Entrepreneurship Program Launched in New Morocco-Virginia Initiative

Virginia Commonwealth University to Partner in Henry Ford Academy in Rabat

One of the most interesting responses to the need for entrepreneurship training in Morocco was announced last month by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). It will be offering entrepreneurship programs in partnership with the International Institute of Higher Education in Morocco (IIHEM) at the newly established Henry Ford Entrepreneurship Academy, a project of the Ford Fund, the philanthropic arm of the Ford Motor Co.

The three partners – VCU, IIHEM, and the Ford Fund – have made a long-term commitment to promote entrepreneurship through workshops, exchanges, some infrastructure, and working with stakeholders throughout Morocco. Eventually, the Academy will become a center for networking and connecting alumni and the Moroccan business community.

Jay Markiewicz, the executive director of entrepreneurship programs at VCU, recently returned from his first trip to Morocco and was struck by the cultural diversity in the country and the potential for building a collaborative program with IIHEM that would allow its students to pursue a master’s degree in Richmond. He will take the lead in designing the initial two-day workshops to be delivered in French at IIHEM. The workshops will target what are referred to as second-stage companies, those that have been around for less than three years and can benefit from insights into: articulating their value propositions; understanding customer needs and regulatory and legal issues; and gaining a working knowledge of financing, marketing, branding, and building business plans and models.

Jay is quite excited by the partnership with the Ford Fund, which is building its visibility in the region as the company extends its commercial operations in Africa. Their joint goal with IIHEM is to address economic development needs and make a difference in the economy by promoting a spirit of entrepreneurship and creating an infrastructure, an eco-system, to support entrepreneurism. It is a long term project that will start with the workshops and then develop additional programs as the demand and needs are identified.

Jay Markiewitz leads VCU's entrepreneurship program

Jay Markiewitz leads VCU’s entrepreneurship program

Jay says that the response from the Richmond area has been very positive. Already three members of his advisory board have agreed to fund and join a visit with three VCU students to Rabat. He believes that the Richmond area has a great deal to offer to the program in Morocco and in the US. In turn, this will create new opportunities for Virginia companies and students who have not been to Africa to experience Morocco and identify opportunities for study and business.

This is a great human capital investment for Ford Motor Co. as it has opened three sales locations in Morocco and a purchasing office in Tangier, the location of Tangier Automotive City, where more than 100 companies supply the automotive industry in Morocco – the country’s fastest growing export sector. Ford wants to strengthen the local economy, contribute to the development of its private sector, and encourage education that provides skills needed in their industry.

As Ed Grier, dean of the VCU School of Business remarked, “Entrepreneurship plays a critical role in energizing communities and stimulating economies. I have not doubt that the new Henry Ford Entrepreneurship Academy will make a difference in Morocco, and VCU is proud to play a leading role in this exciting venture.” The reciprocal benefit of this relationship was well summarized by Mr. Markiewicz when he said, “I think it speaks highly for our university, for our entrepreneurship education…Anytime you bring positive global press to a piece of Richmond, something so significant as its university, I think that it’s going to open doors – for the university and for Richmond and for the students.”

The new partnership is more than a concept; by the end of November, it will have delivered its first workshops and will have gained some helpful insights into how to make the Academy a fulltime success – for all the partners.

Supporting Tunisia’s Transition to Democracy, Stability, Growth

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Challenges Test Resilience of Society, Political Order

Over the past two years, President Obama has met with King Mohammed VI of Morocco and Habib Essid, the Prime Minister of Tunisia, America’s two strongest allies in North Africa, to support their continuing efforts to build strong democratic institutions and reform their economies. This should come as no surprise, as these countries have many interests and values in common with the US, ranging from regional security and stability to protecting the rights of women and children, promoting regional economic integration, and building strong civil societies.

While Morocco has been able to launch its reforms more quickly than Tunisia and enjoys a stronger internal security apparatus to counter terrorism, both countries are committed to moderate, liberalizing policies as the backbone of their national strategies. Morocco has been active in helping Tunisia in the transition, offering expertise and lessons learned from their own experience. Still, both countries also look for continued support from the US in order to fully achieve their democratic aspirations. Given the challenges in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Sahel, US policy makers are stretched to consistently provide assistance in whatever form to its friends in the region.

Credit: Morocco World News

Credit: Morocco World News

There is much to be gained from combining US efforts with Morocco’s knowledge to support Tunisia in achieving their ambitious vision for the future. US agencies have global experience to share and are able to provide critical funding. Morocco is continually gaining insights in democratization and empowering civil society, while Tunisia shares with both countries a vision of moderation and progress for the region but is still defining its governing dynamics.

