The Role of Global Transformation – Why not MENA, Why not Lebanon, Why not Now?

Recently, Saad Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, at the opening of a workshop on the digital economy, pointed out that “digitization is one of the primary building blocks for national prosperity,” adding that “a digitized nation is simply more intelligent and we all need to work together, cooperate and coordinate on this issue.” His words echo realities from Tunisia to the GCC, that to empower a nation’s entrepreneurs, create valued jobs, and launch sustainable entities, it is critical to not only incorporate new technologies and business practices but to build a new consciousness of the role of entrepreneurs in the transformation of their countries.

At the same event, the World Bank Regional Director of the Middle East Department, Saroj Kumar Jha added “We are very concerned that unemployment in the country is increasing and in my view, technological transformation creating more enabling conditions for the businesses, more investments to come to the country, will really create the opportunities so that more Lebanese minds can be really at work. And that is good for Lebanon but also for the region and globally.”

The challenges of sustainable economic growth and meaningful employment are common throughout MENA and the Gulf, yet available programs centered on subsidies and grants seldom build sustainable businesses. What is needed is to incorporate digital transformation as a tool to both redefine transactional relations and create a values-centered approach that considers relationships with the customer, community, and employees central to the company’s mission, not an intellectual leap for societies built on group identities.

Ongoing disruptions in Tunisia and Algeria are symptomatic of the reality that young people are not wedded to older business models, nor to the ways in which generations and communities have interacted. While interested in making profits, many have a broader vision of gaining and serving, ironically a strong theme in both Islam and Protestantism. Both emphasize that God blesses the fortunate so that they can assist those in need. In fact, the building of many US public libraries, schools, and community centers during the 1880s-1920s were largely driven by affluent practitioners of “do unto others…”

Looking at the future of employment, business development, and careers, one is struck by the ambiguous nature of work generated by the intersection of AI, digital transformation, organizational disruption, robotics, and bio-metrics, which are arguably shifting us towards greater degrees of uncertainty. This is certainly on the of the key themes in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, which is a tour de force in dissecting the qualities that individuals need to acquire to survive – the top two of which are mental stability/flexibility and emotional intelligence. The author, Yuval Noah Harari, emphasizes the importance of spirituality and empathy as personal qualities that will enable us to adapt to the constantly changing realities of work and life in the coming decades.

On the organizational level, this need for a values-driven approach that supports the building of social impact ventures profitable for the company, the community, and the planet, is no less of an imperative. While different economies will exhibit various capacities and capabilities over time, the demands for responding to customer, community, and environmental conditions are becoming essential  to survival in the next 30 years.

A CSIS report on the ILO’s latest assessment of trends in the global workforce quoted Guy Ryder, Director General of the ILO, who noted, “There is an increasing need for cognitive skills, a readily adaptable workforce, which coupled with the growing complexity of job tasks, will increase the demand for workers with strong core skills and motivation to learn and adapt throughout their professional careers.” And in echoing what Harari emphasizes, “We understand that the front-loading of qualifications for a whole lifetime doesn’t work anymore. We need to replenish skills throughout a working career, and this calls for revisiting the models and concepts of lifelong learning to create the future we want.”

While much of the transformation debate is about how to rethink our educational system to prepare our young people to survive and thrive over and over again, given the accelerated pace of change in coming generations, the key for organizations, companies, and other entities is to recognize that, as a McKinsey article says, “Transformational change is hard. There’s no doubt about it. Successful leaders align their teams behind them. They target the bad, old habits that represent the past, and they tackle the mind-sets in the organization that stand in the way of fundamental change. In that way, they change the odds in their favor and ensure that their transformation succeeds.”

This is as true for governments as it is in the private sector. Entrepreneurs and promoting an entrepreneurial mind-set that integrates big data, a sense of discovery, and the discipline demanded for success in the marketplace, can serve as a bridge to helping governments realize the potential of their citizens in an inclusive and equitable society. Therefore, what is happening in Algeria and Tunisia are harbingers of the passing of the old and the ushering in of a new dynamic that cuts across political, economic, and social change.

