American University of Leadership Morocco Has Ambitious Educational Strategy

Highlights Role for Expat Moroccans in Developing Skilled Workforce

Dr. Anass Lahlou does not have small dreams…they are super-sized, multicultural, and multidimensional when it comes to higher education, especially educating Moroccans for the global economy. From his experiences with AMS, a well-respected training and education firm in the Washington, DC area, he became convinced that traditional approaches for preparing youth to meet diverse market labor needs were not effective in content, cost, or time. So he began working with his networks to develop innovative models for equipping young people with professional, business, and soft skills that would serve them throughout their lives.

He began with training small cadres of Moroccans in IT-related fields. His biggest challenge at that point, he told me, was finding enough Moroccan staff with US backgrounds who shared his approach to learning and leadership. The idea was to enable qualified students to obtain US degrees in Morocco, as he found that students were ready to move away from the limitations of the academic French model and towards the American system with its emphasis on critical thinking, problem solving, and student-centered learning.

In 2005, he set up a private institute for training and technology in Florida, where his original campus is located, receiving permission to operate in Morocco the following year. His American University of Leadership (AUL) was initially a bilingual French-English online platform, which he quickly expanded through partnerships and formal campus settings into a number of countries. He is very proud of the fact that of the resident students at the three campuses in Morocco, more than 20% receive scholarship support.

“My motivation, all along,” he explained, “is to make a difference in how students see education, not only as a degree but as a means of changing lives.” In 2010, he set his focus on Africa as well as Morocco, and to date has cooperative programs with universities in Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Senegal, and Russia, and agreements to move forward with Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

AUL-USA, the parent institution, is licensed by the Florida Commission for Independent Education (CIE)/FLDOE) and Accredited in Morocco by “ACBSP” Accreditation Council of Business Schools and Programs (under the auspices of the Council of Higher Education and Accreditation, CHEA). This year, he is the chair of the events committee of CHEA and will be hosting their annual conference at the Rabat campus.

What drives the instructional program is a commitment to upgrading the scientific, technical, business, and innovation climate in Morocco, focusing on Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Business, and Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and a Doctorate of Business Administration. His ultimate goal, through a newly formed AUL Morocco Foundation, is to create a Knowledge City in Bouznika, between Rabat and Casablanca, as an epicenter for 20-30 international universities to share a common campus and offer highly specialized courses in English that are unavailable anywhere else in the country, focusing on research, business, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

An American Marocophile, Elisabeth Myers, who serves as a strategic advisor to AULM, became committed to Dr. Lahlou and his mission after attending a retreat with his faculty in Rabat this year. She saw their remarkable commitment; and she became convinced that what Dr. Lahlou is doing is “just what Morocco needs at this critical time of rapid growth.” She told me that his “vision is extraordinary. He is offering the substantive courses in business with the more important underlay of leadership. AUL Morocco is changing the mentality of students, one at a time, to embrace the efficient, the effective, the proactive, the reliable—plus all the other qualities of leadership necessary to move the country forward to excel in the global marketplace of the 21st century.”

Elisabeth believes that the Foundation and the Knowledge City will “magnify exponentially what is possible for students at AUL, provide the resources to promote technological innovation and entrepreneurship, and significantly contribute to Morocco’s economy.”

When asked what was most important to him in the next five years, Dr. Lahlou spoke about the need to aggressively involve expatriate Moroccans in AULM’s programs. Because of their language capabilities, training in Western practices, and commitment to practical scholarship, he believes that they can make a significant contribution to the country. To that end, he is holding an international conference June 3-4 at the Rabat campus to help private universities in Morocco refine their offerings to reflect best practices to improve education in the country.

Dr. Lahlou’s list of best practices includes instructional technologies, program designs, interactive engagement models, and public-private partnerships for designing courses, in order to make private schools better contributors to economic development. Dr. Lahlou feels strongly that expatriate Moroccan education professionals can play a key role in encouraging educational institutions in Morocco to gain insights into options for upgrading their offerings. To do so will require a significant investment in improving teaching and faculties at all levels, especially in English-language instruction.

