CorpsAfrica: A Grassroots and Transnational Model for Development

Successfully Launched in Morocco; Plans Expansion in 2015

As the debate continues about how to make development programs more impactful and inclusive, a new narrative on community development is being written in Morocco, borrowing from US Peace Corps and AmeriCorps models. It is called CorpsAfrica and is based on the assumption that Africans are quite able to undertake grassroots economic development in their own countries if given the tools and access to resources and support.

I recently interviewed Liz Fanning, Founder and Director of CorpsAfrica – an NGO that prepares Africans to work in their countries as volunteers doing Peace Corps-type community projects defined by their host community. CorpsAfrica launched its first cohort last year in Morocco, where Liz had served as a Peace Corps volunteer. As she points out: “CorpsAfrica is helping to establish a path toward public service across Africa by giving young people the opportunity to understand extreme poverty and the skills to help.”

In their first several months of training, the volunteers meet with a range of NGOs and government offices and agencies to learn about how to access resources and support for community-based projects. This includes multilateral donors, US agencies, and Moroccan government programs, as well as NGO and civil society organizations. The volunteers learn how to tap into existing networks to develop support for projects in rural areas. Among its current partners are the OCP Foundation, Amis Des Ecoles (rural education), Anarouz Social Enterprise (rural women’s economic development), Al Akhawayn University, the International Youth Foundation, and UNICEF Maroc.

Liz Fanning, founder of CorpsAfrica

Liz Fanning, founder of CorpsAfrica

As Liz explains, “CorpsAfrica volunteers serve as facilitators and liaisons – they live in a remote, high-poverty village for one year to help the communities develop a project that addresses self-identified priority needs, and then they bring in the resources to make it happen. The projects happen through the volunteers – not by them. This participatory approach allows volunteers the flexibility and creativity to respond to the unique characteristics and challenges of a given community.”

“Because they do not have a ‘plan in place’ before entering a community, CorpsAfrica volunteers start by listening deeply to the needs and practical concerns of the individuals and the community as a whole. Projects are generated from the people within the community and thus are culturally sensitive, logistically practical, and, most importantly, the people who will ultimately benefit have a strong sense of ownership for the management and long-term sustainability of the projects.”

As its model proves successful, Ms. Fanning is excited about the coming year. “It will be a turning point for CorpsAfrica. We are more than doubling the program in Morocco and working to ensure a successful and transformative experience for the volunteers in the field and to perfect the model to use as a template for other countries in Africa. We are working to expand to Senegal and Ethiopia and hope to open those new offices before the end of 2015.”

For more information on the volunteers, their projects and how this small initiative is becoming an engine to transform and empower communities, check out their link at

Reframing Development Assistance

Photo: Pejman Parvandi

How NGOs, Agencies, and Governments are Reshaping Development Policy Assumptions

In the wake of the Arab Spring, and the subsequent challenges in the Middle East and Africa brought about by non-state actors bent on destabilizing governments and countries, a consensus seems to be emerging around the need to reframe development policy. Taken together with long-standing conflicts in South Asia and elsewhere, economic and human development is increasingly seen as vital to increased global stability and security. This is as true for liberalizing countries with stable political systems such as Morocco and Botswana as those racked with severe internal strife driven by local or transnational extremists.

As my colleague Jordana Merran noted in a recent blog, a body of research is increasingly showing that the West has some notable victories – such as the Marshall Plan – but has not really done development all that well, either because of the politicized nature of many foreign assistance projects, the preference of donors to deal with institutions rather than people, and the disconnect between projects and the metrics that supposedly measure outcomes to shape future programs.

The Foreign article that she referenced, which was an outgrowth of a workshop on “Doing Development Differently,” broadly assessed foreign aid programs and noted,“Too many development initiatives have limited impact. Schools are built but children do not learn. Clinics are built but sickness persists. Governments adopt reforms but too little changes for their citizens.”

“This is because genuine development progress is complex: solutions are not simple or obvious, those who would benefit most lack power, those who can make a difference are disengaged and political barriers are too often overlooked. Many development initiatives fail to address this complexity, promoting irrelevant interventions that will have little impact.”

