April ‘15
Insight Interview

April ‘15


Ibrahim Safwat and Salma Shahin Founder and Co Founder of CairoRunners talk health, fitness, diet and of course running'¦

What can you tell us about yourself?

Ibrahm: To keep it short, I'm 30, I majored in mechanical engineering during college, but had a change of heart and wanted to switch careers, so I moved to Australia and got my MBA from Sydney Business School. After five years of work in the field of management and sales, I started CairoRunners and it's been an interesting journey so far.

How was CairoRunners idea born?

Ibrahim: It's a long story, that involve multiple factors coming to play, including a failed relationship, wanting to get fit and the need to do something different and impactful in Egypt. But, what really sparked it, was when I came across a running group in Paris during a business trip, and I just thought, 'Why don't we have running groups in Cairo?' So I brought together a small group of family and friends and we decided to make it happen!

How do you convince people to wake up at 6 am every Friday to run?

Ibrahim: This was probably one of our biggest concerns before we started. We weren't sure if people would be willing to get up that early for a run, but I would definitely say Cairo at 6 A.M makes a strong argument for itself; clean streets, zero traffic, fresh air and great weather. If you want to see another side to Cairo, then a morning run is a good place to start.

Did you expect this huge success?

Ibrahim: I always hoped CairoRunners would be a huge success, but it was surprising to see how fast we achieved it. For examples, we only expected about 10-20 runners on our very first Zamalek run, and 70 people showed up. Within three months, we had an average of +500 runners every run. So, it was great to see the initiative grow day by day.

How do you plan every week's run?

Ibrahim: We choose a district, then with the help of Google Maps we narrow down the exact streets we'll run, make sure they're suitable for running and avoid confusing areas where people might get lost. Then we visit the route ahead of time to measure to exact distance, look for any cracks in the roads that could be unsafe. It's a whole process, the team has managed to master with practice.

What are the difficulties you face before each run?

Ibrahim: All logistical difficulties - making sure the route isn't too confusing, putting up arrows to help runners with directions, finding enough volunteers to help with preparation. A lot goes into planning our runs.

In your opinion, what does it take to lead a healthy lifestyle?

Ibrahim: Daily exercise, clean eating and good sleep. I'm a big believer in moderation not deprivation.

Do you believe Egyptians underestimate the role of exercise in maintaining overall health? And if so, how can we change that mind-set?

Ibrahim: Absolutely! We're one of the world's most obese countries, and it all goes back to lack of health and nutrition education. I think a lot of what we're seeing today, with the evolution of the fitness landscape in Egypt, will play a huge role in how people perceive issues of health. When I started CairoRunners, there were only a handful of fitness groups, today there are countless health, nutrition and fitness entities helping raise more awareness about these topics. A national health campaign, similar to Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' would be the next step needed to reach more demographics in Egypt.

By Nada S. Shahin