It is timely that AULM’s view of major changes to enable Morocco’s education system to produce qualified human resources is gaining momentum as the country is rapidly expanding its technology and new business sectors. Dr. Lahlou’s vision, however, can only be realized, he believes, if all are given the chance to learn. He hopes that securing support for the AULM Foundation and its commitment to broad scholarship support for its students will mark a turning point for Moroccan education into the 21st century.

Nizar Baraka Details how “Advanced Regionalization” is Advancing Democracy in Morocco

Plan for the Sahara only the Beginning for Empowering All Moroccans

At a recent roundtable discussion in Washington, DC, The Honorable Nizar Baraka, former Minister of Finance and Economy, who serves as president of the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CESE) in Morocco, provided his analysis of the regionalization program being rolled out in Morocco, and how this is already changing the political space in the country.

Mr. Baraka began by reviewing the CESE process for developing the first study of “the South” (the Saharan provinces), which included public hearings with testimony from some 1500 people as well as dozens of studies prepared by experts, which resulted in recommendations for extensive restructuring of local government and a robust economic development strategy. He explained that what is being done in the South is the beginning of “advanced regionalization” for all of Morocco.

He believes this is part of the implementation of shared decision-making and devolution of power promised in the 2011 Constitution. Mr. Baraka emphasized that the credibility of regionalization will only become real when citizens participate in local decision-making that affects their daily lives.

For example, the Parliament (Chamber of Deputies) is currently debating bills that give Civil Society the capacity to submit proposals and petitions directly to Parliament.

There is great economic disparity among the regions in Morocco, he explained. For example, 52% of Morocco’s GDP is produced in four regions, while 53% of its doctors practice in two regions. Similarly, the rate of joblessness in the South is twice the national average. Baraka insists that the direct election of the region’s presidents (the highest locally elected officials), and the five-fold increase in budgets for regional development are strong incentives for citizens to be more involved in local affairs.

So the CESE efforts have focused on how the government can create an environment for greater political responsiveness, and part of this campaign is a new economic development model for the region based on public-private partnerships. This includes large-scale investments in diversifying the economy, a new university focused on local needs, particular attention to conservation, and positioning the Sahara as a gateway to sub-Saharan Africa.

Economic Diversity to Drive Economic Growth

The Sahara is well poised for economic growth. Its GDP is 60% higher than the national average, but some 30% of that is generated by government programs. So the strategy going forward is to deeply engage the private sector to increase investments and jobs. One critical target is to diversify the local economy while protecting the environment. The focus is on empowering individuals to more fully participate in the economy; for example, raising the rate of women in the workforce from a woeful 14% to at least the national average of 25%, and doubling the number of employed youth..

Sectors slated for diversification include fishing, aquaculture, value-added farming, renewable energies, downstream phosphate industries, and eco-tourism. Plans have been finalized for a local university focusing on the needs of the region, including professional development of medical personnel, educators, managers, and lawyers; tourism and hospitality; and research and development supporting local industries. Given that the South’s literacy rate is already 20% higher than the national average, targeted efforts to build on their capabilities through focused programs of higher education should reap short and long term benefits, in terms of jobs and meeting future employer needs.

Conserving the environment is also a prime consideration, especially well water, which is overused. Desalination, reuse of gray water, greater efficiency of energy utilization, treatment regulations for well water, a new dam, and a comprehensive campaign to preserve the eco-system in the Bay of Dakhla are the headline items in this effort.

Looking at both the supply side, which pushes the growth of the local economy, and the demand side, which is the pull of market needs, Africa is the obvious market. Building a new expressway from Agadir to Dakhla onwards to Mauritania and Senegal, high speed digital connectivity, expanded port facilities, and the export of solar power along an interconnected grid are all in the plans for the next 10 years. It is anticipated that 75% of the targeted $10 billion of investment will come from national government public-private sector partnerships, while the regional governments will contribute the remaining 25%. The goal of these efforts is to create 120,000 jobs and cut unemployment in half.

Mr. Baraka provided discussed other plans underway, which he believes will create a seismic shift in how citizens see their roles in relation to the government. Empowering proactive, engaged, and contributing citizens is the core mission of advanced regionalization, which will require a different mix of incentives in Morocco’s different regions. The most important impact, according to him, is that the political space in Morocco has changed forever. This is clear in viewing the evolving role of the media and civil society, debates in Parliament over legislative initiatives, and the pressure on political parties to restructure their governance to reflect issues and priorities. More importantly, advanced regionalization will continue this process and move Morocco towards its goal of a new social compact based on engagement and respect.

