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IFE Honors Entrepreneur Christopher Caine
Diplomatic Pouch / June 15, 2010

By Larry Luxner

For 19 years, the Institute for Education has strived to “recognize, encourage and promote civility and leadership locally, nationally and in our world community,” in the words of its founder, Kathy Kemper.

On May 13, IFE held its 2010 Leadership Dinner at the Egyptian Embassy, one year after President Obama’s historic speech at Cairo University seeking a new understanding between the United States and the Musim world. The highlight of the evening was a ceremony honoring Christopher G. Caine, president and CEO of Mercator XXI — a professional services firm with offices in Washington and Cairo.

“In each of his endeavors — teaching at Lafayette College, his work at IBM Corp., founding his own company and playing a crucial role in just about every IFE program — Chris exemplifies all of the attributes that we strive to foster in tomorrow’s generation of leaders,” said Kemper.

“On this occasion, it is my privilege to announce the launch of LearnServe Egypt, IFE’s first-ever LearnServe program in the Middle East,” she declared, as 160 participants dined on a traditional Arab meal of baby spinach salad, braised lamb mignons seasoned with onions and marjoram, cous-cous with mint, cilantro, pomegranate and lemon, and baklava tart garnished with fresh figs and pistachios.

The elegant dinner generated about $70,000 for IFE.

“The money that we raise from this evening’s event will enable students in the D.C. area to travel to Egypt, partner with Egyptian students and help build the next generation of socail and cultural entrepreneurs,” said Kemper, noting that Mercator XXI will be the group’s business leader.

“We will mentor Egyptian kids in fields like entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership, and encourage risktaking,” she said. “It’s initiatives like these that will draw the U.S. and Egypt closer together.”

Among the many dignitaries attending the event were the host, Egyptian Ambassador Sameh Hassan Shoukry; IBM’s president and CEO, Samuel J. Palmisano, and Caine himself, an IBM employee for 25 years before retiring to start Mercator XXI in April 2009.

As vice-president of governmental programs at IBM, Caine had responsibility for global public policy issues that affected the multinational technology giant. In 2008, he returned to his alma matter — Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. — to create the Caine Scholar’s Award for Global Leadership, Business and Policy.

Palmisano praised his friend, noting that “Chris was a strong advocate of us making aggressive investments in Egypt. You wouldn’t think of Cairo as having one of the most advanced technology centers in the world, but we do. And it’s been a wonderful investment.”

Past recipients of the IFE Leadership Award were recognized, including Beverly Perry (2008), Mayor Anthony Williams (2006) and George Vradenburg (2004).

As is the custom with IFE dinners, Kemper made sure to invite 20 or so “opinion leaders” to spur lively table discussion on the topic of the evening: Egypt’s role in regional affairs as the Arab world’s most populous nation, and possibilities for economic cooperation between the United States and Egypt.

Invited opinion leaders inclued John Pomfret, Asian diplomatic correspondent of the Washington Post; Diane Rehm, host of “The Diane Rehm Show” on National Public Radio, and bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara of the al-Jazeera TV network.

At the table where Pouch happened to be seated, the designated opinion leader was Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank. Conversation ranged from the Arab-Israeli conflict to Iran’s nuclear ambitions to what will happen once Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak passes from the scene.

“Most Americans just haven’t thought about Arab countries as being engines of economic growth. So what’s happening in Egypt is a very positive sign,” said Ornstein. “The more we see economic innovation and growth, the more you can move towards greater levels of stability. And that’s been a missing ingredient in a lot of places.”

Mahmoud El Ashmawy, diplomatic officer at the Egyptian Embassy, responded that “there’s a feeling that at least these expectations have been translated into concrete things, especially in the private sector. We recently had the first visit of a group of Egyptian IT exporters to the United States, and we’ll soon be having the first IT dialogue between the Egyptian government and the U.S. government. The impetus for all this was the Obama speech, but a lot of things still need to be done, especially at the political level.”

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