What Would Dad Think of Lebanon Today

When I think about Lebanon today, I always end up remembering my father. He was born on 10/10/1910 and died 104 years later. As many of his generation, he attended primary school in the north of Lebanon, worked with his family in their fields, went to Brazil to work with his father and brother selling household goods from a dugout canoe on the Amazon, lost it all in the Depression, returned to Lebanon via a stay in France, and then rebuilt his family farm so that they could have a continuing source of food. For cash he made charcoal to sell in the surrounding villages and then went to work in a bicycle shop in Beirut. Not very glamorous to be sure…but along the way he learned Arabic, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, at least enough to survive and succeed.

Then along came my mother Elizabeth, who had emigrated to the US years before and returned to Lebanon to marry the man she had decided was for her…and my dad’s life changed forever. Not that he had much choice. She was strong-willed, a relative, and knew what was best for him. So they traveled to the US and followed so many before them in selling goods to local communities first as peddlers, then from trucks and small stores. Not much news here but it is useful to learn from the past when we are trying to figure out why so many of us still love Lebanon despite its various attempts at self-disfiguration as in the abuse of the environment, and its efforts at self-destruction as reflected in the political culture of the country.

Fortunately, my parents lived close by in their last years so I had some time to reflect with them on their journeys. When I asked my dad how he was able to take on so many new responsibilities during his lifetime, his response was simple, “To survive, , I was always ready for the next adventure.” When I see the frustrations in Lebanon today, as he must have when he first returned 30 years after he left, I wonder what happened to those Lebanese qualities of risk-taking, entrepreneurism, sense of community, and initiative that are absent in its political culture today.

You can argue that there are many business start-ups, that the Lebanese continue to showcase their talents globally, and that it can master its future if only left alone without external interference, but that’s not what is evident in Lebanon today. The private sector is grossly under-resourced and constrained except for its wealthiest members. Lebanese abroad are reluctant to invest significantly due to the lack of transparency and corruption in dealings; and Lebanese politicians seem content to mortgage Lebanon’s future to authoritarian allies in the region and beyond. Confessionalism eats away at the body politic so that even the best and brightest feel obliged to find champions outside of the country. Syria and Iran and likely Saudi Arabia act as if they have rights in Lebanon to dictate its future and too many Lebanese are ready to comply, if only to settle long-standing grievances with other clans and parties. And who can tell how Russia’s interests will further skew Lebanon’s independence.

There are many issues emblematic of these dysfunctional tendencies that are on the agenda once government formation occurs, or new elections are held: a realistic and rapid timetable for the professional and transparent implementation of political and economic decentralization;  the role of Hezbollah in the future of Lebanon; the need to invest heavily in the education and health sectors despite the current overloads caused by the refugees; rapid and transparent implementation of the reforms needed to respond to the international donor community as well as private sector investors; placing quality of the environment among the top action items for the government, particularly in enabling communities to take local initiatives; acting to reduce the challenges limiting opportunities for youth, women, and the marginalized; and integrating strategies for infrastructure initiatives in power, communications, transportation, and services sectors, among others.

These and other concerns have been identified in multiple studies, the proposals to the CEDRE conference, and in negotiations with multilateral organizations including the World Bank Group and UN agencies. Lebanon would be well-served by recalling and re-acting on the intentions in the Taif Agreement to implement functional decentralization to provide training and resources for local populations to manage their affairs within a national strategy for services such as waste management, power generation and distribution, access to potable water, and a nation-wide youth services program that rebuilds the environment, promotes hygiene and health services in underserved areas, and connects young people across sectarian and geographic boundaries.

One thing the Abrahamic faiths share is the belief that “God helps those who help themselves.” This was very true of my parents who never lost their faith in God or in Lebanon. Unfortunately, unless a consensus for moving forward comes together in the near future, it may more likely be that others, including Israel, Iran, and Syria will be helping themselves to a fractured Lebanon, and only the Lebanese can keep that from happening.






Can Promoting Arab Women as Entrepreneurs Make a Difference?

Or will age-old stereotypes relegate them to secondary roles?

The economic and business roles of Arab women have been discussed for more than two decades and initiatives have been launched on the consensus that their participation is worth promoting. With electoral quotas in several Arab countries to promote their political participation and with more women appointed to significant positions in the private sector, there are indicators that the roles of women are being taken more seriously. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, while there is a great deal of focus on women driving and flying, much less has been published about those women who make up the majority of Saudis enrolled in medical and pharmacy schools, teaching and research programs, and a number of scientific concentrations.

But I believe that the emphasis across the region on building up women on entrepreneurs will only bear fruit if the term applies broadly to women who create and run small and medium-size enterprises as businesses as well as their counterparts engaged in IT, programming, hi tech, and similar sectors where entrepreneurs tend to concentrate.