First, let’s focus on the needs of Tunisia. The facts are well known: Tunisia is home to the Arab Spring; it is struggling through a transition to a parliamentary democracy that featured assassinations and jockeying between Islamists and secularists to form a working coalition government; and it is now poised at a juncture that threatens its emerging democracy by subjecting it to security measures that could suborn human and civil rights.

As argued in a recent Atlantic Council paper, there is no guarantee whether the future will see either a return to a more autocratic regime or sufficient stabilization of the political and security situation for the government to take steps to solidify its governing role and move aggressively to meet the needs of the country at large. It is these uncertain prospects for Tunisia that prompted the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa to hold a hearing on July 14.

As subcommittee chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen commented in scheduling the hearing, “Tunisia’s future is still far from certain, but it remains in the national security interests of the U.S. to see the North African country complete its transition toward democracy and to adequately address the threat it faces from violent and radical extremists, like ISIL and other terror groups. This hearing is an important opportunity to assess Tunisia’s current state of affairs and to identify areas in which the United States can help secure Tunisia’s democratic future.”

Panel Testifying at Hearing, IRI, NDI, WINEP, IFES. Credit IRI

Panel Testifying at Hearing, IRI, NDI, WINEP, IFES. Credit IRI

The expert panel included representatives of US agencies concerned with democracy development—Ambassador Mark Green of the International Republican Institute (IRI); Les Campbell of the National Democratic Institute (NDI); William Sweeney, Jr, from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES); and Aaron Zelin, a terrorism expert from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP).

The day of the hearing, Ambassador Green, Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Sweeney co-authored a blog in The Hill “Tunisia needs US support for democracy to succeed,” in which they argued that “Tunisia is still in a state of political transition that can be quickly reversed. Difficult problems…are still unresolved and fuel the appeal of extremist groups…Solutions to these problems lie in the delivery of good governance, redress of underdevelopment in certain regions, greater accountability and inclusivity, and increased access to opportunity.”

These messages were reiterated during the hearing, in which three themes emerged. Tunisia has pioneered the development of a moderate, democratic regime in the region, starting with a very difficult political transition since the ouster of President Ben Ali, and is struggling with internal and external forces that could destabilize the country. While security is the most visible concern, the country has yet to implement needed political and economic reforms that reduce the threat of instability due to internal discontent and lack of opportunity. Finally, the US still has a proactive role to play in supporting Tunisia’s road to a stable, secure, prosperous democracy.

What is clear from the remarks of the members of Congress who were present and the expert panel is that Tunisia has emerged from a very difficult period only to face even more challenges due to regional instability in Libya and on the Algerian border, as well as the need to make effective strides in reforming its economy.

So what can be done about this, and, more specifically, is there a way to leverage expertise of Morocco to complement US assistance to Tunisia? Morocco has not been passive in supporting Tunisia. In addition to the training of imams in moderate Islam as part of a common counterterrorism effort, Morocco recently signed eight agreements with Tunisia during a visit between the heads of government. These covered public housing, social development, education, women and children, youth and sports, higher education and scientific research, and technical cooperation in the field of transport.

Members of the committee and the panel noted the importance of US assistance in supporting Tunisia’s transition and security needs. There was also sentiment expressed that regional players like Morocco, which has common interests with Tunisia and the US, can be helpful in enabling regional aspirations for greater stability, security, and prosperity. Progress will require vigilance and commitment from all parties.

The panel identified security, elections, governance, civil society, and the economy as the most important issues to look at in the next few years. Why shouldn’t Morocco, the US, and Tunisia meet on a regular basis to discuss when and if there is way to leverage each other’s strengths to help create the common vision that is shared by all three nations? If we want to help meet the aspirations of Tunisia, then we should start by working together with our friends in the region to coordinate and maximize our efforts.


Reconfiguring Development Assistance from the Ground Up

 World Connect Focuses on Grassroots, “Local Systems Approach”

Poverty remains a stubborn reality throughout the world, and the international community continues to focus much attention on projects and programs that are sustainable, locally focused, and benefit women and children, who bear the brunt of low economic growth. Morocco has been one of the leaders in combating poverty through its National Initiative for Human Development (INDH), which seeks to improve marginalized rural and urban communities through sustainable social and economic development programs.