Growing Up and Out-Growing Work – Notes from Morocco

I am a member of the Baby Boomers’ generation. We grew up after World War II and were soon enmeshed in the significant social, economic, and political transformation and dislocation that followed. It is common today, given generational divides, for some to think that yours is the transformation generation, an example of how social media shapes one’s historical narrative in today’s society. While we have yet to know if disruptions challenging existing modes of acting, planning, implementing, and forecasting will make us better able to manage change and growth, it is quite clear that life today is much different than when I started this journey.

To better understand the perceptions of young people, I spend time with them in the classroom and elsewhere to talk about how their lives are being impacted by the swirling, demanding, confusing, multidimensional, uncertain future that surrounds them. Most recently, I went to Morocco, first to Casablanca and then to Ifrane to spend time with students at the Al Akhawayn University
(AUI) – an American style school in the kingdom that is an educational leader in the country.

First of all, these students are like my immigrant parents from Lebanon: ambitious, tri-lingual (if not multilingual), eager for adventure, unsure of where they’ll be in 10 let alone 20 years, and aware that success may be hard to grasp at times. Being in Morocco carries its own uncertainty: a developing country largely controlled by government and private sector elites, job growth that is underwhelming, and an economy that leaves behind many Moroccans in rural and urban areas.

The students, both the part-time MBA students in Casa and the Business school graduates in Ifrane, come from the middle class and they and their parents have invested a great deal to get AUI and MBA degrees. So you can appreciate that their first concern is getting a job, one commensurate with their educational achievement. You can also appreciate their disappointment when recruiters weren’t on their doorsteps after graduation. In fact, when I asked the Casa class, made up of people in various jobs, what advice I should give the undergraduates completing their BAs, they mentioned the following.

  • Don’t think that because you’re an AUI graduate, that jobs are waiting for you
  • It’s difficult to get a job without connections so work your networks
  • Go abroad if you have to for work or more education – It provides important experience and will often mean a higher salary at home
  • Learn technical skills such as project management and business principles to help companies focus on problem-solving
  • Develop your knowledge about entrepreneurship social entrepreneurship so you have options
  • Know your skills and work to strengthen them; know your interests and keep sharpening them
  • Keep a positive frame of mind, use your ambition and vision to focus — which should be a life-long habit

So when I went to Ifrane to be part of the awards in the business case competition, I offered the students the following thoughts.

“While you may not know this, we have something in common: we are striving, maybe even struggling to add value to our lives, by using what we are and who we are, which is very special in each of us, to become something more.

“Given digital disruption and transformation, what was “more” a decade ago is very different today. The knowledge, skills, and awareness that make you a great professional have a different context than when you were born. How do you solve the riddle of what’s next? There are two characteristics that I hoped to instill in my children: curiosity and courage…“Curiosity” to ask why and why not; and “courage” to take risks to learn and do more.

“So how will you succeed? First of all, take nothing for granted, you don’t know what’s coming ahead, those days are over. So learn to be agile which takes equal parts skill and emotional intelligence for the confidence to take on challenges. Be patient with yourself and others…practice some form of meditation to keep centering yourself, that part is never over. Learn what it means to be part of a global world – what can you learn from the competition? What assumptions should you challenge to feel good about your core values?

“And finally, remember that we are always “becoming,” a work in progress, a person”able,” authentic individual who is not alone. Now and tomorrow are the most exciting times of your lives, be curious, have courage.”

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Morocco’s New National Service Can Build Generations of Employable Patriots

National military service for young Moroccan men and women should be part of an integrated youth development strategy less concerned about vague ideals and more about preparing youth for work and dignity in a country that opens doors to opportunities. The commitment must be mutually beneficial.

Part 2 of a two-part article sets out how the new law can both promote citizenship and patriotism and empower youth with market-ready skills.