Recent enterprise program initiatives recognize that empowering rural communities, co-ops, neighborhood associations, and similar groups will enable them to act as proto-incubators for bringing greater business literacy to those who have been largely marginalized economic players. The cost of not including women as serious economic actors is severe and largely unnoticed. A Brookings Institution article noted that “The World Bank recently said that globally we are losing $160 trillion in wealth because of the gender gap in earnings, including $3.1 trillion in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.”

Yet changes in legal codes, allocating more funding to female-centric programs, and building friendly ecosystems to support women in business still has to overcome the most significant barrier to women in the workforce – social and cultural stereotypes driven by a patriarchal society. As the Brookings article puts in, “In order to address the cultural barriers and the deep-rooted gender stereotyping concerning the division of labor, we must work closely with communities and with men specifically to raise the desirability and legitimacy of women working.”

Perhaps the reason that there is so much emphasis on promoting women entrepreneurs in hi tech is that these sectors are outside those traditional jobs tied to crafts and food processing or more male-dominated areas. An IFC article says it clearly. “It may surprise some to learn that one in three start-ups in the Arab World is founded or led by women — a higher percentage than in Silicon Valley. Indeed, women are a force to be reckoned with in the start-up scene across the Middle East. Because the tech industry is still relatively new in the Arab world, there is no legacy of it being a male dominated field. Many entrepreneurs from the region believe that technology is one of the few spaces where everything is viewed as possible, including breaking gender norms, and is therefore a very attractive industry for women.”

Digital platforms that are the backbone of many high-tech projects are one option for enabling women to spend time both at home and on the job. For example, “these digital platforms allow women to be unimpeded by cultural constraints or safety issues and lowers the implicit and explicit transaction costs of transportation, child care, discrimination, and social censure,” according to the IFC article.

So the future for highly educated women in the Arab world is not as regressive as for those with less education and access. In fact, “According to UNESCO, 34–57% of STEM grads in Arab countries are women, which is much higher share than universities in the US or Europe.”

Yet other statistics are not as supportive of a bright future for women. According to the IFC article, “In fact, 13 of the 15 countries with the lowest rate of female participation in the workforce are in the Arab World according to the World Bank. Restrictive laws in many countries across the region put women who wish to join or start their own businesses at a disadvantage, including prohibitions against women opening up a bank account or owning property, limited freedom of movement without a male guardian, or constraints on interactions with men who are not in their family, in addition to cultural and attitudinal stigmas.”

So it makes sense that the emphasis should be three-fold: opportunities for women at the community level through initiatives in traditional areas of crafts, niche foods, and specialty items (think argan oil and Zaatar); building ecosystems at the high end for university graduates who are well-versed in the digital economy and may apply those skills to upgrading those women at the community level (e.g. https://www.asilashop.com/, or http://deden.co.uk/heritage-natural-soap-by-tradition/), and those in-between who are eager to be active in their local economies and will excel if given training, resources, mentoring, and encouragement.


Fair Trade Lebanon Has a Banner Year Developing Local Communities through Jobs and Business Development

In the past few years, it has been instructive to see the achievements of Fair Trade Lebanon (FTL), an organization dedicated to empowering rural communities and women’s organizations through economic development. At a time when a great deal of attention is focused on megaprojects to advance Lebanon’s economy, FTL works at the local level to change how people build their futures. Given the well-known attraction of Lebanese food products both at home and abroad, FTL came up with the idea of encouraging local cooperatives and farmers to produce food items for local consumption and export with a fair trade certification. Initially directed at the overseas Lebanese, FTL now exports to over a dozen markets.

I caught up with Philippe Adaime, FTL’s CEO on a recent trip to Washington, DC and asked him to give ATFL a report on their progress in 2017. Here is his report.

2017 has been an extraordinary year for Fair Trade Lebanon. Proud of its 12 years of community engagement, the Lebanese non-profit organization is on the path to move forward from “good to great.”

In a country with regionally displaced populations of refugees, facing socio-economic pressures, and increases in unemployment and political instability, Fair Trade Lebanon (FTL) has been able to implement and manage 7 important projects in 2017 and impacted 2,500 jobs. These projects benefit first the host communities and farmers who are the backbone of the rural areas, and includes efforts to help refugees deal with their uncertain future by generating employment opportunities and the seeds for business development.

In 2017, FTL supported 35 women cooperatives and group of farmers to improve their production in order to access local and international markets. In fact, 19 cooperatives received 40 pieces of new equipment and supplies that benefitted more than 540 people. In addition, 1,000 men and women benefited from a MEPI-funded project (A US foreign assistance program) – a number that doubled in 18 months of activities – through the organization of 187 training sessions to support cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in improving their production. As a result, cooperatives and SMEs within the FTL network saw their sales increase by up to 40%, which affected 500 new jobs among 20 business units.