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.

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 .

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.

What is Morocco’s Strategy for Developing a Skilled Workforce?

Minister Delegate Abdelaadim El Guerrouj Explains What’s Next

Last week, Minister Delegate for National Education and Vocational Training Abdelaadim El Guerrouj visited Washington to expand Morocco’s network of resources in support of its training goals, and to move ahead with specific projects that will enhance Morocco’s capacity for technical vocational education and training (TVET).

Among his principal stops were the signing of an MOU with Northern Virginia Community College to further collaboration between the US and Morocco; and meetings with the Institute of International Education (IIE) to discuss educational exchange programs, with the State Department to review current US support for TVET in Morocco, and with National Geographic, where the parties discussed opportunities for common research efforts.

The emphasis on TVET is relatively new in Morocco. Although the Kingdom has been doing technical and vocational training for decades, it was not until 2012 that a special ministry to address these issues was established. And the ministry has initiated a multifaceted program to build pubic-private sector partnerships to create a skilled workforce. With high unemployment among college and secondary school graduates, a high number of young people dropping out of school after sixth grade, and an informal economic sector that produces, by some estimates, at least 50 percent of the value of Morocco’s GDP and represents 30 percent of the workforce, Morocco still has challenges remaining.

Minister Delegate El Guerrouj took time to discuss Morocco’s strategy at a private roundtable hosted by Toni Verstandig, Chair of the Aspen Institute’s Middle East Programs, which has a number of programs with Morocco under the North Africa Partners for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO) project of Partners for a New Beginning (PNB). Last year, Aspen arranged for a delegation of community college leaders to visit Morocco, which led to the MOU signing.


The purpose of the roundtable was twofold: to present Morocco’s strategy and to give experts and practitioners the opportunity to provide feedback and recommendations to the Minister Delegate. While Morocco has achieved a great deal in terms of its physical infrastructure, it continues to lag in its human resources development, for several reasons. First, the presence of large numbers of youth – some 44 percent of the population is under 24 years of age – means that education and TVET are a generational priority. Second, although more than 99 percent of youth have a primary education, there is a serious problem with young people dropping out. Finally, there is always a need for more human, physical, and financial resources to carry out and build out TVET programs. Public-private sector partnerships have the potential to play an enabling role in this area.

US Support for Morocco’s Workforce Development Strategy

El Guerrouj believes that there are three ways to bolster retention rates: First, identify skills needed – when students can see the link between education and employment, they have higher motivation. Second, integrating skills training with universal principles, such as human rights and citizenship, adds value to the programs. Finally, work with the private sector through public-private partnerships focused on skills acquisition to highlight for stakeholders the specific needs of companies that are linked to jobs.

In discussing the MOU with Northern Virginia Community College, several questions emerged that demonstrate the challenges common to both Morocco and the US. For example, what is the most useful American experience relevant to Morocco – is it setting up a community college or is it focusing on the mechanics of transferring teaching/learning methods through faculty exchanges, teacher training, and joint research? Is the US experience of public-private sector partnerships, which draw companies into curriculum design and instruction, a useful model?

Morocco and US Working on Third Compact Credit: MCC

Morocco and US Working on Third Compact
Credit: MCC

One area of creative discourse during the visit was the buzz surrounding the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) Call for Ideas, which is looking for innovative approaches to public-private sector partnerships to close the education-employment gap. Morocco has a limited industrial base and is interested in replicating its automotive and aerospace sectors’ success in utilizing partnerships in curriculum design and delivery. As part of the second compact with Morocco now under negotiation, the MCC is proposing a focus on linking businesses with TVET institutions to strengthen relations between public and private sectors to enable TVET institutions to train teachers, interact with SMEs, and collaborate with non-governmental actors.

The Morocco-US partnership has proven particularly successful in the thorny matter of skill certification – formal recognition that someone has the necessary practical experience and knowledge to perform specific tasks. A new 40,000-square -oot training facility is currently underway in Oujda, where Moroccan students follow the same curricula as American students and receive the same certifications. The National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3) has proposed using its network of 300 US colleges to issue US-accredited certifications in new technology and engineering processes to Moroccan students.