Recently, we had the opportunity to interview Pamela Nathenson, the Executive Director of World Connect-USA who brought us up to date on what their organization is doing to complement Morocco’s efforts, especially at the local level. What is especially interesting about her organization is that it is not trying to launch projects imported from other sources. Rather, World Connect “collaborates with field-based partners such as the Peace Corps to identify and accelerate locally-led development.” With a limited funding-base model, World Connect, like High Atlas Foundation and CorpsAfrica, uses a community-based approach for identifying and funding its programs, often partnering with Peace Corps volunteers to supplement existing projects or enable them to initiate new local efforts.

world conect 2Despite the billions of dollars in development assistance spent annually, there are still challenges in implementing small-scale projects that enable communities to take charge of their futures. Doing just that is a goal that World Connect shares with INDH. World Connect believes that it is helping to close the gap between programs the international community supports that tend to favor institutional actors and “grassroots organizations as leaders and innovators in international development service delivery.” A quick glance at its website shows the range of projects in 21 countries that are having a significant impact in rural and urban areas through sustainable, low-cost projects that have multiple positive benefits on local communities.

Celebrate Morocco with World Connect

On October 1, 2015, World Connect-USA will host its second annual benefit in Brooklyn, NY, at which it will highlight its work in Morocco, particularly a youth-led citizen journalism project that was initiated with a $457 grant to a Peace Corps Volunteer with a previous career in journalism to teach interested young people in Ouarzazete about journalism. The project has continued to grow through an additional three grants, and is now a sustainable media company. For a total of less than $9,000, the E-News Association currently has a roster of 17 journalists, photographer, webmaster, and editor-in-chief, publishes in English and Moroccan Arabic on its website, and reaches more than 25,000 people monthly.

As World Connect proudly points out, “most of the Ouarzazate E-News members are state department fellows.” In addition…World Connect has launched a women’s agricultural cooperative, a number of women’s artisan crafts cooperatives, an interfaith forum, a youth-led cultural cafe, women’s health programs, and many other projects, a total of 63 projects in all.” For a description of World Connect’s project work in Morocco and to understand how, with modest budgets, it impacts local communities through locally-generated projects especially benefiting women and youth, check out http://worldconnect-us.org/category/country/morocco/ .

With growing recognition that local populations, if provided the tools, are indeed able to generate efforts to improve economic growth, enhance social development, and sustain and expand beneficial programs over time, World Connect will be in the forefront of redefining foreign assistance from a handout to a hand up.

US, UN Laud Morocco’s Role in Promoting Libya Peace Talks

Agreement Provides Framework for Including Absent Tripoli Leadership

The United Nations Special Envoy Bernandino Leon praised Morocco for its support for the negotiations among the various warring parties in Libya to promote the political and military cooperation that has remained elusive since the ouster of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. At the concluding press conference in the Moroccan city of Skhirat, where the talks were held, he said “The Skhirat Agreement was made possible thanks to the contribution of many Libyans who worked within the working groups and other groups, but also thanks to the host country, Morocco, which has played a very important role, which is not only a host role, but also a role of political support.”

Leon was not alone in his praise for Morocco. At the State Department daily press briefing on July 13, Spokesperson John Kirby mentioned that “The United States Government welcomes the July 11th initialing of the final draft political agreement at the UN-led talks in Morocco, which is an important step toward the creation of a government of national accord…We express our deep gratitude to the Kingdom of Morocco for its leadership hosting the UN talks and to all of those participating in this process.”

The Skhirat agreement is the beginning of the next phase of negotiations aimed at restoring order to Libya. This is particularly critical in the face of mounting ISIL threats in the country and its continued economic and humanitarian catastrophes, including the influx of thousands of refugees seeking passage to Europe, creating yet another crisis.

As Envoy Leon pointed out, “This is a very important partnership between Morocco and the UN mission, “and that “during the next step, the parties will work on complex aspects, namely the formation of a national unity government, the negotiation of annexes (of the Agreement) and especially the involvement of armed groups, the Libyan army and the militias.”

Despite the agreement, the future remains in doubt. The General National Congress (GNC), based in Tripoli, and its allied Dawa militia were absent from the talks. However, this does not preclude their eventual inclusion, as Leon made clear that “the door is open to all not present. They have also played a critical role in this text. As I have said many times, there is no text that is entirely satisfactory to all parties and that responds to all their demands… I am confident that in the weeks ahead a clear decision will be made and will address all sides and issues.”

US interlocutors and regional powers, including Morocco, are now pressing ahead to bring the GNC into the deal so that the process of beginning a national unity government, writing a constitution, controlling airports and oil facilities, and integration of rival militias can begin in earnest, within the framework of the agreement. Leon concluded his remarks by continuing his plea for more collaborative talks. “We call on the remaining delegates and all Libyan decision makers to unite now and to join in supporting this agreement, in the interest of their country and people and in Libya’s common future.”

Green Entrepreneurship in Morocco

Can a Well-Meaning Project do More with Less?

