Building Capacity through Partnerships

How the International University/Rabat is Supporting Morocco’s Future

The first ever public-private higher education partnership in Morocco, the International University Rabat (IUR), was established in 2010 to accelerate the country’s capacity to undertake world-class research, and to provide specialized offerings for students in partnerships with universities in other countries. It is a unique proposition, in which students who meet the requirements receive dual degrees from both IUR and the partner institution — quite unlike the transplanted foreign campuses in the Gulf. As its homepage notes, “Our University established the first public-private partnership in the field of higher education. This partnership enables the IUR to achieve all its goals of excellence, training, research and to contribute to the socio-economic development of the Kingdom and the region.”

US universities currently allied with IUR are Mississippi State University (MSU), Georgia Tech, and the Sivananthan Labs at the University of Illinois/Chicago. With MSU and Georgia Tech, initial programs are in various fields of mechanical engineering – aeronautical and automotive in particular. Students take their first three years of study at IUR, in English, with at least 30% of their faculty coming from the partner institution. Students who complete the requirements then move to the US campus for their final year and automatic entry into the Masters degree programs when they complete their final year.

As importantly to IUR, the partnerships provide faculty exchanges, training in teaching modalities and technologies, opportunities to participate in professional conferences and meetings, and platforms for common research activities. This is already paying benefits: IUR had logged 14 registered patents by the end of 2015.

IUR focuses on meeting Morocco’s professional needs for today’s and tomorrow’s labor force. There is no better example of this than the newest partnership with Sivananthan Labs, a premier research and development facility embedded in the University of Illinois Chicago campus, and with operations across the US. Working in high technology fields ranging from detection devices to bio-medical research, Sivananthan Labs will bring its solar energy expertise to IUR faculty and students, a critical skill set for Morocco’s world-class solar and renewable energy projects.

The partnerships philosophy was a founding principle of IUR, as was the acquisition of high literacy in English as the premier language of technology. Also critical is the notion of dual degrees, so that students understand the commitment and intensity of enrolling at IUR. Starting from a base of study abroad programs, IUR’s leadership quickly realized that students would require more experience in the US if its mission was to be realized. And the university will continue to expand its partnerships to enlarge opportunities for additional areas of study and research and making itself a resource for the region.

Today, there are more than 400 students from the EU, and 2300 full time students, 800 of whom are on scholarship. An important dimension of IUR is its focus on being a resource for Africa, providing an institutional and educational link that jointly enriches their academic and scientific communities. As the website mentions, “The International University of Rabat aspires to be a key player in the development of the knowledge economy, particularly in Morocco and in Africa in general. Open onto the world, the IUR conveys universal values of excellence, solidarity and equity.”

Most importantly, IUR practices its international approach to education in all of its majors. English is the language of instruction in most of the schools, especially the engineering and science fields. Business majors may start in French, and their last two years are in English. All students, undergraduate and graduate, whether in the partnership programs or not, spend at least one semester in a study abroad program to broaden their educational experience.

When I spoke with IUR about their future plans, they noted that the current capacity is 4000 students and the goal is 5000 students by 2020. They are growing quite selectively to ensure that the fields of study and research match the growing and evolving needs of the country. Next in line are medical faculties including public health, dentistry, and hospital administration. The school is looking to its partnership with Georgia Tech to help craft a diverse agriculture concentration, from seeds to sustainability. All this and it has first class athletic facilities as well!

The enthusiasm of school officials is quite engaging. IUR is a pioneer and a leader in moving Morocco into the next tier of higher education and research. If you want to find out more, check out their website.

Soft Power at Work – Moroccan Entrepreneur looks back at her US Year

Impressed with Volunteerism, Commitment to Family, Joy of Celebrations

Safa Hajjaj is on her way home to Morocco, having come to the US in September 2014 as an Atlas Corps fellow at the Meridian International Center in Washington, DC. Dedicated to addressing critical social issues, Atlas Corps, according to its website, “develops leaders, strengthens organizations and promotes innovation through an overseas fellowship of skilled professionals.” Since its inception in 2006, it has brought more than 250 young professionals to the US to work in partner organizations, largely in the NGO community, to acquire and share “best practices” that benefit both the fellow and the host.

Safa is a great example of how the program works. At Meridian, she served as Curriculum Developer in the GlobalConnect Division, working on exchange programs related to entrepreneurship and social action. She came well equipped for her placement. After completing her studies at the Ecole Nationale de Commerce et Gestion in Settat, a leading Moroccan business school, she went to work for Nielsen Company managing regional projects in the Maghreb. Always interested in international travel and social entrepreneurism, she then moved to Istanbul, Turkey, as a coordinator for Citizenship and Public Affairs for Microsoft. In that capacity, she worked with local and regional teams promoting entrepreneurship and community empowerment.

When she returned to Morocco, Safa started her own company supporting local artisans and encouraging access to international markets for local cooperatives. She received a number of fellowships while building her social entrepreneurship portfolio and is part of the growing alumna network of women entrepreneurs in the country. Before coming to the US, Safa was president of the Junior Chamber International (JCI) chapter in Marrakech, and became involved in broader community affairs, including human development issues.

What works about America?

We spoke with her as she was preparing to return to Morocco. Safa goes home strongly believing in the benefits of international exchanges. Since she dealt with delegations coming to the US from abroad, she had the opportunity to hear from participants about their experiences. She said that she, like many of those with whom she worked, had their “assumptions” about America challenged and changed while they were here. Among the leading positive impressions are the attachment to family, extensive volunteerism, and celebration of holidays and events, from Thanksgiving and Christmas to the Super Bowl and March Madness.