Minister Delegate El Guerrouj also raised the issue of training costs. He is concerned that without partnerships, it will be difficult for the government to lower its costs while still enabling students and companies to break the employment-education gap. There is also a cultural gap because university education has traditionally been preferred over TVET. Closer integration of general educational priorities within the vocational system (rather than treating vocational training as a step-child of education) will help overcome the social stigma often attached to TVET institutions.

Skills Education Matched to Business and Work Force Needs

Morocco is also addressing disparities between the needs of urban and rural labor. Minister El Guerrouj emphasized the importance of “mapping the needs of the region, both urban and rural.” He believes that any effective education program must take into account the priorities of the community it serves. Otherwise, it will be impossible to set up local programs, and policymakers will be setting themselves up for “under-reform.” He believes that the only way to equalize access to education across the country is to establish a solid infrastructure in rural schools so that they can perform at the same level as their urban counterparts.

Looking at how this has worked elsewhere, it may involve offering meals to students, building dormitories, or offering transportation. Globally, there have been many efforts over the past 6-7 years in rural areas to improve education opportunities, especially for girls. One of the main tenets of the Moroccan constitution is to provide the same education for all, no matter who they are or where they come from, and this is an important guideline for the TVET strategy.

Jobs in aerospace industry

Jobs for Moroccans extend from basic services to high tech manufacturing

For the unskilled adult population, Morocco educates approximately 40,000-60,000 people every year at non-formal learning centers for adult education, another program they hope to expand. The Minister Delegation noted the “Validation of Skills Acquired through Experience” program, which recognizes previously acquired skills and helps students build upon them in a socially and economically meaningful way. This will also enable those working in the informal sector to gradually accumulate the resources to become more involved in the formal economy. In these and other ways, Morocco is including those who lack formal education yet have acquired skills and business know-how.

It is this nexus of jobs, skills, and human resources that Morocco has made a priority for the next decade. Having a young population can bring great dividends if youth acquire skills that are both relevant to the demands of the current labor market and applicable to areas where demand exists but has not yet been addressed. Morocco understands that its young people, and under-trained adults, can make significant headway in building the diverse and responsive economy that Morocco must have to grow.



Shared Vision, Shared Objectives

Shared Vision, Shared Objectives

Bottom Line of the Morocco-US Strategic Dialogue

On Thursday, April 9, the US and Morocco issued a joint communiqué at the conclusion of the third Strategic Dialogue between the two countries. The US praised Morocco’s progress on many fronts, Morocco lauded the commitment of the US to stand by its ally and support its economic, social, and democratic reforms. The language of a special partnership resonated throughout the statement.

Building on the priorities established during King Mohammed VI’s visit to President Obama in November 2013 and subsequent senior-level visits, the statement noted that “our strategic partnership and shared vision will promote a secure, stable, democratic, and prosperous Maghreb, Sahel region, Africa, and Middle East.”

Secretary Kerry “reiterated the United States’ appreciation for the action and leadership of His Majesty the King …,” including his “continuing efforts to strengthen further Morocco’s democratic institutions and promote economic prosperity and human development.”

In anticipation of Moroccan local elections coming in September, the Secretary specifically noted “programs designed to strengthen political parties and civil society” as they prepare for the first ever elections under regionalization – Morocco’s program to devolve more power to locally-elected officials. These elections and the training programs are part of a continuing campaign to build local capacity to administer municipalities, determine local priorities and planning, and implement local solutions to address human development needs.

After lauding Morocco’s progress in reforming the military justice system, enabling more organizations to officially participate in civil society, advancing the powers of the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), and implementing immigration reforms enacted since last year’s Dialogue, the Secretary noted that both countries will work together to advance human rights at the UN Human Rights Council.

Business, Africa, Security, and Regional Affairs

On the business front, the major item discussed in the communiqué was the anticipated second Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact, which focuses on education for a skilled workforce, and improving land policies and productivity. The communiqué also noted that both countries had signed an MOU wherein Morocco will share with select countries in Africa its expertise and lessons learned in the MCC relationship.

