The Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund: A New Private Sector-Led Model for U.S. Foreign Assistance

Over the last ten years, the United States has quietly carried out a bipartisan, private sector-led foreign policy program in support of Egypt, a strategic ally in the Middle East. Today, the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund (EAEF) represents one of the most successful–but little discussed–U.S. economic assistance programs. Signed into law following the 2011 Egyptian revolution, EAEF played a key role in rebuilding Egypt’s private sector by seeding what are today the region’s top private equity and venture capital funds, mobilizing $1.4 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) and expanding access to financial services for 50 million Egyptians, at potentially no cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

Cornelius Queen
August 10, 2023


EAEF is a private investment fund established by the U.S. Congress in 2011  to support Egypt’s private sector following the country’s revolution. In an effort to address protesters' calls for greater economic opportunity, the Obama administration obtained authorization from Congress to establish in Egypt a private sector-led economic assistance program known as an enterprise fund, a mechanism first employed under the George H.W. Bush administration to facilitate the democratic transitions occurring in Eastern and Central Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Following this model, EAEF’s mission is to help build a private sector-led economy by introducing international business practices and providing access to capital to growing companies that will create jobs and bolster stability.

EAEF’s Social Impact

Following its implementation, EAEF has played a critical role building Egypt’s private equity market by seeding first-time fund managers, including Lorax Capital Partners—today the leading investment fund in Africa. EAEF also seeded two venture capital firms, helping to develop Egypt’s rapidly growing venture capital ecosystem, and catapulting Egypt’s startup culture into one of the fastest growing in the Middle East and North Africa region, where it had the highest number of investments made in 2022. Since its inception, EAEF’s five fund managers have supported over 125 investments in Egyptian companies.

The Fund’s benefits are myriad. To date, it supports close to 40,000 jobs and catalyzed over $1 billion in FDI to Egypt. The Fund helped expand access to healthcare for half a million Egyptians and financial services for close to half of the population. So too has EAEF helped build relationships between members of the Egyptian and U.S. private sectors, including facilitating an investment by Prudential Financial in one of its Egyptian portfolio companies.

EAEF is sector agnostic, which means it considers investments across different industries that can generate financial returns and social impact. These include investments that promote food security and access to quality, affordable healthcare, and education. Expanding access to vital products and services promotes socio-economic development in Egypt, where close to 30% of the population lives in poverty. This in turn reinforces stability in Egypt, further supporting U.S. interests in the region.

EAEF’s Financial Returns: Nearly Doubling its U.S. Government Funding

At the time of its creation in 2011, Congress authorized up to $300 million for EAEF. Today, the market value of its portfolio is an estimated $500 million, nearly double its invested capital of $267 million, all despite several major devaluations of Egypt’s currency. If the enterprise fund were to liquidate today, the U.S. Treasury would receive its initial investment plus significant capital gains.

Three Reasons for EAEF’s Success

First, EAEF is led by an independent board of directors from the U.S. and Egyptian private sectors with deep international business experience that help develop the Fund’s investment strategy. Their guidance and private sector expertise have been key to EAEF’s success.

Second, the Fund’s most important decision has been to seed a cadre of Egyptian fund managers, who live in-country and know the local market. EAEF’s success would not be possible without local partners executing its investment strategy—something made possible by Egypt’s reservoir of human capital, which is now a common trend found across other developing countries.

Third, to achieve its mandate of building a healthy private sector, EAEF employs a private equity model, which, given Egypt’s nascent investment market, has meant supporting first-time fund managers to execute its investment goals. EAEF’s double-bottom line mandate means its fund managers must invest in companies that generate both financial and social impact returns. Supporting local fund managers also helped create a new domestic private equity and venture capital industry to invest in companies and mobilize FDI for Egypt into the future.

Looking Ahead: The 118th Congress

Members of Congress and their staff are uniquely positioned to explore how enterprise funds in the mold of EAEF can be scaled up as part of U.S. foreign policy. At a time of growing interest in countering China abroad as the world’s largest official bilateral creditor to developing countries in key national security industries, such as critical minerals and energy security, the private sector can advance U.S. interests by catalyzing private investment to support the economies of partner countries.

Enterprise fund mandates are flexible, which means they can be repurposed to achieve different U.S. priorities, such as mobilizing financing for infrastructure and energy security to push back against China’s growing influence in these sectors or promoting development in emerging economies to address the root cause of migration crises. In addition to offering a powerful vehicle for advancing U.S. interests, enterprise funds equally serve as effective stewards of taxpayer money. At a time of great need for innovative policy solutions, enterprise funds offer a compelling option and merit consideration from U.S. policymakers.

Cornelius Queen is a Vice President at the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund, a private investment fund established by the U.S. Congress in 2011 to support Egypt's private sector. He has over ten years of experience in diverse roles across finance, public policy, and international development. This includes serving as a legislative aide for now Senator Chris Van Hollen (MD) in the U.S. Congress,  a project manager for the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon and as an election observer in Egypt and Haiti. He is a 2023 40 under 40 Awardee with the Middle East Policy Council. He earned an MA from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a BA in International Relations and Economics from Johns Hopkins University.