Many of the obstacles that hinder effective development policy reflect the desire of host countries to provide leadership in how funds are allocated and projects are prioritized. While in some cases this mirrors the host government’s message that it is responsible for improving people’s lives. With others, the emphasis is on partnerships to drive development. As Jordana pointed out, King Mohammed VI of Morocco has placed human development at the core of his strategic vision for his country, and his strategies to promote economic growth, equality, and accessibility are similar to those raised by Tom Carothers’ work at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on the need to incorporate accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion in development programs, tying together development as an economic issue with a country’s reform agenda.

Changing Perspectives from the Ground Up

The latest voice to be raised in this dialogue is the annual World Bank “World Development Report 2015: Mind, Society, and Behavior,” which argues that “Interventions need to take into account the specific psychological and social influences that guide decision making and behavior in a particular setting. That means that the process of designing and implementing effective interventions needs to become a more iterative process of discovery, learning, and adaptation.” The Economist’s review of the report noted that the World Bank’s concern that “Development experts have their biases and blind spots, like anyone else.”

Understanding how these biases affect policy planning and implementation should lead to more effective development assistance options, some of which are already underway. A recent article on the announcement that Rajiv Shah, USAID’s Administrator is stepping down, mentioned some shifts that happened at USAID. “Rather than dropping billions of taxpayer dollars into sprawling programs designed to reduce poverty, USAID pivoted to directly funding foreign development groups, offering loan guarantees to local banks and launching contests aimed at solving specific global challenges.”

Yet, as Nathanial Myers wrote in the National Interest, USAID has a programming crisis looming as it tries to pursue longer term efforts while being increasingly taxed to respond to in the crises du jour in Yemen, fighting Ebola, and countering Boko Haram, etc. Myers contends that “The agency’s move into this short-term strategic space is undercutting its long-term development impact…ongoing long-term development programs are being repurposed to target the new priority problem…funds are being pulled…Local credibility is being eroded by suspicions that USAID values Washington’s interests more than local needs.”

Taken together, these critiques point to the need to integrate stakeholders into the process of discovery and implementation, generate models that rely on mobilizing public and private sector partnerships, and more rigorous assessments of results that include social, psychological, and behavioral inputs.



Grounding Human Rights in Local Aspirations

For several years, I have been commenting on the challenges in assessing human rights progress without a more comprehensive understanding of how the people affected define human rights. This applies as well to evaluating development efforts tied in large part to democracy promotion – whether it’s the Marshall Plan, the progenitor of post-war reconstruction, or funding water reclamation projects in the Sahel.

This theme is echoed in an article by Professor Eric Posner of the University of Chicago, who takes on the issue of defining and defending human rights without a grounding in the milieu in which these rights are operationalized. His aim is not only to encourage the human rights reporting community to undertake their own assessment of their efficacy – much as development experts have been forced to do – but to give them ways to legitimately help governments improve their human rights.

This has important resonance for a country like Morocco, where development and democracy goals go hand in hand in building a sustainable, inclusive, and equitable society based on Morocco’s unique, local cultural ethos.

Unfortunately, for human rights monitors, it is far easier to focus on a few issues that become criteria for a human rights report than to recognize that each culture manages its priorities in the context of its national needs and aspirations. This can be quite challenging to assess since, according to Posner, “In most countries people formally have as many as 400 international human rights. The sheer quantity and variety of rights, which protect virtually all human interests, can provide no guidance to governments. Given that all governments have limited budgets, protecting one human right might prevent a government from protecting another.”

While some may counter that there must be universal standards otherwise there are no comparative criteria for assessing human rights, Posner says that “the problem is not entirely one of moral pluralism. The real problem is the sheer difficulty of governance, particularly in societies in the throes of religious and ethnic strife that outsiders often fail to understand. There are many legitimate ways for governments to advance people’s wellbeing and it is extremely hard for outsiders to evaluate the quality of governance in a particular country.”

 So what can be done?

While the work of international human rights groups is to be commended for its altruism, oftentimes the impact of their efforts is to distort perceptions of the host countries among international organizations and the donor community. Given the universe of acknowledged human rights (political, economic, social, institutional, religious, associative, property, etc., etc.); the differing cultural, ethnic, historical, and contemporary conditions in countries; and the limitations of resources and infrastructure; how does an analyst determine what advice to give countries regarding what their priorities and policies should be?

