“Every company in the private sector has a social responsibility,” says Waleed Abd El Rahman, CEO of a new food delivery business with a difference.

Based in Cairo, his company, Mumm, provides a platform for local women and refugees to sell home-cooked meals to customers.

Mumm is one of a hundred start-ups from the Middle East and North Africa region recognized by the World Economic Forum and the International Finance Corporation as embracing the challenges raised by digital technologies.

Key to the scheme is the fact that the women cook the food in their own kitchens, while Mumm itself takes care of marketing and delivery.

This provides the women with a means to earning their own living. Abd El Rahman says unemployment among women in Egypt is 25.5%, and “that’s only counting those who are searching for regular jobs”. He says his employees tell him how happy they are to have their own money.

Women who benefit include students like Jala Riad, who fits cooking around her studies.

As well as helping local women, the company has partnered with the non-profit Fard Foundation to recruit Syrian, Iraqi and Sudanese refugees to the delivery platform. “As a Syrian woman married for 23 years, of course I know how to cook,” says Iman Omanein, a Syrian refugee who prepares the meals as a way to support her family.

According to some estimates, the women, after undertaking a free cooking course with Mumm, can earn up to 6,000 Egyptian pounds ($300) a month.

How does it work?

Hungry customers enter their location and then choose a meal listed on the website. This could be sweet and sour chicken with pasta from Marwa’s kitchen:

Image: Mumm

Or tagine pasta with barbecue sauce and green salad from Riham’s kitchen.

Customers specify a time for delivery, which can be as little as 90 minutes. The meal can be ordered in a single portion or be large enough to feed a family. There’s even the option of receiving a frozen portion to enjoy later.

What about food safety and quality? “During the induction we inspect the kitchen and continue to inspect the kitchen every two weeks with spot checks throughout,” Abd El Rahman told local online magazine Egyptian Streets.

“Additionally, cooks can receive reviews and consumers can read these reviews left by other consumers. Mumm’s meals are always cleaner and better than food products you would get in restaurants as they are created with love and care.”

Mumm’s customers are “usually white-collar professionals working in multinational companies who have stopped buying junk food and now prefer homemade," says Abd El Rahman. "They appreciate mumm as we help them eat healthier."

Getting a start-up off the ground

Women can feel constrained in a society in which many view their place as being in the home. Mumm helps them achieve some economic independence by connecting them to the local economy.

Mumm were semi-finalists last year at the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Start-Up Competition, but it’s not always easy to get a start-up off the ground in this part of the world. Challenges include poor infrastructure and red tape, and laws that discourage entrepreneurship.

Image: The Economist

But in Egypt, things are improving. Earlier this year, the Egyptian cabinet approved the country’s first bankruptcy law, one of several economic reforms aimed at encouraging investment, according to The Economist.

In the wider region, the start-up scene is gathering “impressive momentum”, according to Mirek Dusek, Head of Middle East and North Africa at the World Economic Forum.

Lack of infrastructure hasn’t stopped entrepreneurs like Abd El Rahman. Mumm started in November 2015 and has created more than 120 jobs with minimal investment. It’s also tackling several UN Sustainable Development Goals, including Zero Hunger, Gender Equality and Inclusive Economic Growth.

What’s in a name?

“The name Mumm was chosen as it has multiple dimensions,” says Abd El Rahman.

“Mumm is a 7,000-year-old hieroglyphic word that means ‘food’. It evolved to be the first word that an Egyptian toddler learns to say to indicate that they are hungry. For Egyptians ‘mumm’ is food. Local people smile when they hear it.”