Furthermore, this improvement in production and increase of sales led to an addition of 15 new points of sales in Lebanon and 2 new importers. Currently, 35% of FTL’s producers’ production is meant for export; 13 units are certified organic, and 4 obtained the FLOCERT certification, which indicates that they have met international standards for fair trade.

Regarding refugees in Lebanon, FTL supported 900 vulnerable women from host and refugee communities through specific food processing training (preserves, catering, saj), and insured that 55% were Lebanese and 45% Syrian. FTL organized 390 training sessions related to food processing, hygiene, marketing, pricing, and event management. Importantly, 12% of these beneficiaries were youth.

FTL linked 300 Lebanese and Syrian to the private sector by enrolling them in a 2-months internship program where 12% where able to find a decent job. In 2017, FTL intensified its work in Akkar with a group of 30 dedicated Lebanese and Syrian women who established a cooperative in Khreibet el Jundi, and their products can now be found in the well-known Topline supermarket in Halba.

FTL’s target in 2017 expanding its domestic network by organizing 33 awareness sessions in mainly schools and universities reaching 1,300 students. In order to revive and promote authentic Lebanese cooking practices, FTL developed the concept of “make your own saj” and adopted the “shop in shop” channel to get closer to consumers. This created 12 new jobs and revenue of 8,000 USD per month of selling saj.

Concurrently, FTL launched a media campaign all over Lebanon through offline and online platforms, which reached 3,000,000 people all over the country and 18,000 followers on Facebook. FTL took part in 22 events in Lebanon and abroad to promote fair trade practices and market the cooperatives’ products. FTL also attended the World Fair Trade Organization conference in India, where it strengthened strengthed its partnerships with fair trade actors from other countries.

Finally, 2017 was marked by two big events. First, FTL organized the World Fair Trade Day in Lebanon with 2,000 attendees, 45 products exhibited, and 15 live stations to cater friends and supporters. Secondly, in partnership with the Lebanese Embassy in Washington DC, FTL organized an event at the Embassy’s residence under the theme “Authentic Lebanese Culinary Products” where FTL presented its mission and the wide range of products from “Terroirs du Liban.” Over 400 guests attended this event, including 10 importers and 5 media representatives who were greatly impressed with the quality of “home-made” Lebanese products now available in the US.

With a fair and ambitious motto “from good to great,” FTL looks back at 2017 with a feeling of satisfaction and yet a feeling of thirst to grow and inspire everyone they come across. Follow this link to see where FTL works all over Lebanon and this link to see the many products available.



Working to Grow Lebanon’s Economy through Enabling Entrepreneurs

I recently wrote about the visit of Lebanese entrepreneurs to the US to learn more about how we support the growth of entrepreneurs on the local level. Many of them have met Tony Fadell, the Lebanese-American who is credited as co-creator of the I-Pod, I-Phone, and Nest, and believe that they can only benefit from more interactions with overseas Lebanese. One of the participants, Hani Mawlawi, provided me with information on a program that may be of interest to overseas Lebanese who want to provide concrete encouragement to young people working to advance Lebanon’s economic growth.

Lebanon Science and Technology Park (LSTP) provides support to entrepreneurs to transform their innovative ideas/R&D science or technology projects into successful businesses, creating more job opportunities, and promoting the country’s economic development. Although currently targeting the north of Lebanon, it has aspirations to take its work throughout the country. In order to do this, it is necessary to recruit international donors and specialized agencies as partners who can bring their experiences and resources in support of LSTP projects.

In orders to reach the minimal size and development to become a viable entity, entrepreneurs must rely on an entrepreneurship ecosystem that includes access to technology infrastructure, financing, mentoring, skilled human resources, business and market strategic planning, and testing, marketing, and distribution of the final product or service. In Lebanon, boosting and enabling this ecosystem has been a focus of a number of programs within universities, government agencies, and international donors.

LSTP is collaborating with the UK Lebanon Tech Hub (UKLTH) to make the ecosystem a reality. UKLTH is a joint initiative spearheaded by the Lebanese Central Bank (BDL) and the British Government with a mission of creating jobs and sustainable economic wealth in Lebanon. Since its inception, the UKLTH has supported 77 startups locally, helped 7 enter the UK market and scaled up 3 into the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regional market through Dubai. It is reported that 1257 jobs have been created in the process and the cohort startups are collectively valued at $206 million. Another competitive round to identify new candidates for the program has just closed and there are high expectations that the project will successfully continue to advance entrepreneurship in Lebanon.