The first step: Rather than generating reports that generalize from a handful of cases to a blanket charge of malfeasance without a realistic understanding of the context for human rights priorities, organizations should maximize the benefits of an open dialogue with liberalizing countries such as Morocco. Morocco is more than willing to engage in a respectful, balanced exchange. The country’s commitment has been emphasized time and time again by King Mohammed VI, who places the people at the heart of Morocco’s development – economic, social, human, and political – and he strongly supports promoting rights in a way that makes most sense for his country’s unique circumstances. It seems that this openness would lead to greater collaboration to enhance and enshrine human rights regimes grounded in local values and realities.

As Dr. Posner concludes, “Westerners should abandon their utopian aspirations and learn the lessons of development economics. Animated by the same mix of altruism and concern for geopolitical stability as the human rights movement, development economists have also largely failed to achieve their mission, which is to promote economic growth. Yet their failures have led not to denial, but to incremental improvements and (increasingly) humility.”

We can only hope that human rights organizations will work more diligently and realistically when they find partners such as Morocco that are committed to reform and empowerment centered on Moroccan society and priorities.



I want to congratulate Fatima-Zahra Mansouri, the Mayor of Marrakech, who was named to the  Forbes list of 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa. She was elected Mayor at the age of 33 in 2009  and has since instituted reforms and streamlined government in the city. It is by engaging with people such as the mayor that human rights organizations will learn more about what really matters   to Moroccans.

What has Transpired Since the Meeting of King Mohammed VI with President Obama in 2013?

Morocco Is Moving to Strengthen Ties

The Joint Statement issued after last November’s visit between King Mohammed VI of Morocco and President Barack Obama was quite explicit. There were concrete pledges of economic, political, and security cooperation and collaboration, as well as a strengthened commitment by Morocco on human rights and by the US to maintain its consistent policy of support for a Western Sahara solution based on autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

So it makes sense to take a closer look at the performance in key sectors by both parties a year later and gauge where there has been progress and where greater efforts are needed.

The opening paragraphs addressed the “strong and mutually beneficial partnership and strategic alliance” with a pledge “to advance our shared priorities of a secure, stable, and prosperous Maghreb, Africa, and Middle East.” At the top of the list was support for democratic and economic reforms, including US help to “strengthen Morocco’s democratic institutions, civil society, and inclusive governance.” On Morocco’s agenda are support for the UN human rights regime, eliminating military trials of civilians, protecting the rights of migrants, refugees, and victims of human trafficking, and supporting full women’s participation in public life.

Reform Agenda

Morocco has been moving forward on all of these issues and others including a bill ending military trials of civilians that is currently in Parliament, as is an upcoming draft of a bill regarding NGOs and associations. A wide-ranging program for the protection of migrants was announced earlier this year and is drawing plenty of public attention. A draft media law was presented for public comment last month and debate on judicial reform is ongoing.

On other fronts, progress continues as the then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay visited Morocco earlier this year honoring the country’s achievements, while hearings are continuing on enhancing gender equity in the workplace, in the political parties, and in the upcoming local elections. It is anticipated that the World Forum on Human Rights recently held in Morocco will break new ground in strengthening human rights protections in Morocco.

Bilateral and Regional Economic Cooperation

On economic cooperation efforts, the US and Morocco are deep in negotiations on a second Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact focusing on inclusive human development; the fifth Global Economic Summit was held in late November in Marrakech, and there was a very successful Business Development Conference – part of the bilateral Strategic Dialogue – in Rabat this past March. Both countries are committed to building an even more robust Free Trade Agreement and more delegations between them.

The US has been strongly supportive of Morocco’s efforts to act as a bridge to Africa for businesses. Morocco’s highly visible profile during the African Leaders Summit in Washington DC this past summer; its continued support from USAID for inclusive human development programs; and its role at the United Nations and other international organizations have drawn kudos from US leaders.