Secretary Kerry highlighted the leadership of King Mohammed VI in broadening and deepening Morocco’s relations with Africa. This has become a priority in recent years as instability and violence threaten more countries on the continent. The US and Morocco agreed “to work jointly … through a comprehensive and coordinated approach including food security, access to energy, trade promotion, conflict prevention, and the preservation of cultural and religious identity.” With more than 100 agreements already signed between Morocco and African countries, and the King poised for another five-country visit later this month, Morocco is working hard to strengthen its leadership role in south-south cooperation, a role strongly supported by the US.

Reiterating America’s long-standing policy of support for autonomy for the Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty, the communiqué stated, “The United States has made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people of the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity.” Both countries reaffirmed their shared commitment to improving the lives of the people in the Western Sahara and will consider a number of options to move ahead on that objective.

Men and women training as leaders and counselors promoting moderate Islam

Men and women training as leaders and counselors promoting moderate Islam

As expected, security cooperation was a key agenda item. In addition to addressing the various means through which Morocco and the US are working to counter violent extremism, Secretary Kerry thanked Morocco for its participation in efforts such as the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the Initiative on Open Border Security, as well as Morocco’s innovative training center for Imams, Morchidines, and Morchidates – prayer leaders and male and female religious counselors from Morocco, and other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

The dialogue included discussions on “Morocco’s reform of its justice sector and promoting the rule of law, and … the launch of new law enforcement and counterterrorism programs, including a trilateral initiative with Moroccan and American trainers working together to train other African partners in border security and crisis management.” The communiqué further highlighted Morocco’s role in promoting dialogue among factions in Libya, working towards a comprehensive solution in Mali that deals with root causes, and a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. In short, the friends were able in a few hours to reiterate their long-standing security commitments based on broadly shared goals and objectives.

“The Minister and the Secretary concluded by noting that the Moroccan–American strategic partnership is based both on shared interests and shared values which provide many avenues for cooperation and collaboration bilaterally, regionally, and globally.” It is a partnership that offers many opportunities to advance the quality of life for the people of Morocco, provides means for enhancing regional security and prosperity, and enables the United States to work effectively in a part of the world where it has an effective and motivated partner.

Report: Transitions to Democracy Require More than Elections

Atlantic Council Paper Argues for Inclusivity, Good Governance, and Prosperity

Although there are no shortcuts to promoting democracy and the rule of law, recent reports raise the issue of what can still be done to recover from the instability and chaos spawned by the Arab Spring while countering the rising threats of extremism. The authors of a paper from the Atlantic Council argue in “A Transatlantic Approach for the Arab World: Stability through Inclusivity, Good Governance, and Prosperity,” that there are still steps that can be taken to reduce domestic threats and put in place concrete programs to create jobs, enhance stability, and bring about greater respect for the rule of law.

New Paper Argues to More Comprehensive Strategies

New Paper Argues for More Comprehensive Strategies  Credit: Atlantic Council

They point out that “Since 2013, the US administration has downgraded its regional policy initiative on Arab reform, eliminated a special coordinator post for the Arab transitions, and scaled back democracy assistance,” the last factor highlighted by Thomas Carothers in a series of reports. The authors take note that “Although US and European officials occasionally give speeches mentioning the need for inclusive governance, human rights, and equitable growth as part of an anti-ISIS strategy for the region, this rhetoric has not translated into any significant policy measures.”

Is there a way out of this conundrum, as security issues again dominate political reform/stability concerns and lead to an emphasis on hard-power tactics? One casualty of this dilemma is that deep seated grievances that led to initial challenges to Arab regimes have only been directly dealt with in a few Arab countries — most notably Morocco and Tunisia, as well as Jordan to a degree. As the paper describes this situation, “the economic and political exclusion that drove the uprisings remains.” They argue that “The challenges in the Arab world are complex and what is needed is persistent effort rather than episodic attention through grandiose speeches or lofty promises left unfulfilled.”

Yet they also argue that this is the time for developing coherent long-term strategies – targeted specifically for each country – that integrate diplomatic, security, and economic assistance by the US and its European allies to jointly address both short and longer term challenges.

So how is Morocco Doing?

It is not easy to measure moving targets, such as political and economic reforms, when there are internal and external factors that condition outcomes and affect results in areas such as immigration and judicial reform, greater business and public sector transparency, expanding access to local governance, and similar indicators of progress.