At the current time, the UKLTH’s programs include:

  • The Nucleus: Early stage venture-building program focused on product development.

  • The International Research Centre (IRC): Funds and manages applied research projects between Lebanese universities/startups and international partners.

  • The Scale-Up Program: Aimed at internationalizing and expanding MENA based startups into global markets.

  •  GEM: The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor is the world’s foremost study of entrepreneurship that looks at the entrepreneurial behavior and attitudes of individuals alongside the national context and how it impacts entrepreneurship.

The UKLTH wants to hear from overseas Lebanese with an interest in promoting technologies and applications from Lebanon to the world. So if you’re a tech person or someone who markets and distributes technology devices and applications, contact them and see how together you can make a better world for Lebanese entrepreneurs!

Problems and Promises of Youth Employment in the MENA

A very interesting series of studies is being produced by the CSIS Youth, Prosperity, and Security Initiative and the International Youth Foundation (IYF), a partnership that focuses clearly on global issues affecting youth, “Exploring the near- and long-term economic, social, and geopolitical implications of youth development trends around the world,” according to its website.

The partners work covers a variety of topics ranging from The Global Youth Wellbeing Index to CSIS-generated country and region specific studies. This recent panel, convened by Ritu Sharma, Senior Visiting Fellow for the Initiative was on “Scaling Youth Employment in the Middle East.” The panel featured Mohammad AlMbaid, IYF Country Director for Palestine; Jon B. Alterman, CSIS Senior Vice President, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and Director of its Middle East Program; and Zeenat Rahman, former Special Advisor to  Secretaries Clinton and Kerry on Global Youth Issues.

From the panel’s perspectives, four common themes emerged:

  • All countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have growing demographic pressures to create jobs and face of declining economic growth, weak educational systems, and mismatched education to employment outcomes.
  • There are cultural challenges to promoting youth employment ranging from gender discrimination to attitudes towards manual skills jobs.
  • University graduates are disproportionally affected with unemployment rates often 3 x that of the national average.
  • There are no one-size fits all solutions. Although the overall challenge of generating jobs quickly without relying on the public sector is common, other national factors influence policy options, implementation strategies, and definitions of desired outcomes.

Morocco is a useful case study on all four themes. It has a growing population, indeed 50+% of the population is under 30. Despite its success in attracting significant investments in the manufacturing sector, creating some 300,000 jobs in the automotive sector alone in five years, it still faces a gap in the educational system’s capacity to effectively train qualified labor. Its greatest success has come through public-private partnerships, yet it is still not enough.

Moroccan youth, accustomed to seeing previous generations taken care of by the government, are reluctant to enter into the uncertainty and discipline of the private sector. Although this is slowly changing, cultural factors often restrict a woman’s ability to find meaningful work and condition males to resist certain types of skilled jobs. This is particularly critical for university graduates where the 30% unemployment rate reflects not only a lack of white collar jobs but resistance to vocational/technical alternatives.

While Morocco does not have the resources of the Gulf countries to build and equip educational and training facilities, it has successfully recruiting tens of thousands of young people for manufacturing, services, industries, and technology jobs by promoting the benefits of skilled labor, how jobs can evolve into careers, and providing support for entrepreneurs. Yet the sheer numbers of youth, as evidenced in the focus of the panel on “scaling youth employment,” remain significant.

The Experts Search for Solutions

Building on this point of demographic pressures, Jon Alterman pointed out that public sector employment is often a stability issue – a means of insuring citizens’ loyalty. When government jobs are no longer available, threats to stability rise and issues of tradeoffs in the short term between security (managing conflict and unrest among youth) and stability (distorting the national economy through excessive non-productive government employment) become paramount. Equally “challenging,” Alterman mentioned, is developing effective strategies for changing attitudes toward job preferences, from no-risk subsidized government jobs to greater reliance on private sector employment tied to local, national, and regional markets.

iyfMohammad AlMbaid related how, after extensive surveys, IYF decided that university graduates would be the focus of their initial programs in Palestine. They work with a majority of the universities in Palestine to provide “life-skills training” for graduates to enable them to acquire those soft skills necessary to survive and advance in today’s workforce. Early results show that graduates of their courses are employed at 2x the rate of others who did not have the course. IYF is expanding its programs to vocational schools and works with the Saudi government to implement similar programs in the Kingdom.

Zeenat Rahman noted that the US government, beginning with Secretary Clinton, became involved in global youth affairs reflecting from President Obama’s concern that young people in many countries had literally no relationship to the US due to political conditions. Both Secretaries Clinton and Kerry focused a great deal of effort on youth programs, sensing that this was an opportunity to engage youth beyond counter-radicalization efforts to enabling them to take control of their futures. A key selling point, she said, was learning to address these issues from the self-interests of the partner countries rather than US prescriptions.

