Mahmoud Abouelnaga is a Solutions Fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). He researches and analyzes national and regional energy and environmental policy. His work on business development in energy policy and technology deployment engages business representatives on clean energy and industrial strategy. He writes and communicates information on the overarching topic of climate and clean energy leadership and related policy issues. A rising Egyptian leader, Mahmoud is focused on sustainable energy development in the MENA region in an effort to decrease energy-related geopolitical conflicts. He also co-founded CAREforSeven, an initiative that promotes SDG7; affordable and clean energy by training students to develop solar chargers from E-waste. Mr. Abouelnaga was part of the inaugural class of Obama Foundation Scholars at Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago where he earned MA in international development and policy and a certificate in energy and environmental policy. He also holds a MS in sustainable energy engineering from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, master’s in environmental management from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, and a BS with honors degree in petroleum engineering from Suez University.
What PGLF school did you do and what was your most memorable moment or takeaway?
I participated in PGLF 2015 in Macedonia. My most memorable memory during PGLF is the gun control debate we had at the last day in Skopje. While my team managed to demonstrate effective debating skills and gain the necessary votes to pass our “proposed bill”, this was not the most important lesson I learned that day. The debate exercise included a simulation model of the U.S. Congress legislative process considering a potential “gun control” bill. Each team was assigned a role in the simulation model, and my team was assigned the opposition role to any further gun control. During the debate, the other team made a compelling argument in favor of more stringent gun control and it seemed that votes were going to be in their favor just before it was my turn to present my case. At that moment, I had the choice to either utilize my debating and public speaking skills to shift the audience towards the argument I represented -even though it didn’t necessarily align with my own convictions and moral choices- or accept losing the debate for the greater good. Unfortunately, I followed the protocol of the simulation model and presented my case to help my team win the debate and secure the votes. However, when we had our feedback session after the exercise, Sam told me that he admired how I managed to present my argument, but it would have been more effective if I articulated my convictions and prioritized the greater good. This was the most memorable takeaway for me that day. Up till now and especially in the current highly polarized and partisan atmosphere, I reflect on how things could change if policy makers looked beyond their partisan and limited personal interests to act for the greater good of the society. The question is not whether there are good candidates across the political spectrum, but it is how willing they are to prioritize the public good when it collides with their personal gains.
I also remember that in Sam’s welcome speech, he told us how important it is for a leader to know the people around her/him. After we all introduced ourselves, he then told the story of how Bill Clinton won elections for class president at Georgetown University because he managed to remember the names of all his classmates. Then, he told us that it’ll be more challenging for us since we were 40 students from 31 different countries so that he gave us 48 hours to come back to him memorizing all the names of the PGLI2015 class. However, I decided to try to name everyone in the room without waiting. I started row by row and when I reached the last person in the room, Sam said “I gave you 48 hours to memorize them and you do that after 48 seconds! I guess we now know who the spy in the group is!”. I always thought of knowing people names as a sign of respect and courtesy. Sam also had a theory that my memory was that efficient because of how little I use my phone.
What is something that you are confident about, but most people would dismiss?
Patience. I think it is a very underrated value especially in the very fast-paced world we live in now. Many young people are continuously under pressure to achieve a lot of things as quickly as possible fearing the risk of appearing as underachievers in a modern society that focuses too much on “visibility” or “appearance” rather than actual change. Patience gives us the energy needed to pursue great endeavors without losing interest or direction on the way. For people who work on major issues (social justice, sustainable development, human rights, ..etc.) that have generational effects, it is essential to realize that our work is more of a marathon than a race; it is not just about how fast you run at the beginning, it is mainly about keeping on track till you finish.
What have you done since PGLF and what are you up to now?
After PGLF, I got a scholarship from the European Commission to pursue my graduate studies through a joint master’s program in Management and Engineering of Environment and Energy (ME3). The interdisciplinary nature of the program helped me expand my knowledge about the energy-environment nexus and how to address the climate crisis while meeting the increasing global energy demand. After that I worked for bioMérieux, a world leader in clinical diagnostics, in their headquarters in France to help develop a risk management system for climate change-related risks of their industrial activities. In the meantime, I co-founded CAREforSeven, an initiative that promotes SDG7; affordable and clean energy by training students to develop solar chargers from E-waste. In 2018, I got selected to be part of the inaugural class of Obama Foundation Scholars at Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago. This gave me a great opportunity to complement my previous experiences with a global network of world-class thinkers and global young leaders working on different fronts of international development and policy. After graduation, I joined the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) as a Solutions Fellow. My work is focused on research and analysis of energy and environmental policy. Also, I write and communicate information on the overarching topic of climate and clean energy leadership and related policy issues.
When international travel opens up again, what’s the spot you’d most recommend we try out?
The Andalucía region in Spain. I would recommend Granada, Cordoba, or Sevilla. This region is so rich in history and culture that it makes you wonder how people managed to establish such a profound and eternal beauty that survived major historical downturns and purposeful obliteration and stood witness to the greatness of human creativity.
Where were you raised and what is a can’t miss element of your hometown?
I was born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt. In my opinion, the essential element of Alexandria is how the city came to develop its own identity along the years. With a very rich culture and history, the city managed to attract people from different backgrounds looking for place to nurture their knowledge and aspirations. I might be saying this with bitterness because the cosmopolitan spirit of Alexandria has been fading away over the last few decades, but there is still a glimpse of how the city has been a safe haven for many ideologies and minorities across the region. These different groups came together to form what we know as an Alexandrian identity; a collective culture that enriched itself over the years by welcoming others and embracing their beliefs, cultures, and arts. A friend of mine used to say that our problem is that we have become inhabitants of Alexandria rather than Alexandrians because of the lack of that cosmopolitan element in our modern city.
If you went back to your undergraduate alma mater to teach a course, what would it be called and what would you assign?
“Climate change and the energy development dilemma”. I think it is really important for students who study energy engineering or energy economics to get more exposure to a comprehensive approach that goes beyond the technical challenges for energy technologies to realize the environmental and social spillovers of energy policies. Also, we need more critical minds to think about ways to meet the increasing energy demand especially in developing and emerging economies without compromising the environment. That is why I would assign a reading list that comprises: sustainable energy development, environmental externalities of the energy system, environmental justice, climate migration, natural resources and bad governance, and historical responsibility and the right to development.