Tamer Taha
Ashoka Fellow since 2017   |   Egypt

Tamer Taha

Tamer is bridging the wide innovation gap in the Egyptian economy by connecting solution seekers and providers. Through his online platform, Yomken.com, and active on-ground engagement, Tamer is…
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This description of Tamer Taha's work was prepared when Tamer Taha was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2017.


Tamer is bridging the wide innovation gap in the Egyptian economy by connecting solution seekers and providers. Through his online platform, Yomken.com, and active on-ground engagement, Tamer is building a movement that mediates between previously-isolated parties to crowd-solve various local, social and environmental market challenges.

The New Idea

Tamer is creating a matchmaking service to link solution seekers and solution providers. He approaches this matching both online and offline. He is digging deep to crowdsource local, cost-effective, sustainable, and innovative Research and Development (R&D) that tackles various local, social and environmental market challenges. He links three isolated communities; solution seekers, crowd innovators, and financial and donor institutions. In doing so, a relationship built on trust is established between innovators and the market. By offering a trusted “crowdsolving” platform, Tamer heightens the credibility and reputation of solution-providers, and mitigates the risk for solution-seekers.
His work is not only online-based, Tamer also conducts innovation workshops with NGOs and industrial R&D governmental institutions to unearth SMEs and factories yearning for ways to sustain and scale their businesses. Tamer then turns around and seeks out often isolated innovators, providing them with outlets for their work and access to self-employment. For quality assurance purposes, Tamer mobilizes the support of university professors and researchers to evaluate the quality and feasibility of proposed solutions.
Tamer is scaling his operations and widening his reach to different countries in the Arab region. Starting in Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Palestine, Tamer is connecting innovation seekers and providers to derive innovation in economies that are facing similar market challenges as Egypt.

The Problem

Egypt lacks an Open-innovation Intermediary that connects innovators with problem-providers for social good. Additionally, it lacks one of the most important layers that can keep businesses growing, which is R&D. In 2017, gross expenditure on R&D in Egypt (% of GDP), was 0.68% ranking Egypt 51 globally. Although Arab countries produce 5.9% of the world’s GDP, the region’s governments account for less than 1% of total global R&D spending. Also, the number of patent applications filed (per billion PPP$ GDP) was 0.79, which roughly translates into 344 patent applications compared to 53,000 patent applications in Germany. Furthermore, the number of academic papers published in Egypt amounted to approximately 5,600 in 2014, compared to 20,000 published in Switzerland in the same year. Evidently, the aforementioned indicators are solid proof of low innovation in Egypt.
There is a lagging innovation ecosystem in the Middle East manifest in the isolation of potential innovators and their unawareness of market needs and challenges. As a whole, the region is facing a lack of proactive R&D, with only 1000 researchers per million Arab citizens. In contrast, in Finland, there are 7000 researchers per million citizens. Businesses, NGOs and governments are doing “business as usual”, limiting their activities to practices that granted them market presence, albeit not innovation-driven. This resulted in the lack of alternative solutions, and appropriate channels to connect innovators with the market.
Arab countries have great potential in human capital that is not leveraged to create competitive tech ecosystems. The high availability of underutilized scientists and engineers spurred Tamer to focus on small- and medium-tech industries to alleviate the unemployment burden and promote innovation for the better of the economy. With regards to the University/Industry Research Collaboration index, Jordan ranks 51, Morocco 90, Tunisia 107, and Egypt 120 globally, according to the 2016 Global Innovation Index. Likewise, Arab countries are highly dependent on foreign technologies that may/may not be replicable. Owing to these reasons, Tamer introduced the “CrowdSolving” model that aims to solve industrial, environmental and societal challenges in the region.
Although there are other similar actors operating at a global level, Yomken.com is different from its 3 chief rivals, Innocentive, OpenIDEO and Ninesigma, when it comes to on-ground presence. As opposed to other organizations, which are solely online-based, Yomken.com combines its online reach with targeted on-ground activities and workshops to identify local needs. In a developing country like Egypt, in which internet penetration is 33%, entirely depending on an online platform may be feasible, but certainly not optimal. By disregarding on-ground activities, Tamer would be neglecting the needs of ~2 out of 3 business owners across the MENA region. Additionally, solution seekers are not always aware of the R&D challenges they are facing, which requires expert guidance to pinpoint problems and start pursuing solutions. Since Yomken.com’s team is always accessible through meetings and workshops, it is a more localized and faster solution in comparison to platforms that do not have offline presence.
Then there is the more apparent issue of the use of local language, in this case Arabic, which is spoken by over 300 million people. In Egypt, where only 30% of the population speaks English, most of which is preliminary, it is not viable to expect citizens to use an all-English platform that requires high foreign language proficiency.
Yomken.com treats “lack of R&D” as a socio-economic problem, which is not the case for other organizations that aim to optimize the innovation process, and supply solution seekers with an array of solutions. Thus, Yomken.com’s social impact is multi-pronged in the sense that it raises awareness on the importance of innovation, and allows hidden talents to flourish by providing them with the right platform, monetary incentive and professional motivation.