The discussion that followed was quite robust as most of those present have experience in youth employment efforts and lent their well-honed perspectives on workable strategies. There was broad agreement on the importance of shifting attitudes among youth toward skills-centered jobs; emphasizing “in-trapreneurship” based on life-skills that enable youth to make the most of their employment choices; the need for both top-down policies and grassroots programs for long-term effectiveness; and the need for more holistic approaches in education to produce better qualified and focused youth.

No one left with a sense that the job was done. As Rahman pointed out, there have been numerous and thorough studies globally of the youth employment phenomenon. What is much more challenging is implementing solutions that are sustainable, scalable, and timely, supported by public-private partnerships. It is, after all, in their core interests to enable youth to believe in their futures.



Morocco Continues to Polish Its Green Credentials

Unique Partnerships for a “Greener” Morocco

Thanks to a State Department-funded program, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, better known as Virginia Tech, and a Moroccan NGO – the Industrial Cluster for Environmental Services (CISE) — have developed a partnership that won a contract to promote “green” entrepreneurship” in Morocco. The background to the relationship is quite interesting. Selma Elouardighi, born and raised in Rabat, came to Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs in August 2010 as a PhD student in Planning, Globalization and Governance. As she tells it, “My research interests centered on corporate environmental responsibility…and I decided to focus my work on the transfer of environmental best practices from developed to developing countries.”

Her key findings were that environmental best practices (EBP) are most effectively adapted when market pressures engage corporations and their supply chains. “Networking, which often leads to the identification and capitalization of synergistic opportunities between various firms, is an important facilitator of a systematic adoption of EBP.” Selma decided that the best way forward in Morocco was to set up CISE, an association of producers and consumers of environmental services and technologies.

As Selma puts it, “CISE provides a platform for sharing of best practices and partnership development between various constituencies [companies, public sector, higher education and research institutions, and environmental NGOs] to collectively pave the path for cleaner production and corporate environmental responsibility…and aims to promote research activity…and an incubator for green enterprise.”

Both sides play critical roles in CISE. The producers, by attracting more members from the industrial sectors, increase the spread of Morocco’s green programs. Consumers of these services help identify the technologies needed in the market, which help set priorities for producers and at the CISE incubator for environmental projects. CISE sees itself, eventually, as a bridge between academia and industry in that university facilities “serve as R&D labs for small and medium sized enterprises,” which in turn work with graduate and doctoral students to bring their innovations to market.

After registering CISE in Morocco in June 2014, Selma reached out to her colleagues at Virginia Tech and found a professor who was trying to start an educational program with Morocco. After some discussions, they agreed to collaborate. Michael Mortimer, Director and Senior Fellow at the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (GLiGS) at Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment became that counterpart for CISE. Always on the lookout for broadening the school’s international ties, he was already developing programs in China, India, South Africa, Turkey, Indonesia, and now Morocco.

When he saw a State Department request for proposal to fund a “Green Entrepreneurship” project in Morocco, the collaboration with CISE became a viable entry point for a joint proposal, which won the grant competition. CISE then engaged its stakeholders to identify the value chains in recycling and energy efficiency that appeared to be priorities. These included recycling of used oil, used tires, dangerous/toxic wastes, plastics, construction waste, and fish waste, with energy efficiency of construction materials also targeted. Requests for proposals were then sent to entrepreneurs throughout Morocco to identify strategies for how they would create green projects in these areas or others.

Those whose proposals are chosen will receive funding and support from business coaches who will work with the entrepreneurs and monitor their progress. The coaches are professors working in entrepreneurship at HEM, the highest-rated business school in Morocco and a CISE partner.

An interesting feature of the GLiGS program is that all graduate students must spend at least 10 days abroad conducting research. As Professor Mortimer said, it is a “marvelous opportunity” for students to learn about challenges in other countries and give back to the hosts by undertaking case studies or other small-scale projects. Since the Tech graduate students are professionals who have work experience, this means that they bring their expertise to bear on environmental and health-related issues in the host country.

World Bank Steps Up, Again

After, the international conference on climate change COP21 finished up its work in Paris last year, it passed the challenge of delivering global consensus on a way forward to COP22 — to be held in Morocco this coming November. And Morocco is relishing the challenge. The King has already appointed a senior-level task force to manage the logistics and agenda-building for COP22, and members have been holding meetings with their counterparts in many countries to move the agenda forward.

Not content to just be a great host, Morocco, with the help of its partners, is ramping up its concrete commitments to reduce emissions through a variety of projects, which, in addition to the Virginia Tech-CISE partnership, are playing a role in promoting a sustainable green environment in Morocco.

