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Scott Jagow: Today, we begin on the Nile. I’m underground in a cavernous chamber. For centuries, this is where the river’s water level was measured. Egyptians used a stone column known as the Nilometer to gauge the annual flood.
The flood was the most important event of the year. It not only determined feast or famine for Egyptians, it also determined the level of taxation on farmers. Modern Egypt is trying to create a new tax base through technology. Amy Scott has more.
Amy Scott: In row after row of cubicles, young men and women take calls in Spanish, Arabic and English. On the wall, a motivational poster spells out “Team — Together Everyone Achieves More.”
It’s a typical call center, but the customers on the other end of these calls might be surprised to learn it’s based in Egypt. Twenty-six-year-old team leader Sarah Mahdy says she’s not allowed to tell.
You know we end up guessing together. “OK, you can guess.” And they start guessing. And finally I’ll tell them “Well, keep guessing. And I cannot tell you.” And they laugh. They say “OK, as long as you can give me the service I don’t mind.”
Xceed is the largest call center in the Middle East. It’s growing fast.
Mohamed Fouad is vice president for service delivery. He says Xceed hires between 50 and 60 people every month. The goal is to capture some of India’s outsourcing success.
Mohamed Fouad: We’re quite sure that we will never go head to head with India, ’cause India got something that we don’t have, which is scale. They do have a lot of people.
Xceed offers a fairly neutral accent, Fouad says. And its agents speak not just English, but also Greek, Portuguese and Hebrew.
Fouad: So this is basically a different value proposition than what India offers, and we offer that also at a very, very competitive price.
The company offers Egyptians a decent wage. A starting agent earns up to $500 a month. That’s many times a typical government salary.
Then, there’s the environment. Xceed is one of dozens of high-tech companies situated in a sparkling new business development called the Smart Village. It’s just outside Cairo. This promotional video totes perks like free shuttle buses and underground parking.
Guest Relations Manager Mona Francis sees the Smart Village as a model for a new Egypt:
Mona Francis: You wouldn’t find a paper on the floor. You wouldn’t find a cable hanging from a building. We are trying to create something that is unique.
For many Americans, a sterile suburban business park like this wouldn’t inspire much enthusiasm. But people are willing to commute several hours to be here.
Twenty-five-year-old Reem Fahmy with Xceed seems genuinely proud to come to work:
Reem Fahmy: It’s one part of society that you’d like to be with. I mean if you go to Hollywood, you’d like to be there, right? So it’s the same idea. It shows that people are fighting to make this a better country and stuff, and at the same time, you’re gonna be part of that.
There’s plenty of room for those who want to be part of the Smart Village. When construction is complete, businesses here are expected to employ some 30,000 people.
Outside Cairo, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.
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