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

Impressed with Volunteerism, Commitment to Family, Joy of Celebrations

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

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

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

What works about America?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headed home, she has lots of thoughts about what to do, how to develop her strategic vision, and the projects she hopes to launch. For this coming year, she will take her time, build partnerships, recruit proactive people, and launch herself into a world where she will work hard to define herself as a committed woman entrepreneur. To enjoy the full experience that is Safa Hajjaj and her time in the US, take a look at her blogs at       http://www.atlascorps.org/blog/?author=213.

Green Entrepreneurship in Morocco

Can a Well-Meaning Project do More with Less?

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

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

Solar power presents opportunities for entrepreneurs

Solar power presents opportunities for entrepreneurs

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

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

Green Entrepreneurship – Innovation and Social Impact

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

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

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

Supporting Entrepreneurs to Stay Local

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

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

House of Geeks - Agadir

House of Geeks – Agadir

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

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

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

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

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

Message from the King of Morocco: Knowledge is the Only Resource Whose Value Increases When it is Shared

US and Morocco Sound Strong Support for Global Entrepreneurship

The fifth Global Entrepreneurship Summit kicked off this week with a meeting between Vice President Joseph Biden and King Mohammed VI and opening remarks by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker at the Summit’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Day event. Held in a special tented facility in Marrakech, the Summit, which seeks to promote greater support and resources for entrepreneurs, especially in Muslim-majority countries, has brought together more than 3,000 private and public sector participants.

In an article in the Washington Post, Vice President Biden was quoted as saying, “The secret people don’t know is that our diversity is the reason for our incredible strength. But the world and the United States will be more peaceful and prosperous, when the brightest, the most innovative, the greatest risk takers believe they can reach their potential at home.” He went on to add that every country should understand the benefits of supporting entrepreneurship broadly, for men and women, as both a boon for economic development and an effective tool in combating radicalism and extremism.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit

Secretary Pritzker, speaking to more than 300 women on the opening day, reflected on her own business experience and on the necessity of building holistic support systems for all entrepreneurs. “I must say that I am so inspired by the women at this summit – all of you. Your dynamism; your fearlessness; your courage to not only enter the workforce, but to start a business is so inspiring to me. Your appetite for risk, your vision for your companies, and, indeed, your vision for your societies, comprise the very definition of the entrepreneurial spirit.”

She noted that innovation and entrepreneurism have been central to the growth of the US economy and that one of her priorities is to share lessons learned globally. “The opportunity for business creators to thrive is the foundation for a rising middle class, for security and stability, and for broad based prosperity.”

Reflecting on the themes of inclusive and sustainable growth, the Secretary pointed out that “Societies can only reach their full economic potential if they tap into 100 percent of their talent pool. That means embracing the ideas and aspirations of our youth. That means enabling women to get a good education and secure the capital needed to start their own companies. That means allowing women to dictate their own futures. That means empowering you – and all women entrepreneurs. When women entrepreneurs take risks and succeed, societies change for the better.”

King Mohammed VI Underlines Morocco’s Commitment to Innovation and Entrepreneurism

In his address at the opening of the Summit, King Mohammed VI spoke quite forcefully about the benefits of promoting innovation and entrepreneurism.

“In keeping with its core values and basic principles, Morocco believes wholeheartedly in the Summit’s objectives. It has been devoting its energies to promoting human and sustainable development and investing in entrepreneurship. My country also encourages the sharing of expertise and know-how and maximizing the complementary strengths of all parties, particularly between the countries of the South.”

Blog GES 1

After summarizing Morocco’s commitment to regional development, the King embraced the notion that being an entrepreneur is not a function of luck but requires much more. “One is not born an entrepreneur; one becomes an entrepreneur by embarking on the road to success in an interactive process involving hard work, learning and a capacity to deal with challenges. Entrepreneurs are people who challenge the established order and the status quo. They do not hesitate to respond – at their own level – to needs that are yet to be identified, that are unmet or that are new.”

Reflecting on Morocco’s challenges to accelerate economic growth, the King tied together the notions of social and human development with the role of entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship and innovation are twin values; they are both springboards for freedom, social mobility and prosperity, provided the business environment is favorable and the required conditions are met.” He restated Morocco’s commitment to working with the private sector to promote a favorable environment for business to thrive and expressed his belief that it all begins with adequate education.