The Strategy

Yomken.com operates by connecting four groups: (1) solution providers, (2) solution seekers, (3) experts to review proposed solutions, and (4) partner organizations for funding. Through his online platform, problem-solving workshops, or 1:1 meetings with social enterprises, businesses or governmental institutions, Tamer identifies gaps in the market and opens a call for solutions that is sent to a database of 10,000 innovators. Upon submission of solutions, a database of 20,000 experts, entailing university professors and senior researchers, is notified to start reviewing proposals according to Yomken.com’s criteria. Yomken.com, then, coordinates an Intellectual Property Agreement between the solution seeker and provider, which is followed by the implementation of the solution. The impact of the solution is then assessed to enhance their process.

The process of reviewing and approving a solution goes as follows; after a challenge is posted, solution providers submit proposals including pertinent concept papers. An in-house innovation analyst, then, evaluates solutions in terms of meticulousness and relevance. Based on the aforementioned analysis, the innovation analyst goes one step further by sending the solutions, anonymously, to experts for further assessment. Experts are either experienced practitioners, university professors or authors of articles in reputable international scientific journals. All solutions are scrutinized against the following criteria: legality and environmental-friendliness of solution, degree of innovation and relevance to the challenge, duration and feasibility of implementation, impact assessed through a cost-benefit analysis, second opinion on the profile of the problem solver, and the scalability of the solution to analyze future growth and development potential. The experts, finally, assess all submitted solutions and send them to the solution seeker, who, in turn, chooses his best option.

Tamer is building an extensive network of solution providers and seekers by conducting information sessions at universities such as Cairo-, Ain Shams-, and Assiut University, Technology Innovation and Commercialization Offices (TICOs) of different universities, and co-working spaces such as AlMaqqar and 302 Labs. Similarly, sessions are also delivered at media and press outlets such as ONTV, Huffington Post, CNN, Wamda, in addition to international organizations such as USAID. NGOs such as Awtad, and micro-finance institutions such as Kiva and AYB are also targeted. Yomken.com has partnered with several local and global entities, which include, but are not limited to the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT), the Ministry of Scientific Research, the Institute of Cotton Research, GIZ Egypt/Tunisia and the Anzisha Prize.

Tamer’s network is composed of 10,000 innovators, 2000 of which are engaged in addressing current challenges, while the rest is only contacted whenever a challenge is relevant to their respective profiles. Innovators are incentivized through financial rewards paid by solution seekers or sponsoring entities. They are also motivated to participate, as challenges fulfill their social responsibility roles and the experience gained is inevitably a commendable addition to their professional profiles. In contrast, Tamer does not only depend on his online reach, through impact assessment workshops at public institutions i.e. Union of Trade and Industry and ASRT, Tamer gathers SMEs as well as small and medium factories to map their needs and document market challenges they are facing. In four years, Tamer’s platform was able to facilitate the implementation of 60 solutions- a success rate of 80%- with the following sectorial distribution: 21% in agricultural food, 16% in plastic, 53% in metal and wood industries, and 10% in handicrafts. 10% of the cost of the solution is dedicated to Yomken.com’s operational costs.

The following examples are utilized to showcase the impact of Yomken.com; in 2017, Mumm, an Egyptian home-cooking delivery service, required a solution to preserve heat during food-delivery. A solution provider devised a heated box for motorcycles to keep the food warm, which has been successfully implemented. Tamer’s platform was approached to find a crowd-sourced, low cost solution aiming to leverage consumer satisfaction.