Yet there must be accountability on both sides: Morocco must continue concrete progress on political reforms; reducing barriers to new business development; and institutional changes that encourage greater citizen participation at all levels of government. Similarly, donor countries must clearly tie their assistance and support to activities that address both security and stability concerns and enable governments to take more risks in pursuit of economic, social, and political reforms through longer term engagements and emphasis on mutually agreed goals.

Although some may take issue with Morocco’s pace of reform, there are strong signs that it has not diminished its commitment to change, despite growing pressures from extremists and radicals. The legislative calendar has a full slate of reform measures for review by the Chamber of Deputies, ranging from regionalization and judicial reform to amendments strengthening the family law, and independent status for the transparency commission.

As the report noted, “The United States, the EU, and key European member states should identify joint goals for political reform that extend beyond the fair conduct of elections …” Common areas of interest include promoting greater decentralization of political decision-making to elected local councils, protections for migrants, and extending rights of redress for whistleblowers. These are all in process in Morocco, and most recently, the EU has announced a grant to Morocco to strengthen its recent successes in immigration reform.

Morocco and US Working on Second Compact Credit: MCC

Morocco and US Working on Second Compact
Credit: MCC

Addressing the issues of increasing economic opportunities for youth and women is quite challenging for Morocco, which depends on increased levels of foreign investment to drive industrial development. Yet this too is a priority for the government and for the donor countries. In addition to EU funding for reforms in vocational and technical training programs and strengthening the ecosystem for entrepreneurship, the second US-MCC compact has identified education and training reform as a priority component of the compact. These government-led activities are critical to building a credible business environment that attracts direct foreign investment, such as the recent decision by Embry-Riddle Worldwide University to establish an aeronautics center in Morocco to serve Africa.

The path forward for the Morocco-US partnership is full of unanticipated challenges, from regional terrorism and extremism to the state of energy prices and trade trends. Yet, working as partners, there is more than a glimmer of optimism. As the recent visit of US Science Advisor Dr. Peter Hotez demonstrates, there are incremental steps that reap long-term relationships and benefits on both sides. Dr. Hotez is actually a member of the private sector who, according to the State Department, “will meet with representatives from the scientific, academic, and business communities to discuss ways to build and strengthen research collaboration networks between scientists and engineers in the United States and Morocco.” It is this kind of integrated partnership, which recognizes and supports a broad integrated strategy of collaboration and coordination that will ultimately drive a successful bilateral relationship.

What are the Ingredients for Promoting Entrepreneurship?

UK Report Examines What Conditions Help Grow New Businesses

In a rather lopsided view of the world of entrepreneurs, UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) engaged The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) to write “Helping entrepreneurs flourish: Rethinking the drivers of entrepreneurship.” According to the introduction, “This report investigates the complex issue of encouraging entrepreneurship, and in particular, the contribution that education and business can and should make towards achieving that goal.”

Surveyed entrepreneurs and aspirates in 40 countries

Surveyed entrepreneurs and aspirates in 40 countries

The EIU conducted two global surveys – one of entrepreneurs and the other of aspiring entrepreneurs ages 18-25. I call it lopsided because they went for the low-hanging fruit—only 10 percent of respondents were from the Middle East, North Africa, Africa, and Latin America, with the other 90 percent almost evenly divided among North America, Europe, and South Asia. Of course, there is great value in polling those whose experiences are reflected in their responses. On the other hand, guidance from that larger pool may not be based on the same challenges and environments encountered by start-ups in the MENA region and Africa, where driving employment is a national priority, if not a crisis in the making – witness the remnants of the Arab Spring.

I found the report useful most of the time in terms of the old rubric that defined testing at my university – compare, contrast, analyze – the directions given for many of my exams — and so I am applying that to the highlights of the report’s observations and recommendations.

Passion and Mentoring are Prime Movers

Regardless of national origins and level of education, there was a high degree of agreement among entrepreneurs and aspirants that “passion and determination are the most important attributes for entrepreneurial success.” Almost as important is the value of access to mentoring within ongoing businesses, providing much-needed work experience; and mentoring by external sources such as incubators, university programs, and accelerators. Mentoring has become so central a service to upcoming companies that there are “innumerable government-supported and private schemes to link those in need of advice with more established businesspeople.” These programs have a double benefit – providing insight for the mentee and broadening networks for existing companies that may become a source of innovation and employees.