The Western Sahara, Security, Counterterrorism

Human rights protections and resolving the Western Sahara conflict are the two major areas of consultations between the allies, apart from counterterrorism concerns. The US supported an extension of the MINURSO US Security Council mandate in April, and is seeking ways to improve human development efforts in the southern provinces, while exploring how to move formal negotiations forward at the UN based on Morocco’s autonomy proposal.

Judging by the remarks of US officials, from the President and Vice President to members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Morocco is playing a leadership and supportive role on regional issues as well as in the coalition countering ISIL . As importantly, Morocco’s pioneering efforts in countering extreme violence are being shared with more than a dozen African countries.

Recently, Morocco played a key role in the Global Counterterrorism Forum to “strengthen regional political, economic, and security ties across North Africa and the Sahel, including through a reinvigorated Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) and other regional forums.” And Morocco responded to the US initiative to join the International Institute of Justice and Rule of Law in Malta “to train a new generation of criminal justice officials across North, West, and East Africa on how to address counterterrorism and related security challenges through a rule of law framework.” While the King continues to call for opening the Morocco-Algeria border and resuscitating the AMU, there is little that can be accomplished without more concrete actions by the US to encourage Algeria’s cooperation.

What’s Next

A useful barometer of where the relationship is heading is to parse the US statement on the meeting of Vice President Biden with King Mohammed VI at the beginning of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

VP Biden at Global Entrepreneurship Summit credit Morocco World News

VP Biden at Global Entrepreneurship Summit credit Morocco World News

The Vice President and King Mohammed VI discussed how best to support Morocco’s success, and reaffirmed their dedication to work together to promote human and economic development.” Of particular importance was the mention of “a strategic triangular cooperation in Africa, particularly in the fields of access to energy and food security.”

In addition to reaffirming the importance of the 2013 Joint Statement, “the Vice President and King Mohammed VI spoke about the wide range of global, regional, and bilateral issues on which Morocco and the United States are partners, including efforts to advance the shared priority of achieving a secure, stable, and prosperous Maghreb, Africa, and Middle East. In particular, they discussed their countries’ efforts together as part of the international coalition against ISIL. The Vice President and King Mohammed VI agreed on the importance of the non-military aspects of the struggle against violent extremism, including exposing and discrediting violent extremist recruitment and providing a compelling alternative through social and political inclusion and economic opportunity.”

With so much at stake, some believe that the process of parliamentary action on key bills may be not as speedy as it could be, yet the process of consultation and consensus-building among stakeholders remains intrinsic to decision-making in Morocco.

A year on, it is clear that the bilateral relationship is going from strength to strength and next year’s report card will be even more favorable.

Impressive Gains and Challenging Future

Morocco Pushes Ahead on Human Rights despite Obstacles

While there may be some who question if there is sufficient energy behind Morocco’s human rights agenda, there is ample evidence that King Mohammed VI has an impressive vision to ensure that human rights protections are robust in Morocco. Amid a great deal of fanfare and activity, Morocco hosted the second World Forum on Human Rights this past week. According to organizers, more than 7,000 people from close to 100 countries participated in the three-day event in workshops, panels, dialogues, presentations, and speeches from several of the world’s leading advocates of human rights.

In his speech to the Forum, delivered by Justice and Liberties Minister Mustapha Ramid, King Mohammed began by acknowledging that “major changes and global challenges underscore the need for holistic, well thought-out and concerted responses.” Conscious of Morocco’s own leadership role in the fields of transitional justice, women’s empowerment, and protection of migrants, he reminded the audience that no nation is insulated from these issues, as they are part of a global transformation.

“Profound changes are affecting the international human rights order. By embracing universal human rights values, the countries of the South, civil society and national human rights institutions play an active role in the process of setting up regional and international instruments for the protection and promotion of human rights.” He noted that the pace of change and increased challenges provide “a unique opportunity for debate and exchange of views on new human rights issues,” which include the rights of the elderly, coping with the impact of the digital age and corporations, empowering the poor, and dealing with the volatile issue of the “enforceability of economic and social rights.”

It is not commonly known that along with the UN Declaration of Human Rights, there is a companion declaration of economic and social rights, which is only now, after more than five decades, rising on the global agenda.