The World Bank, through several of its funding mechanisms, is supporting a major recycling project that aims to ramp up the rate of recycled materials from 5% today to 20% by 2022, while giving employment to waste-pickers and providing greatly improved working conditions including health care, access to a bank account, regular wages, and housing support.

Another World Bank project supports the sustainability of agriculture, tourism, and fisheries by promoting, for example, better groundwater management practices, soil conservation, improved information for farmers, and preservation of fish stocks; at the same time it encourages the diversification of employment “through the promotion of industries that have less negative impact on the environment, such as eco-tourism and aquaculture.”

These projects, funded by donor organizations, demonstrate that Morocco is deeply engaged on its COP21 commitments as well as its energy use goals for 2020 and beyond. By partnering with fund sources, NGOs, and the private sector, Morocco is opening opportunities for entrepreneurs and workers to find new opportunities in “Green” Morocco.


Second Millennium Challenge Compact with Morocco Gathers Steam

Initial Contracts Being Signed; Formal Approval Needed by Moroccan Chamber of Deputies

There is good news coming from Washington and Rabat as the second Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact with Morocco – valued in excess of $517 million ($450 US, $67.5 Morocco) — is taking off. The partnership between Morocco and the US that makes the MCC compact feasible is the result of years of collaboration across a range of projects funded by various US agencies. The mutual respect and trust engendered serves both as a model for other programs and a legacy of a friendship of shared values and interests in human, economic, and social development. The link to the compact site is http://compact2.cg.gov.ma , and the actual compact document is at https://assets.mcc.gov/documents/compact-morocco-employability-and-land.pdf

The process began in November with a “technical” signing that enables the release of funds for initial activities. The MCC press release notes that “Signature of the compact allows MCC and the GoM to begin the work necessary to ensure a successful and timely implementation of the program such as hiring staff and beginning key studies.  A larger, public ceremony to celebrate the commencement of compact activities is planned for spring 2016.”

With this “technical” signing, some $21.4 will million to be spent in the coming months to set up: financial management and procurement activities; basic administrative functions, including staffing, offices, equipment, and other items; finalizing monitoring and evaluation activities; hiring consultants for preparatory studies and activities; and other steps needed while awaiting final approval by the Chamber of Deputies.

In Morocco, the GoM will set up its MCC counterpart (in the office of the Head of Government); to establish its accounting and budgeting process; ensure that it “will not reduce the normal and expected resources that it would otherwise receive or budget from sources other than MCC for the activities contemplated under this Compact and the Program”; and continue to contribute its committed funding to existing programs that will be part of the compact.

 How the Process Works

Once Morocco was approved as a candidate for a second MCC grant, extensive consultations with stakeholders and a study by the African Development Bank identified weaknesses in workforce development and land management as obstacles to greater economic momentum. This resulted in a two-phase compact focusing on “Education and Training for Employability,” assigned $220 million; and $170.5 million allocated to “Land Productivity,” which concentrates on more effective management and investment practices for agricultural and industrial land. The rest of the grant is for monitoring and evaluation, program administration, in addition to contributions from the GoM.

Signing for the Moroccan side was the Head of Government, Abdelilah Benkirane, while Jonathan Bloom, Deputy Vice President, Africa, represented the MCC. It was attended by representatives of the seven Ministries, who, along with a private sector representative and two from civil society, will make up the Moroccan board of directors for the compact.

Once program areas are identified, “terms of reference” are developed to describe the goals of each program in sufficient detail that companies and organizations can submit comments – through “call for ideas” conferences –and eventually bid on services. The initial “call for ideas” conference results in public RFPs (Request for Proposal) in which competitive bids and project descriptions are submitted.

This process often results in new initiatives that had not been considered initially. One example is the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) program to focus on support for new and existing public-private training centers, with companies taking the lead in the training and placement of trainees. The goal is to deeply involve the private sector in curriculum development, standards for qualifications, and eventual employment.

Land development is a much trickier proposition, as titling and management issues “inhibit access to and productive uses of rural and industrial land, thus diminishing investment and the consequent demand for labor.” “In rural areas, the project develops a faster, fairer, replicable process for moving the country’s collective irrigated land into the hands of smallholder farmers. In the industrial sector, the project develops a new model for industrial zone development” enabling the government to streamline how it brings industrial land to investors.

Overall estimated beneficiaries of the program are: more than 1.7 million graduates from improved and skills-centered secondary schools; 275,000 from the workforce development efforts; more than 80,000 farmers benefiting from improved rural land management; and some 96,000 benefiting from upgraded industrial land policies.