To many, the proposed law on national conscription is less about enabling youth and more about protecting the power structure in Morocco. Morocco has an army; it is well trained; it is large and expensive to maintain; and having thousands of young people rotating in and out on an annual basis may not be the most efficient use of its capabilities. In addition, some warn that giving weapons training to those not committed to a military career may be a security risk over time, especially if there are no changes in the economic prospects of those youth when they complete their year of service.

If one looks at youth development models in other countries, there is more integration between the time spent in military service and the acquisition of skills that equips youth with tools for securing jobs. In fact, there is an array of choices and training to satisfy the desire to inculcate values and enable post-training employment. So it may be in Morocco’s economic, political, and security interests if it recasts the military service program into a national service program that promotes patriotism and citizenship, and has the capacity to enable participants to learn to respect their fellow citizens, develop marketable skills, acquire team building and leadership experience, and add meaning to their lives, their families, and others in the community and the country.

So, what are Morocco’s options if it wants to have patriots who are employable citizens? First of all, the program must have meaning and relevance. If you want citizens, then you must motivate them beyond the simple salary of military service by sharing with them a vision of how they can advance their country by developing their work-related talents. This must be driven by leaders who share their clarity of purpose and commitment to excellent results. Start with a well-thought out strategy with several streams that can be managed effectively by a partnership of the government and private sector, including NGOs. It also requires a vision that is communicated effectively to all Moroccans especially young men and women, their families, marginalized teens and school drop-outs, unemployed university graduates, and civil society.

What would the program look like? Assuming it is mandatory to participate, the vetting should begin in secondary school or with 18 year olds who have not finished high school. Morocco should have had enough experience by now with testing trainees to determine their likely assets and how these can best be developed. The international development community has plenty of intake models that can be useful. As placement results are measured over time, students would be encouraged to choose among several options: military service in select specialties, STEM-related study leading to a form of associate degree, and skills training tied to internship programs. Other details relate to how to promote collaboration between urban and rural constituencies, how best to encourage the participation of young women and girls, and blending the talents of university graduates with younger Moroccans.

High Atlas Foundation training program

Participants could be channeled into one or two-year incentivized programs such as those of the High Atlas Foundation, the Book Caravan, or CorpsAfrica that can be extended into other areas of the country utilizing the developing talents of youth. It’s already being done in the private/NGO sector and all of these are scalable and impactful projects.

The question of what to do with school drop outs can be handled in the same way: testing for skills that does not rely solely on literacy; interviews to determine placement priorities; and subsidies in the form of military salaries or work-study grants to participate. There may be many talented youths in the informal sector who could make important benefits to the country if given training and opportunities.

The larger question here is one of leadership development. Perhaps the first year should be spent training cadres of military and non-military staff on various aspects of leadership, team building, metrics and evaluation, human resources management, talent retention and promotion, and administrative skills. These staff should also be given incentives to understand that their work is essential to building the talent of the next generation of Morocco’s leaders.

As mentioned in Part 1, King Mohammed VI said, “We cannot let our education system continue to produce unemployed people, especially in certain branches of study, where graduates — as everyone knows — find it extremely hard to access the job market.” Based on years of experience, the need here is far beyond well designed and equipped programs, in which Morocco has a spotty record of achievement. It is the critical development of teachers, trainers, managers, and specialists at all levels who are the key to the success of this integrated national youth service model.

In discussions with Moroccans about this concept of employable patriots, they were quick to point out that the needs of the military in this scheme should not be minimized. In fact, the military faces an uphill challenge in recruiting, training, and retaining youth with critical IT skills ranging from interpreting satellite imagery and reconnaissance to cyber-security across all of its operations and beyond. This is an area that does not require a university education, but a comprehensive program utilizing soft and hardware skills that youth seem to manage with greater ease than others. And the need in the private and public sectors will only continue to grow.