Experiencing the “you can do it” spirit that permeates American culture was an enriching experience personally and professionally, she said, that helps build self-confidence,. Safa is impressed by how much energy in the US is directed towards empowering individuals, especially youth. While in Washington, she had the opportunity to attend many conferences hosted by NGOs, think tanks, and multilateral organizations, gaining exposure to many perspectives and programs.

Safa was particularly struck by the scope of the volunteer culture in the US. She noted that at the JCI in Marrakech, there were small numbers of people involved. In the US, “Lots of people participated, naturally, professionally, in a sustainable and efficient manner.” This is one of the strongest impressions she will take home with her.

The other is the importance of exchanges. They are “so powerful in breaking down stereotypes and assumptions when you see the host culture through your own eyes.” If she had not spent so much time observing how Americans interact and going to homes, she would have missed a lot, she said.

Professionally, she focused on benchmarking how the US works and what might be useful in Morocco. One example that particularly impressed her is ADA compliance — how the US provides access to transportation and other services for the handicapped, whereas in Morocco, the notion of helping the handicapped as a matter of policy doesn’t exist. “Someone from outside then asks why in the US…the answers change perspectives and lead us to see how the general public will is so key to making changes, like in volunteering.”

Safa will miss the multicultural environment in Washington, where she met many people who actually knew about her country and had been there. She reflected on a group of Moroccan men and women community leaders who had come for a program at Meridian and who loved their time here and were greatly affected by how open and gracious they found the American people. Still, at times, Safa felt like a geography teacher or a tour leader explaining “her part of the world”; and she herself learned a lot about US assumptions about Morocco from the questions that were asked.

Headed home, she has lots of thoughts about what to do, how to develop her strategic vision, and the projects she hopes to launch. For this coming year, she will take her time, build partnerships, recruit proactive people, and launch herself into a world where she will work hard to define herself as a committed woman entrepreneur. To enjoy the full experience that is Safa Hajjaj and her time in the US, take a look at her blogs at

Morocco Strikes a Strong Note for Tolerance and Inclusion

How will it make a Difference?

An article recently reprinted in The Forward brought into sharp contrast the perceptions of Jews among Arabs and Muslims. The story covered the recent award by Kivunim, the Institute for World Jewish Studies, of its first Reverend Martin Luther King Jr -Rabbi Abraham Herschel Award to Sultan (later King) Mohammed V of Morocco for his protection of Moroccan Jews during World War II.

While estimates of the number of Moroccan Jews at the time vary from 250,000 to 350,000, there is no disputing the fact that when faced with demands from the Vichy government of France, which then ruled Morocco, to impose severe restrictions on Jewish citizens, Mohammed V refused. In the Wikipedia section on Jews in Morocco, it is noted that “Sultan Mohammed V refused to apply these racist laws and, as a sign of defiance, insisted on inviting all the rabbis of Morocco to the 1941 throne celebrations. Jews’ reliance on the sultan’s protection against French persecution was a striking reversal of roles between Europeans and Muslims as Morocco’s Europeanized Jewish elite had perceived them.”

Furthermore, when Arab countries were agitating against the establishment of the State of Israel, Mohammed V decreed that no Moroccan Jews should be harmed as they had been part of Morocco’s long and rich history, one that was highlighted during the Kivunim event.

The earliest Jewish immigration to Morocco occurred more than 2,500 years ago and they integrated into the local Berber population, thus predating the Arab conquest of the 7th century. Jews continued to immigrate to Morocco over the centuries, with the largest number coming as a result of the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Catholic Spain in 1492.

The perils of allowing a fractious relationship between Jews and Muslims were underscored in remarks on the occasion from Morocco’s current King Mohammed VI. In a statement read on his behalf by royal counselor Andre Azoulay, he said, “Today, we need, more than ever, to ponder the lessons and relevance of this part of history in order to stand up more forcefully to the deadly aberrations of those who are hijacking our cultures, our faiths and our civilizations. We are living at a time and in a world in which the collective imagination of our societies is too often impaired, not to say poisoned, by regression and archaism. By capitalizing on the depth and resilience of the legacy left by my revered grandfather His Majesty Mohammed V, we can, together, set out to recover the lost expanses of reason and mutual respect which have vanished from many parts of the world.”

This is not the first time King Mohammed VI has emphasized the multicultural identity of Morocco and the need to preserve its vibrant legacy. He insisted that it be included in the text of the 2011 Constitution, and he has supported projects promoting interreligious and intercultural tolerance and understanding in Europe and in the US. For example, in November 2015, there was an event in Washington, DC marking the completion of the “Houses of Life” project, which, under the King’s patronage, restored 167 Jewish cemeteries in Morocco despite the fact that less than 3,000 Jews now live in the country.

Serge Berdugo, President of the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco, referred to the historical role of Mohammed V at the New York event. “Thanks to the strong decision of the sovereign, [the] Moroccan Jewish community was neither detained nor deported or murdered in concentration camps. All Moroccans, Jews or Muslims, enjoyed his full protection.”

At a time when issues in the Middle East and between Muslims and other communities seem intractable, there are counter-narratives, such as these Moroccan initiatives, that challenge the bleak assessments of pundits who insist that nothing can be done. Morocco and King Mohammed VI are clearly in the camp of hope, building programs of inclusion, tolerance, and collaboration that challenge the doom-and-gloom forecasts. The US should continue to support its friend Morocco in reversing the trends toward bigotry and exclusion that seem at times overwhelming in the region.