Mentors are key to successfully developing entrepreneurs

Mentors are key to successfully developing entrepreneurs

In looking at the South however, the passion demonstrated by up-and-coming African and Arab entrepreneurs is scarcely matched by an institutional or organizational network of experienced hands to lend advice and experience. While much has improved in the last decade — witness the growth of mentor programs in Morocco and elsewhere — the sheer number of potential entrepreneurs in the region, estimated at perhaps 10 percent of the adult population, overwhelms the few initiatives to support a vibrant eco-system for business growth. In the South, there are few role models for the young to emulate, especially if their focus is on new technologies and media. What about those who feel passionate about agro-technology, eco-tourism, and improved rural health delivery?

Given the limited bandwidth, it can sometimes be burdensome for the same 30-50 established businesses in a country to be the go-to mentors for rising entrepreneurs on a continuing basis and concurrently run their own companies. Another issue in the South is that many “entrepreneurs” reside in the informal sector of the economy, which carries its own challenges and burdens inhibiting access to programs that could support them, not the least of which is an inadequate education.

Whether from the North or South, the bottom line is the same, “Finding better ways to educate potential entrepreneurs, both before they start out and in the early stages of their efforts, is therefore an important potential focus for creating an environment more conducive to successful start-ups.”

Education Remains The Key Variable

Those who have built and grown companies point out the value of education that goes beyond how to gather information to how to use it in complex environments. One is David Gorodyansky, CEO of AnchorFree, “It’s time to evolve education from just being information-driven to being experience-driven and personalized. If you are going to be an entrepreneur, it’s a lot more important to understand the world and different cultures, people and mindsets.” Regardless of their backgrounds, respondents to both surveys said that educational systems “need to give more support to potential entrepreneurs.”

An example of a UK-Moroccan mentoring program

An example of a UK-Moroccan mentoring program

Yet there is a challenge when comparing personal educational experiences vis-à-vis learning in the marketplace. Less than 20 percent in both groups think that strong academic skills are an important attribute for success. And in many ways, a formal secondary or tertiary institution may not be the most effective venue for enhancing the eco-system for entrepreneurs. “Of entrepreneurs surveyed, 81 per cent say that they acquired more entrepreneurial skills through work experience than education, and 70 percent say that having corporate experience before becoming an entrepreneur is preferable.”

It might make more sense, particularly in the South where access to quality education is often a function of socio-economic background, to instead provide discrete courses accessible to more learners that focus on skill sets required by entrepreneurs, such as financial planning, business plan development, navigating a regulatory environment, networking skills, issues related to registering a company, etc. These simple how-to business-focused components, when part of a robust environment for business start-ups, may provide the framework for partnerships between the government and the private sector that lead to accelerated job growth, key to domestic stability and building a strong middle class.

While it is challenging to stretch the insights in the report to specifically fit realities in Africa and the Middle East, the core issues are the same – how to craft an eco-system linking education, training, financing, an enabling regulatory environment, transparency, supportive institutions, and whatever else is needed to give passionate, focused, willing-to-learn risk takers real opportunities to create something of benefit to themselves, their colleagues, and their country. Perhaps, having less to start with, as in the South, may generate options that are beyond the imagination of others who do not face the same obstacles.

2015 Challenging Domestic Agenda for Morocco

Lower Energy Prices, Cuts in Subsidies Will Support Economic Progress

As part of my look ahead at Morocco in 2015, there are key domestic issues that are priorities for the government, as well as the people of the country, who are concerned that external factors will complicate Morocco’s progress.

Three primary areas that directly affect the lives of Moroccans and are on the government’s agenda are the economy, reform issues, and internal stability. These three are interrelated, since stability depends on how the economy and reform agenda are managed, as well as wrestling with challenges from extremists in the region.