This is all doable, practical, sustainable, and relevant to the present and future of Morocco. If the government is ready to foot the costs of pulling willing and less-than-willing youth into an ill-defined  military experience, wouldn’t it be more efficient and effective to take a year to build a strategy, leadership team, training cadres, and set up a centralized and social media savvy center for promoting future employable patriots? Then the private sector and CSOs could become partners in a deep and committed resolution to Morocco’s youth and contribute their resources and expertise.

Again, if the government is seriously committed to programs that will empower youth with values and skills to become more able citizens and economic engines, then the development of a viable, sustainable, and action-based comprehensive strategy for youth development should be based on a broader-based vision, integrating military service, national service, and educational reform to achieve these outcomes.

Now is the time to seize the future for Morocco and its youth.



Leadership in an Agile World

Concepts of leadership are evolving to keep pace with the disruption, transformation, and agility demands of today’s organizations. I can remember working in the early 70s on executive leadership programs at the Institute for Training and Development at GSPIA at the University of Pittsburgh, where we always began with McGregor’s X&Y theories of leadership and Contingency Theory.

There have been numerous attempts since then to blend the attitudinal and behavioral characteristics of leadership in an inclusive concept. For example, a quick Google toggle gave me: []

  • Great Man Theory
  • Trait Theory
  • Behavioral Theories, Role Theory
  • Participative Leadership, Lewin’s leadership styles
  • Situational Leadership, Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership
  • Contingency Theories, Fiedler’s Least Preferred Co-worker (LPC) Theory
  • Transactional Leadership
  • Transformational Leadership

And these styles:

  • Coercive
  • Authoritative
  • Affiliative
  • Democratic
  • Coaching
  • Pacesetting

So has this made us any wiser in terms of promoting a single leadership concept and style? Jack Welch, former CEO of GE and business savant, has much to say about core issues related to corporate culture, from leadership and strategy, to processes and metrics. Most of his statements can be found at Jack Welch College of Business, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CN [ , and theJack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University [ ].

First off, as some observers have pointed out, GE is no longer the leading conglomerate it once was as that model of aggregating unrelated businesses did not survived the last century. So listening to his take on what makes a leader great needs to be taken in the context of the environment in which that leadership is exercised [ ]. Bottom line, it’s about people, regardless of the impact of AI on the workforce, it’s still about your human capital.

Welch says that a leader must be the chief “meaning” officer, clearly explaining where the organization is heading, why it is going there, and what the benefits are for all the stakeholder/employees. He noted that “people hate change,” and that is why clarifying the vision, mission, and strategy of the company is job #1. He then goes on to say that it’s important not to get rid of all the clutter because these linkages help breakdown silos and it’s more important to “broom away” the stuff that is in the way rather than the stuff that employees see as relevant to their everyday activities.

Finally, he talks about the importance of the “generosity gene” that celebrates when anyone accomplishes something. This includes having fun and celebrating all the little victories, not just the big ones.

Another perspective on leadership comes from an India-based consultancy

From their experience, leadership is central to managing change. “A key leadership challenge is to initiate and lead systemic changes that will set the organization up for success in future. Indeed, nothing else perhaps sums up why we need a leader in the first place.”

In this regard, they emphasize the complexity and uncertainty in which leaders operate, “There are no guarantees that the chosen direction and pace will lead to a better situation, for the changes are too complex for anyone to understand and discern, let alone predict and assure.” One of the key demands on leaders is their ability to motivate and excite team members to embrace change and make it happen.

They identify 5 Key Behaviors that characterize a winning organization. It has a Growth Mindset, seeking new challenges that stretch their physical or cognitive skills; Staff have T-Shaped Skills reflecting both their expert knowledge and their ability to collaborate across boundaries. This leads to a willingness to help others create value, which builds a sense of reciprocity, which supports the development of winning teams that adapt as needed, with a core value of taking initiative.

How these notions come together in an agile organization is the topic of my next blog.


Is there a future for Islamic Finance in Morocco?

Islamic finance in Morocco: Right tool to meet economic challenges?