“Education is an essential step, a prerequisite for the maturation process that leads people to think critically and to hone their skills so that they are able to seize an economic, technological or social opportunity when they see one. Therefore, it is up to us to provide future generations with an education that goes beyond the mere ‘accumulation-transmission’ process in order to develop creativity, responsiveness and inventiveness.”

The King sees how all of these ingredients – education, innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity – have vital implications for Africa and beyond. “To overcome the pessimism that has plagued our continent, our governments should instill self-confidence in our young people so that they can believe in their ability to learn and to become entrepreneurs. To this end, we need to nurture positive examples and turn success stories into models to emulate. The same applies to female entrepreneurship, which holds so much promise for our economies and our societies that we all need to encourage it; otherwise, we will be depriving ourselves of a huge potential.”

The value of entrepreneurship in achieving sustainable and inclusive growth is relevant in the context of Morocco’s aspirations, as well as those of young people across the globe. “We must not confuse technological innovation with technical sophistication. The so-called low-tech innovations – just like more sophisticated technologies – can help us meet specific needs, especially in developing countries. Innovations of this kind are often helpful in terms of supporting social development and improving the well-being of the population.”

As the Summit proceeds, there are special sessions focused on innovators from Africa, women, successful entrepreneurs sharing their stories and offer support, as well as experts in finance, marketing, business plan development, and the other elements of the entrepreneurship eco-system. It is an opportunity to go beyond showcasing what has been done to investing in future entrepreneurs who can change the business face of many countries.

3.2.1. Launch…of Global Entrepreneurship Summit to be held in Morocco

US-led Initiative Highlights Morocco’s Role as Trade & Investment Platform

After a flurry of meetings in late August and early September, the US and Morocco launched the overall outline of the program for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) to be held in Marrakech, Morocco November 19-21. The GES website provides the breakdown of the sessions and themes while speakers are still being invited.

Blog GES 1It is expected that Vice President Joe Biden will head the US contingent, which will include members from the State, Commerce, and Education Departments, and from other agencies with a remit focusing on employment and entrepreneurship programming. Under the theme of “Harnessing the Power of Technology for Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” some 3000 entrepreneurs, heads of state, government officials, and leaders of businesses ranging from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to multinational corporations will be on hand to discuss how “Technology creates opportunities and enriches the human capacity for dynamic collaboration. It builds social capital, promotes human development and facilitates the exchange of information and ideas.”

On November 19th, the featured program will be a “Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Celebration Lunch” as delegates gather for meetings, sessions, side-bar events, and opportunities to promote their ideas, projects, and experiences in entrepreneurship. The conference will reach beyond technology applied to ICT and examine its role in promoting water management, alternative energy, sustainable agri-business, and business development, among other areas.

Among topics to be addressed on November 20-21: lessons learned moving from talent to entrepreneurship; regional connectivity to promote business across boundaries; the importance of smart cities in adapting technology to human development; social entrepreneurship; innovations in entrepreneurship and financing; and the central issue of building and sustaining an ecosystem to support entrepreneurs.

Making Contacts for Building Business

With a strong emphasis on allocating time for B2B meetings between entrepreneurs and potential investors and government officials, GES will host an online MARKETPLACE module to encourage participants to spend time meeting with their peers and specialists to discuss common interests and “opportunities for technology transfer, investment, mentoring and growing and scaling businesses (expertise in certain sectors, with certain technologies, regions and countries, potential investment offers, training and so on) as well as request help in areas they need (on-the-ground support in countries, potential partnerships and so on).” The MARKETPLACE will be an ongoing legacy of the Summit to facilitate follow up and continued interactions among participants.

Minister Delegate Mamone Bouhdoub talks business

Minister Delegate Mamoune Bouhdoub talks business

According to a story in the Business Standard, “the selection of Morocco as host country reflects the active role it plays in the overall economic development of the African continent, the kingdom’s leadership in supporting entrepreneurship and the integration of youth and women into the economy.” The article mentions that a key goal for Morocco at the conference is to promote concrete steps by global investors to “finance start-ups and new ventures with a strong emphasis on financing ventures for women entrepreneurs.”