Morocco is a popular topic among US development companies competing for American foreign assistance funding to the North African country. As a major recipient of aid with a hospitable working environment and credible local partners, competition for Morocco-related programs can be quite strong. Sometimes the program themes are obvious: governance, rule of law, maternal and child health care, literacy, and other areas of human and social development.

What has changed dramatically in the past decade, as part of the Administration’s continuation of the Bush legacy of “teaching them to fish,” is the emphasis on economic development through support for private sector engagement, growth, and diversification. Perhaps the best known initiatives over the past 10 years are trade delegations from Morocco to US trade shows, technical assistance to artisanal and crafts organizations, upgrading market access capabilities for Moroccan exporters, and enhancing the regulatory framework to encourage commerce.

Solar power presents opportunities for entrepreneurs

Solar power presents opportunities for entrepreneurs

Most recently, especially since the Arab Spring, is the emphasis on entrepreneurship, clearly the Obama Administration’s legacy in the area of economic development. If one considers the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, held in Morocco in 2014, as the keystone event, there are dozens, if not more, local and regional efforts across the MENA region. A new- vocabulary has emerged that takes terms from Silicon Valley, the finance sector, development, corporate social responsibility, investment, and science to craft a common lexicon to describe entrepreneurship as a process, its content, and the context in which is operates most successfully.

The most recent addition, or one could say “edition,” to aid programs is tying together Free Trade Agreements, environmental pacts, and entrepreneurship. Along with the bilateral FTA, Morocco and the US signed a Joint Statement on Environmental Cooperation in 2006 that includes projects for environmental protection and expanding trade and investment. “The 2014-2017 Plan of Action reflects the current priorities for trade-related environmental cooperation.“

Green Entrepreneurship – Innovation and Social Impact

And so, this summer, the US government released a Request for Proposal (RFP) entitled “Green Entrepreneurship Morocco” (OES-OTO-15-001) whose stated goal is “To support Morocco’s efforts to build a green economy by developing innovative commercial solutions to pressing environmental issues, such as waste management, recycling, and energy efficiency, among others, which not only support the development of Morocco’s entrepreneurial eco-system but also create green jobs.”

Consistent with its goal to innovate cross-cutting programs, the RFP notes that “The recipient will help spur green business and job growth through strategies such as the formation of collaboration partnerships and networks, education and training, innovation, and/or green technology transfers, among others.” It sets a high bar in that “Proposals should demonstrate creativity, substance, and relevance to OES’s [The Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs] goal of promoting sustainable economic growth that integrates environmental concerns.”

The amount for this program is up to $250,000 for 24-36 months, and the menu of anticipated results in the RPF include: new green businesses that are sustainable; related jobs for youth and women; quantifiable impact environmental results; capacity-building of local actors; innovative partnerships for continued growth; increased technical capacity in target areas of green applications; and greater commercial activity in various areas of the green economy.

Supporting Entrepreneurs to Stay Local

What is notable about this green entrepreneurship effort is that it expands beyond the typical areas of entrepreneurship, which have a strong bias towards IT and technology applied to the e-economy. And there is news on that front as well.

A recent article by the ever-interesting Aline Mayard focuses on the latest progress in building a

House of Geeks - Agadir

House of Geeks – Agadir

supportive environment for budding entrepreneurs. Much like the traditional incubators that provide services needed to move from concept to start-up, this “House of Geeks” provides housing along with the elements needed to foster innovation, collaboration, development, and launching of new tech projects.

Located in Agadir, a famed tourist destination in Morocco, the house contains “a makerlab, a gaming lounge, a book area; on the rooftop is a terrace for yoga and reading; and each floor has apartments for the developers.” Created by two Frenchmen, Kamel Magour and Damian Le Nouaille, their mission is “to convince the most talented of Moroccans to stay and work in their country, and to provide them with the means to become resilient entrepreneurs who will find the solutions that will benefit Africa.”

They chose Agadir for its proximity to potential markets in Africa as well as its supportive environment as they believe it is important to develop emotional intelligence, leadership, and entrepreneurship among engineers and developers who have the passion but may not have found a hospitable work opportunity.

Mayard writes, “A large part of Morocco’s talented graduates leave the country, according to Magour, because management style doesn’t match what they’re looking for, the technologies they use are too old, or opportunities are simply not interesting enough. And those who stay rarely gets to choose jobs they are passionate about because their families need them to find a well-paying job fast.” The House of Geeks provides an alternative that is attracting skilled and passionate entrepreneurs who are already making their mark in business.

With growing opportunities such as Green Entrepreneurship and similar efforts underway to better utilize digital technology in the agriculture sector, Morocco is seeing dividends for its investments in infrastructure and education for new technologies.