While no one is claiming that Islamic finance will change the business face of Morocco, experience elsewhere indicates that it can generate important vehicles for improving access to financing resources. To the uninitiated, Islamic finance is based on two key principles, the prohibition of interest (riba) on the use of money, and conformity with other principles of Sharia law that regulate profit and loss. Islamic finance has had its fits and starts over the past two decades due to its weak competitive position vis-à-vis traditional modes of financing. The global financial crisis of the last decade has focused attention on Islamic financial instruments since they prohibit the speculation inherent in derivatives and other instruments that led to the collapse of banks and financial sectors worldwide.

In 2012, it is estimated that more than a trillion dollars is circulating in Islamic financial instruments. Yet there is no international authority that governs how these products are generated and regulated. In order to provide a “Sharia compliant” product, the originator must have a religious ruling (fatwa) by recognized Islamic authorities that approves the product. Although the roots of Islamic finance are in the Levant, the first significant growth occurred in Malaysia and was copied a decade later by Bahrain, Qatar and the Emirates of Dubai and Ras Al-Khaimah. Many international banks have set up sukuk (Islamic bonds) departments to tap into this quickly growing market.

Morocco is a good case study in why Islamic finance is growing at a time when the global financial system is struggling. Soon after the Moroccan government coalition led by an Islamic party was installed in 2012, Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane played host to the leader of Qatar International Islamic Bank (QIIB) who proposed both an Islamic bank and insurance company. Since that time, the government has been busy preparing the necessary laws to submit to parliament but the date has not yet been set. It is not simply a matter of setting up guidelines. While the licensing process is the first step, the challenges of getting products approved by Islamic authorities and getting the appropriate regulations vary from market to market. Moroccan officials have to decide which practices are best suited to their economy. The process then moves on to ensuring proper training of staff to sell and manage sukuk offerings. In the meantime, if European markets start to recover, there will be increased competition for investment dollars/euros that might otherwise be invested in sukuk.Islamic instruments are financially and psychologically attractive. Risk is controlled by limiting products to those tied to assets so that there is virtually no secondary or derivative market for speculators. In general, assets must be held for the duration of the contract/bond at a fixed value guaranteed by the asset holder so that there is greater stability in the transaction. In high risk environments, such as today’s, Islamic bonds have a higher valuation due to the controlled risk factor. Psychologically, Muslims have a higher confidence level in Sharia-compliant financial instruments and believe that the investments are reliable, conservative, aligned with their religious beliefs, and support the financial health of the community. So how would this help Morocco?

As Elhassan Eddez, deputy director of the Treasury at the Financial Ministry said, selling Islamic bonds helps issuers “reach conventional debt investors and sukuk investors at the same time…The sukuk market has a wider investor base.” It is also an international base, which means that Morocco could be attracting funds from throughout the Muslim world, including the Gulf States, Africa, and Asia. Hakim Azaiez, who heads investment at GCA Asset Management, noted, “A Moroccan sukuk bond will allow the government to potentially reduce its borrowing cost and tap new frontier markets…The demand is there for sovereign sukuk issues.” Given the large amount of capital intensive projects needed in Morocco, from social housing and education and health services facilities to transportation infrastructure, lower borrowing costs means more gets done with fewer dirhams – no surprise why this is attractive to a non-energy driven economy.

The key, as in any market, is to have a level competitive field between traditional and Islamic banks so that the country benefits from the choices it makes that best serve the Moroccan people. If Islamic finance can encourage a higher rate of personal savings, increase capital available in the market at reasonable rates, and promote greater transparency in government financial transactions, then it can have a significant impact on how Morocco does business and its support from the Moroccan people.

Breaking the cycle of “education for unemployment” in the MENA

The Audit Court (Cours des Comptes) in Morocco recently issued a critical report on the country’s vocational training system. At the same time, the World Economic Forum was focusing on youth under/unemployment at its annual conference in Davos. This is no coincidence, as the demographic realities in emerging markets create a demand for very high levels of job growth in the next decade to absorb high school and university graduates.

