the CEO of the EFG Hermes Foundation and the head of the CSR department at EFG Hermes.

I’m without a doubt a morning person. I get up before my alarm goes off, and I never hit the snooze button. My day starts with upbeat music — often Frank Sinatra or Motown classics — ten minutes of stretching, and exchanging morning greetings with my family, who live all across the world, and with whom I’m very close.

I first started reading Enterprise years ago because of its talk show coverage. Now it’s my first stop for catching up on pressing local and global news during my morning commute, and really sets me up for the day.

My two roles involve wearing radically different hats. The foundation focuses on sustainable, comprehensive community development, often working with partner NGOs and contractors, as well as directly with beneficiaries. A lot of our projects focus on high quality education, income generation, infrastructure, and human development. CSR is a very different ballgame: We work to promote the Sustainable Development Goals internally and to build the company’s capacity to adopt good ESG measures — as we are the first financial services corporation to become a signatory to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) in Egypt — to remain globally competitive.

This contrast is one of the things I love about my work. On any given day, I could be traveling to a village in Luxor to speak to a man who has very little access to water or sanitation, and a few hours later I’m meeting with a minister. I’ve just returned from a fundraising trip to Kuwait, and am constantly in touch with our partners, as well as overseeing all our project implementation.

Our community development work depends on trust building, and is always done with a long-term vision. We might be demolishing and rebuilding houses, or refurbishing health units, and this takes between six months and three years. During that time, we work with the community to understand what resources they have and what they need, to know their rights and support themselves economically. It’s wonderful when you start to see positive changes, including when people feel empowered to complain if you do something they don’t agree with. This shows they are becoming very engaged, as citizens.

CSR isn’t about how a company spends its money so much as how it makes its money. The approach needs to be sustainable and ethical, and it involves looking at every business line in the firm and asking whether it takes environmental, social, and governance factors into account when making investment decisions. The company doesn’t operate simply to make more money and give a percentage of the profits to philanthropic initiatives. That’s not sustainable, and it isn’t good for business. So a big part of what we do in the CSR department is ensure that all the employees are heading in the same direction.

One of the ways I recharge is by reading a lot. I recently read Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, which is all about practicing mindfulness amid the unpredictability and chaos of everyday life. This takes a lot of practice and a good sense of humor.

I make an effort to create a climate of psychological safety for my team, so they can always come in and express what’s on their minds. I believe that growth comes through openness, allowing people to be creative and make mistakes. You can’t be on your toes day in and day out.

One of the milestones I’m most proud of involves a training program we did for staff at a pre-school in Luxor. This is an inclusive school, with children who have special educational needs learning alongside typically developing children. We offered an early childhood training program for women in the community, and now there are 30 teachers and teacher aides working with 75 children at this school — 20 of whom have special educational needs. Thanks to the program, we’ve provided essential human and professional skills that these women will use throughout their lives, and when raising their own children. We now have another 190 applicants requesting to be trained in the program.

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