Consistent with its own efforts to stimulate economic growth through a myriad of programs and partnerships with the private sector, Morocco is making a statement about the need for sustainable and inclusive growth touching all sectors of society.

If you want to create jobs in the Maghreb, enable entrepreneurs

Latest Wamda survey results highlight obstacles to growing companies

In the coming months, I’ll continue to write about issues related to strategies for economic growth in the Maghreb and youth employment in particular. These topics are particularly challenging because jobs, equality, and dignity are themes still resonating negatively after the Arab uprisings, as there has been little progress in addressing these issues. While there are many structural concerns that impact job growth, ranging from broadband availability, logistics and distribution facilities to legal and regulatory regimes, and political risk, there are substantive issues as well.

Wamda report cover

Wamda Research Lab report on barriers to scaling up entrepreneurs

Among the most pressing is identifying core sectors of opportunity for investments that would result in large-scale job creation. This is a critical concern because foreign direct investment (FDI) usually targets multimillion dollar projects that, aside from tourism and shopping malls, are more capital than labor intensive, limiting their net impact on job creation. And in the Maghreb countries, agricultural labor still is the dominant sector for employment, which is both seasonal and outside the usual government social services schemes. Thus, there is a need to fill the gap between small concerns, which are usually in the informal sector, and the large corporations, where jobs depend on skilled applicants.

In developed countries, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) generate 60 to 70 percent of jobs. According to The next step – breaking barriers to scale for MENA’s entrepreneurs, a recent report from Wamda Research Lab, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), SMEs, constitute a majority of enterprises [approximately 80-90 percent], yet account for an average of 30 percent of private sector employment and 4 to 16 percent of total employment.” This more limited role for SMEs as job creators in the MENA highlights two negative outcomes: the high level of public sector salaries distorting the overall labor market and share of national budgets, and the scale of the challenges facing the private sector in growing employment when SMEs are quite small in scale.

Building up the “middle”

IMF Managing Director Christine LaGarde recently said in a speech in Morocco, “Strengthening the economic middle means giving a shot in the arm to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the formal sector. These are the kinds of firms that form the backbone of a healthy economy, and— in other regions of the world—are the main engines of job creation.”

The Wamda report takes up this theme and surveyed more than 900 entrepreneurs and experts on “the barriers to scaling up” faced by existing firms with a track record of growth.

Their results focused on four priority areas to enable expansion and job creation:

  • Increasing revenues through better marketing, market access, and market education for consumers and entrepreneurs to drive demand for products and services.
  • Boosting investment while improving communications between investors and entrepreneurs.
  • Attracting talent through improvements in the educational system and robust employee benefits.
  • Facilitating expansion across borders by reducing legal barriers and costs and identification of strategic partners.

The report concluded that “To achieve the maximum impact on job creation, the region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem must reduce the barriers to scale for entrepreneurs. A multi-stakeholder approach is needed across the ecosystem if these barriers are to be effectively addressed.”

Women entrepreneur

Less than 15 percent of entrepreneurs in study are women

This emphasis on the private sector driving job growth is consistent among stakeholders, including the World Bank, IMF, EU, UNDP, and others. All parties point to the requirement for a viable, sustainable ecosystem of institutions that supports the training, mentoring, incubation, and other services needed to support entrepreneurs. While these have expanded rapidly in the past ten years to more than 140 in MENA, resources available for scaling existing companies to grow successfully are not yet sufficient. Among the entrepreneurs surveyed in the Wamda report, “roughly 60% say that scaling is the most challenging development phase for entrepreneurs in the region.” For successful start-ups to become job creators, much more must be done by all stakeholders to enable and promote scaling.

Strategies for successful scaling

It is instructive to review the profiles of the participants in the Wamda survey, as they characterize entrepreneurs throughout the region and provide insights into how to support their initiatives. For example, almost three-quarters of those surveyed have either studied or worked abroad. Women make up less than one quarter of the founders of the companies surveyed. And personal savings were the source of initial investments for close to three-quarters of the group while financing from friends and families made up 43 percent of funding sources. This poses several types of challenges: how to engage women more effectively, how to engage the diaspora and reverse brain-drain, and how to make better financing options available from banks and private investors.