Economy is Bright Spot in 2015

Although it is anticipated that there will be a slowdown in the economic growth rate due to the continued lethargy in Eurozone countries and little growth in the global economy to which Morocco is linked, overall prospects are quite positive. A recent favorable rainy season coupled with strengthening macroeconomic indicators may push Morocco’s growth rate somewhere between three and four percent, the variance reflecting the drag on the economy created by debt servicing. The major financial rating agencies note that the government is taking all the right steps to reduce subsidies and public sector spending, which will make the country’s balance sheets healthier. In fact, “The IMF stated that the implemented reforms have strengthened public finances and stabilized the economy. However, downside external risks remain, in particular those related to Europe’s slowdown.”

According to FocusEconomics, “Morocco’s economic outlook remains healthy as the government is committed to fiscal discipline. FocusEconomics panelists expect the economy to grow 4.3% in 2015…For 2016, panelists see the economy also expanding by 4.3%.”

The outlook from the rating agencies is similarly positive. “Moody’s credit rating agency stressed that Morocco is heading to a gradual reduction of the budget deficit as a result of the radical procedures adopted by the government, despite the unpopularity of such measures.” “Fitch, the credit rating agency, believes these reforms allowed the reduction of the public deficit from 7.3% in 2012 to 5.4% for the last year and a decline to 4.3% is expected in 2015.”

In line with themes sounded by King Mohammed VI, financial reforms are aimed both at correcting imbalances and weaknesses in the economy and enhancing its competitiveness so as to counter the global economic slowdown by expanding markets in Africa, where Morocco has a competitive edge.

As noted in a recent Al Monitor article, “The fact that the Moroccan economy is keeping away from the red line [of excessive public spending] is basically due to the strategy supervised by the Moroccan king himself. The strategy focused mainly on the diversification of partnerships and opening new markets for Morocco’s exports in addition to the development of business initiatives and attracting foreign investment through adjusting laws in terms of facilitating the movement of profits and tax cuts. However, the most important measure was the king’s declaration of the need to have reforms within the judiciary and get rid of the obstacles that impede the flow of foreign investments.”

Focus on human and economic development

Focus on human and economic development

King Mohammed has not promoted economic growth without attention to income disparity, which is a continuing issue in Morocco. On the occasion of the Throne and People’s Revolution Day, he raised the issue of the imbalances in the country and said, “We do not want a Morocco where the rich benefit from the fruits of development and are made even richer, while the poor are dragged out of the course of development and made even poorer.”

The Al Monitor article concludes with the caveat, “The Moroccan economy can benefit from modernization, opening new markets and diversifying its partnerships, since such steps ensure the preservation of the economy away from risky red lines.”

Challenging Reform Agenda

A number of bills are in play in the Chamber of Deputies and in committees reviewing proposed laws. In process currently are drafts related to giving greater protection to women and child workers, guaranteeing primary education to disabled children, regulating certain types of mining, enhanced security against terrorism, providing health insurance options for divorced women, ending civilian trials by military tribunals, and judicial reform. Also up in 2015 is the effort to finalize both a media law outlining rights and responsibilities for Morocco’s traditional and contemporary media, and an associations law on civil society organizations.

By the end of the spring session, we will have a clearer picture of progress on the various bills delineated in the 2011 Constitution and expectations of if and when they will wind through the legislative process. Given the heightened security situation, now upgraded due to the Paris attacks, there will certainly be an emphasis on increasing the government’s power to track and interdict potential terrorists.

Enhancing Security Presents Opportunities for “Best Practices”

With the encouragement of its allies, Morocco continues to develop a multifaceted “toolkit” to counter violent extremism, including the training of imams from more than 10 countries in the principles of moderate Islam; special programs for militants who have returned from fighting abroad; mourchidates’ training of female counselors who work in mosques and community centers; a social media campaign against extremist messaging; and infrastructure enhancements to hardware and software resources. In fact, the country has become a prototype for working domestically and regionally to combat terrorism.

A valued component of this overall campaign is Morocco’s leadership in the various iterations of coalitions opposing extremists. From its active participation in the anti-ISIL effort to hosting meetings concerned with returned militants to the upcoming Marrakech Security Forum, Morocco has demonstrated its commitment to a long-term effort to defeat radicalism and ensure security for its people. Its role has been positively noted by Vice President Joe Biden, EU ministers, and various international agencies and departments. Combined with the country’s efforts to liberalize its political and economic space and generate meaningful jobs for youth, women, and the marginalized, Morocco is working hard to make 2015 a remarkable, progressive year.

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