Furthermore, Perilo, a startup that provides local courier services, was in need of a mobile charger to be used on bikes. A 22 year old Egyptian provided a viable solution using a small hybrid electric-steam engine, which was prototyped in one of Tamer’s partner organizations, a digital technology laboratory called FabLab and was then funded by Master Card Foundation through the Anzisha Prize. In this sense, Tamer is helping startups sustainably grow their market, while supporting the recognition and inclusion of innovators.

Similarly, Fakkah, a well-established NGO, was looking to create a vending-like machine for financial donations. In response, a prototype was developed by Rasheed Tanjaoui from Morocco, in which you deposit the donation, choose the project that funds are to be directed to and receive a code to track your contribution. Transcending geographical boundaries, where solutions are developed in Morocco for challenges that face the Egyptian market is a noteworthy impact that Tamer is growing and sustaining.

Another challenge is pertinent to an Okra factory located in Cairo, a deficit in the Okra sorting process. After the challenge was posted, two newly graduated mechanical engineers from Tanta- a governorate 93km away from Cairo- developed software for pattern recognition, which would only cost $5,000. To harvest okra better, an imported machine that previously could not recognize the Egyptian variety was adjusted. One of Yomken’s partner organizations, the Academic of Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT), the innovation arm of the Egyptian government, assumed the cost of software to motivate the factory to implement it in other branches.

Tamer is working on national and regional expansion across the Arab World; he launched in Tunisia, Jordan and Morocco. In partnership with GIZ Tunisia, Tamer is replicating his model there, with the support of two full-time employees, based in Tunisia. With regards to Jordan and Morocco, Tamer received a grant from the Expo Live Innovation Impact Grant Program- an initial of the World Fair Dubai Expo 2020. To franchise Yomken.com, local partners in Jordan and Morocco are responsible for internal communications, allowing Tamer to focus on the assessment of on-going activities and challenges. Finally, Tamer aims to establish partnerships with micro-finance institutions to help small-scale entrepreneurs, innovate their products through zero interest micro-loans. The loan will finance (1) the solution cost, (2) the solution provider, and (3) the cost of implementation and (4) operations associated with the new solution. Tamer is planning to make 50% of micro-enterprises on his platform fully capable of financing solutions through loans that are received by micro-finance institutions such as Alashanek Ya Balady (AYB) and Agakhan.

The Person

Tamer was born in Egypt in 1988, and had the privilege of traveling to more than 25 countries and hundreds of cities. Traveling enlightened Tamer, and made him aware of the diversity and uniqueness of cultures. Although his uncle, an airport engineer, gifted him with a computer, his Mom limited his screen-time to two hours/day, which taught him the value of time. He, then, created his first website using html when he was only 10 years.

The skills Tamer acquired from participating in on-campus student activities, such as Model European Union made him a better public speaker, and his exposure from interning in different companies such as the Egyptian Export Bank, he was able to co-found Mesaha- a co-working space for development practitioners. This provided Tamer with a window into socio-economic challenges in Egypt.

During his Master’s at the Université Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne in International Economics of Development, Tamer was able to meet an Italian entrepreneur, with whom he started interning. Through the internship, he secured himself another internship at the World Bank in France, where he later worked as a Consultant, and then a Research Analyst. The experience shaped his worldview, and made him a believer that creative mindsets transform challenges into opportunities, which is when he started thinking of the marriage of innovation and entrepreneurship (SMEs).

During his stay in France, Tamer watched an IT show inviting 10 businesses models tackling open innovation and crowd funding. This was when a lightbulb went on over his head, and started thinking about Yomken.com as a means to merge finance and innovation for the manufacturing sector in Egypt and the Arab World. Shortly afterwards, he won the competition organized by Youth Innovation Fund for World Bank employees and got a seed funding of $6k to develop the platform of Yomken.com and recruit volunteers to conduct a market study for a poor neighborhood in Egypt called Mansheit Nasr known for its small workshops and factories in several industries including metallurgy, plastics and wood. At that moment, Yomken.com took off.

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