Facing Down Intolerance

The King referred to negative forces that are dragging down progress, “reclusiveness, intolerance, rejection of others because of ethnic considerations or a distorted understanding of the lofty message of religion are leading to blatant violations of fundamental rights, including the sacred right to life.” Despite his concern that each country has cultural and societal characteristics that affect the form of human rights concerns, “The universal character of human rights must not be questioned. Rather than being the product of a single school of thought or doctrine, universality should, in its very essence, be the result of a progressive, dynamic process whereby values are embraced at individual and collective levels.” Perhaps reflecting on his experience in Morocco when confronted with extremism from the right and left, he said that “[i]n this process, national and cultural traditions should be allowed to find their rightful place around a set of immutable values, not in opposition to it or next to it. Indeed, universal values acquire greater legitimacy when they represent and protect human diversity, and when all peoples and cultures contribute to shaping them, ultimately considering them as their own.”

He made mention of the fact that Africa, in particular, was not well represented in the early definitions of human rights covenants due to its relatively recent entry into global debates. “Since it did not have the opportunity to contribute to developing the international human rights law, Africa should be given the opportunity to enrich it with its own culture, history and genius, thus increasing the continent’s chances to fully embrace it.”

Importantly, the King reminded the participants that “Universal values are common to us all, but the pathways we take are not.” He made it clear that Africa is “fully committed to human rights” and “wants to make a contribution to devising standards that are truly universal.” These are encouraging words in the face of extremism, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and ethnic rivalries spread across the continent.

Setting a Global Agenda

The King expanded on three concerns he encouraged the World Forum to address: gender equality, the emerging debate on Sustainable Development Goals, and the issues of international migration and asylum seekers.

Regarding gender equality, current Moroccan efforts include legislation to broaden the definition of domestic violence, follow-up on the constitutional mandate to set up an anti-discrimination commission, gender budgeting – a novel concept that seeks to measure the scope of spending on women — and protection for domestic workers.

The King lauded ongoing efforts to expand the scope of the Millennium Development Goals when the newly drafted Sustainable Development Goals are announced in September 2015, in particular, inserting human rights concerns into the debate.

Reflecting on Morocco’s experiences with a range of migration issues, the King spoke of the more that 240 million international migrants whose futures are “being debated around the world today and which involves governments, civil society and the international community.” His concern is quite broad, both in terms of the overall growth and the increasing numbers of girls and women being displaced, trafficked, and subjected to intolerable hostility.

While reminding the participants of the devastating conditions afflicting many migrants, the King said “It should be pointed out that the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families – which is the main human rights instrument in this area – has, until this day, been signed and ratified only by countries of the South.” Morocco’s almost year-long effort to regularize migrants in the country has overcome serious technical obstacles and hopes to meet its targets shortly.

Morocco Pressing Ahead

To complete his assessment, the King pointed to “quite a decent record [in Morocco] covering such vital areas as transitional justice, women’s rights, human development, the rehabilitation of the Amazigh culture as a key component of the Moroccan identity, the consolidation of national human rights institutions and the governance of the religious domain on the basis of the tolerant principles and teachings of Islam.” He also referred to “other ongoing projects with a significant impact on the protection of human rights in such areas as justice, the press, civil society, local governance and the protection of vulnerable groups,” all reflecting commitments made by the government and the people of Morocco in ratifying the 2011 Constitution.

According to press reports, Morocco has signaled its intention to set up a National Preventive Mechanism, which will make it only one of 30 countries to have a fully operative mechanism against cruelty and torture. Among other issues being addressed are the death penalty and protection of children’s rights domestically, and joining an international effort opposing child soldiers, the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography.

It is quite stunning to consider that while Morocco is facing its human rights issues at home, from protecting migrants to children’s rights, and broadening the decentralization of authority to local officials, it continues to champion human rights internationally. As the King concluded, the goal is “a world which treats the most vulnerable and poorest segments of society more fairly and equitably, and which is committed to promoting brotherly relations between all human beings.”

Hosting the World Forum on Human Rights shined a bright light on Morocco’s record and its aspirations; and its openness to discuss its reforms will only serve to strengthen its resolve.