In addition, the MCC compact emphasizes sustainability across all sectors. Secondary Education “will pilot an Integrated School Improvement Model that will demonstrate how to achieve cost-effective, quality education, and a plan will be developed during the Compact for expansion of this model post-Compact. The Private Sector-Driven TVET grant facility is intended and designed to continue functioning after the Compact. GoM co-financing during the Compact will continue afterwards and enable the grant facility to continue.” Throughout the program, GoM and MCC “will collaborate to ensure that interventions aimed at mainstreaming social and gender inclusion will include mechanisms that promote sustainability beyond the Compact Term.”

There are many additional details available on the website, and more will emerge as future “call for ideas” conferences are announced. At this point, MCC is pleased with the enthusiasm and responses to the initial conferences from both Moroccan and US entities. Hopefully, the Chamber of Deputies will approve the overall compact in time for a formal signing in conjunction with the US-Morocco Strategic Dialogue in Rabat in April

Opening the Door to Community Activism – Will Moroccan-Americans Respond?

Moroccan-American Community Challenged to Build Bridges to Morocco

On October 23rd, I made a presentation at the opening of the first-ever meeting in the US of the Council for the Moroccan Community Abroad (CCME), which was formed as a result of provisions in the 2011 Constitution to engage overseas Moroccans in the civic life of the country. It is a unique experiment. I can think of no other Arab country that has set up a meaningful program to engage emigrants in such a broad way. Think about it…there are four provisions in the Constitution that call for extensive networking with Moroccan emigrants to ensure that they stay connected to what is going on and have input into policies that affect their interests. No where else is that even a possibility.

Some, like Jordan and Egypt, have robust programs promoting inward investment from their overseas sons and daughters. But none, to my knowledge, is inviting these same people to promote policies that are important for them, whether it be in consular functions related to documentation and visas, efforts to attract talented and knowledgeable inputs for economic growth, or agreements with the host country on migration issues.

Having worked in organizing the Arab American community for more than 40 years, I provided a historical context to the Arab immigrant experience, especially our participation in US political life. Talking later with conference participants, I was struck by two points: their relative lack of knowledge about the experiences of other immigrant groups, and their assumption that reaching out to Moroccans overseas was about how they could benefit from Moroccan government services rather than a broader concept of civic engagement.

This may be due to several factors. First of all, Moroccan-Americans are among the most recent immigrants to the US from the Middle East and North Africa, starting in large numbers in the 70s. Most are first and second generation American citizens. So they have little experience in building networks with other Americans, whether in schools, cultural centers, or community affairs. What they do share with Arab-American communities is a high level of education, household income, and upward mobility. This “newness” and the lack of experience in the give and take of a robust political system is part of their inability to engage in public affairs whether in the US or Morocco.

Secondly, Moroccan-Americans, like others, are strongly motivated by economic and professional opportunities in the US, so civic engagement takes a back burner to making a living, educating their children, obtaining advanced degrees, and similar efforts. Technology plays a big part in how they relate to Morocco. Today, like all émigré communities, Moroccan Americans have the internet and digital communications to keep in touch, at increasingly lower costs so that what is going on at home, particularly with one’s family, can be as close as the phone or computer. While there is distance, the feelings of separation are not as rigid as even 20 years ago.

While the CCME process may have its imperfections, it is a tool that can be used by the community, if they mobilize, to give voice to their issues. The same energy that Moroccan-Americans show on the soccer field should be transferred to developing a collaborative community agenda with the government of Morocco. It is intriguing that Moroccans have a robust civil society at home and yet are unsure how to build similar networks in the US.

Since many came during the reign of the late King Hassan II, advocacy was not yet on the public agenda. Today, King Mohammed VI is actively promoting the role of migrant Moroccans to help the country grow in prosperity, skills, and wisdom. So what is needed?

Looking across the range of ethnic American organizations, we know that the most successful are those that are most focused, most articulate, best prepared, motivated, and patient. For Moroccan-Americans, a good place to start is by building better communications with their Embassy and consulates that go beyond political issues and consular functions. The community needs to have an agenda on which most émigrés can agree on as citizens concerned about their country of origin.

Moroccan-Americans have strong social skills, which can serve them well in getting involved in their local communities. From education to transportation, health, and safety, there is no lack of interests that they have in common with their neighbors.

Finally, it’s important to manage expectations – what can the government do, in what time frame, and how to benefit the greatest number? How can the community help set that agenda and ensure accountability? How can CCME get better in tune with the community in its follow up meetings in New York, Orlando, and Boston? How can you have a more inclusive process so that CCME has the benefit of a range of perspectives and attitudes among the community? Finally, what can you learn from the American experience of volunteerism, community and neighborhood councils, local government, and entrepreneurship, among other areas, that can be part of an agenda with Morocco.