In fact, key demands emanating from the Arab uprisings are for jobs, greater transparency in employment practices, and sufficient resources for market-oriented training and education.

Jamie McAuliffe, president of Education for Employment summarized the challenge quite accurately: “But it is much easier to describe the problem than to advance concrete solutions. Both within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and beyond, there are still few examples of large companies and national governments putting the necessary muscle and resources behind solving the problem.”

Effective program management, qualified human resources, and sufficient budgets will provide a baseline for developing and delivering solutions to reverse the complacency and ineffectiveness that characterize training programs in the region. Looking at the Audit Court’s report helps provides a starting point to discuss the challenges to technical/vocational training in the MENA region.

The Moroccan Office of Vocational Training and Employment Promotion (OFPPT) is charged with orientation, education, and placement of students, as well as providing opportunities for continuing education for adults who wish to change career paths. Ideally, OFPPT maintains relationships with potential employers since it has the critical responsibility to be familiar with the needs of the workforce and adapt curricula and training to meet those needs.

OFPPT has its equivalents throughout the MENA region, some of which focus specifically on vocational and technical skills training for recent middle school and high school graduates, while others are similar to community colleges that provide “white-collar” education and training programs for the services industries. Whatever the agency’s mission, the goal is the same—to graduate employable young people for the workforce.

After decades of acquiring academic degrees that held out little prospect of jobs and careers, young people recognized that their educational systems did not make them employable, and governments are scrambling to respond.

It is too soon to tell how the new programs will turn out, but observations of actions over the past two years raise several critical issues. Let me say, from the outset, that this is a lifelong issue for me. I have been working on training programs in the Middle East since the late 70s, starting in Iran, moving then to the Arab Gulf countries, and continue today providing services to both US employees assigned to the MENA as well as to Arab trainees at all skills levels across a broad range of sectors. So while youth employment has become a regional priority due to the Arab uprisings, there are experienced professionals and best practices available that can help guide the determination of flexible yet accountable solution options.

One of the key concerns that I have is the quick fix notion of turning Arabs into entrepreneurs. Yes, Western mercantilism and international trade definitely had its roots in the Mediterranean, as Phoenicians (from Lebanon, of course) were the pioneers in sea-borne trade throughout the region. But that does not mean that one’s DNA equates with modern day commercial success; in fact there are many obstacles to ensuring an enabling environment for entrepreneurs.

A country’s legal, financial, regulatory, and cultural norms, among others, must be coordinated in order for enterprises to succeed. As this “eco-system” advances, concurrent efforts are needed to enable companies at all levels to expand their capacities to compete in the contemporary marketplace. And of course, the point of this enterprise is to develop the human resources to lead, manage, and staff the companies of today and tomorrow.

In my assessment, there are six “demand” factors that should shape the “supply” of labor generated by vocational/technical training programs.

  1. The skill/labor needs of the market today and projected for a decade.
  2. The interests/aspirations of youth and how this matches #1, and how to close the gaps that exist.
  3. Flexible and targeted curricula that provide core technical, language, and soft skills, as well as specific skill sets linked to jobs, with a strong emphasis on practical training based on partnerships with potential employers. Courses should reflect local demand and opportunities.
  4. The careful allocation of funding so that training programs are sustainable rather than becoming unsustainable subsidies.
  5. Government policies that take a holistic approach to job growth, involving a broad range of stakeholders and supporting outcomes based on results.
  6. Ensuring that entrepreneurship programs are balanced with efforts to enlarge the competitive capabilities of medium and large-sized firms.

With these “demands” in mind, a concerted, coordinated, strategic campaign involving various groups of stakeholders will go a long way in meeting the challenges not met by previous vocational/technical training regimes.

"Business as usual" means lost opportunity in Maghreb

“Business as usual” means lost opportunity in Maghreb

We know there’s a deficit in private sector investment the Maghreb. Will the newly launched AMU investment fund make a difference?