Keep in mind that this is a unique challenge, not a promise. For the first time in Morocco’s contemporary history, the King and the government want your opinions, insights, and recommendations. This is about more than affordable flights to the country. This is about taking an active part in shaping policies important to the émigré community who have much to contribute to the future of Morocco, a country I feel that you deeply love and cherish.

At UN, King Challenges International Community to Support African Development

Too often, in the drama of high political tension at the opening of the UN General Assembly, the media focuses on the hot button news such as Russia versus the US on issues including Syria, Iran, and the Ukraine, that naturally drive the headlines. No less important are the substantive calls from regionally important players regarding needed advancements in human and social development.

Such a speech was delivered on behalf of King Mohammed VI of Morocco, who gave his perspectives on several key themes: lessons learned regarding setting ambitious global development goals, the need for large-scale partnerships to effectively improve society; and the need for clarity and purpose on issues such as climate change.

Blog reform parliament featureI happen to think that his speeches do not attract the attention of the media and pundits because Morocco is not in crisis; it has a functioning government led by a moderate Islamic party; it has a very effective security apparatus that is quite effective in combating terrorism and radicalism; and Morocco delivers on its promises – in achieving its Millennium Development Goals, countering extremism, and introducing gradual liberalizing reforms, among others.

This year’s speech began with simple rhetorical questions: “Have we managed to change the day-to-day life of the poor? Are the results achieved solid and sustainable enough to withstand tensions, wars and social and economic crises?” Once again, as in Pope Francis’ addresses in the US, the focus was on the poor, those who are underserved and marginalized in their communities.

A review of Morocco’s achievements made under the Millennium Development Goals indicates significant progress between 1990 and 2015. Yet, this is not true globally. The gaps between regions around the world and inside certain countries are a legitimate cause for concern. The King recognized that much has been done, but also believes that if the international community cannot point to actions that deliver measurable and sustainable progress, then “It should induce stakeholders to ponder on the best means to promote development and address the malfunctions affecting international cooperation.”

In addressing the UN’s campaign to develop Sustainable Development Goals, King Mohammed said that the gap between words and actions was not acceptable. “No matter how relevant and promising the sustainable development agenda is, its credibility will hinge on the resources to be raised to finance its implementation.” He noted in particular that too often regional and international obstacles impeded progress. “International cooperation therefore has to adapt to global facts on the ground and not only shake off the legacy of the past, but also avoid geo-political calculations and refrain from imposing near-impossible conditions to access aid.”

The King sounded a clear message about the inadequacy of solutions imposed externally: “Development cannot be achieved through bureaucratic decisions or ready-made technical reports that have no credibility. To fulfill people’s aspirations and to address their real concerns, it is necessary to fully understand the reality of their situation and their characteristic features, make an objective assessment of their living conditions and carry out serious work on the ground.”

As he frequently has since assuming the throne in 2001, he focused on his neighbors in Africa, saying that “These African people’s lives are a never-ending struggle, full of daily challenges. They have to face harsh conditions and can only rely on scant resources. However, they live with dignity, are true patriots and hope for a better tomorrow.”

Morocco is doing its part. Over the past five years, scholarships for students from sub-Saharan Africa have increased, a ground-breaking migrant inclusion program has been initiated, and an array of bilateral agreements covering social, human, and economic development has been signed with many African countries — by a country that has limited financial resources but understands the meaning of community and acts on it.

The King said that “an inclusive, coordinated and multi-dimensional medium-term approach needs to beblog 2 22May14 adopted.” Recognizing that Africa is the fastest growing continent and has water, energy, and agricultural potential to meet its needs if managed effectively, he remarked that “Seen from this perspective, Africa must be at the heart of international cooperation for development in order to help the continent rid itself of its colonial past and unlock its potential.”

While a variety of financial and investment projects have been launched over the past decade to support growth in Africa, there is concern that there is little coordination among donors and recipients to ensure that resources are allocated and managed efficiently for maximum impact. “For this reason,” the King added, “Morocco is calling on the United Nations Organization and on regional and international financial institutions to draw up an action plan for economic transformation in Africa and provide steady resources to finance it.”

There is no question that the King takes challenges to African development seriously. In the past year, he has made at least three major speeches emphasizing that the future of Africa is in the hands of Africans and their partners in the global community. He does not underestimate the challenges, given the violence that afflicts all regions of the continent. King Mohammed added, “I also call for making peace and stability top priorities to prevent conflicts, confront extremism and terrorism and address the migration problem using an approach that takes into account the dignity of migrants, preserves their basic rights and tackles the root causes of the migration phenomenon.”

It is this long-term vision for his people, his country, and the continent, and his commitment to actions for progress and results that is the bedrock of King Mohammed’s legacy.

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.