Exponential growth in technologies creates demand for highly skilled personnel

Exponential growth in technologies creates demand for highly skilled personnel

Among the entrepreneurs and experts interviewed, “entrepreneurs experience difficulties understanding marketing strategies for the countries they seek to enter, and face challenges acquiring marketing talent to execute their strategies…entrepreneurs need to determine proper market fit for their products and services.” This lends support to the need for broadening regional exchanges that link together entrepreneurs across markets to increase access to market awareness and skilled human resources. In fact, “The majority (63%) of entrepreneurs in our sample state that finding talent is their biggest challenge to building a team.”

In terms of investment, a third of the respondents noted the “small supply of venture funding was a primary challenge… [and] investors not offering enough value beyond cash.” This is a common affliction of growing firms once the start-up capital is exhausted. Perhaps a beneficial role for international and bilateral technical assistance should focus on mobilizing local capital for local firms that demonstrate a clear and well-defined business plan for regional markets. Linking these across borders would address the skills, markets, and investments challenges.

As the Wamda report explains – a view shared by many others — “Economic and social prosperity in the MENA region cannot be achieved without widespread and sustainable job creation. Entrepreneurs are critical to these efforts, yet in order for them to contribute meaningfully to the region’s employment agenda and foster thriving societies, they must be able to scale their companies.”

Progress is being made as governments develop a range of strategies to promote entrepreneurs and their efforts. For example, the report points out that “…Morocco eliminated the minimum capital requirement for limited liability companies in 2013. That decision, along with the institution of several banking reforms over the past several years, have made Morocco one of the most friendly countries for SME lending in MENA.” Only through a concerted and long-term program to support entrepreneurs across a range of sectors through multiple stages of growth will job creation achieve the levels needed to meet skilled labor supply and job demand.

Taking a fresh look at Morocco’s economic development

In the first two weeks of September, I’ll be writing my blogs from Morocco, which will give me a front row seat to see how economic growth is advancing given challenges internally and within the larger international business environment.

Several stories this past month provided greater details of the progress that is being made. There are three that are particularly interesting in that they point to the decisions Morocco is making about how to make its economy more globally competitive.

Growing Saudi-Moroccan business ties

This week, Saudi Arabia and Morocco launched a new round of projects to ratchet up the volume of business between the two countries. It should come as no surprise that the current trade balance favors Saudi Arabia because energy importer Morocco needs Saudi energy supplies to meet domestic demand.

The head of the Saudi-Morocco Business Council, Mohammad al-Hamady, noted that the total volume of trade between the two countries amounted to approximately $4.4 billion in 2011, with Saudi Arabia exporting far more to Morocco than it imports. He added that economic and trade relations between the two countries have been growing steadily, with Morocco becoming Saudi Arabia’s sixth-largest trading partner.

As part of its commitment to Morocco’s overall development, last year Saudi Arabia committed $1.2 billion over the next five years for investments, primarily in tourism development projects, making it the third largest investor in Morocco. Hamady believes that a major obstacle to greater trade is the lack of direct maritime transport lines between the two countries, and this was at the top of the agenda of the Saudi-Moroccan Business Council meetings in Jeddah this week.

Exploring for energy sources

CNBC and Reuters carried stories on expanding oil exploration projects in West and North Africa, with a special nod towards Morocco.

Ken Judge, the commercial director of Gulfsands, which had been active in Syria, said that “As you might imagine, after Syria what we’re looking for is some stability, and Morocco’s got terrific political stability, but it also has the best fiscal terms of any country in the Middle East and North Africa region.”

These efforts complement the expanding Moroccan focus on renewable energies, with RFPs for two more solar projects coming out shortly.

These opportunities and others, both trade and investment, are to be highlighted in the upcoming US-Morocco Business Development Conference to be held November 4-5, 2013 in Rabat.  Later that month, Rabat will host The Morocco Summit with a wide-ranging exploration of Morocco as a hub for inter-regional business across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Young business leaders

BBC carried a very interesting video report that reviewed projects to advance the economic status of women in rural areas, where there is great need to overcome poverty and illiteracy in advancing women’s empowerment. The report details projects that are run by young educated women working to enable women with little education to become family breadwinners through commercializing artisanal crafts and other products for domestic and international markets.

Another story about youthful entrepreneurs recounts how several Moroccans worked for months before receiving their first rate-free loan for entrepreneurs to start up a food delivery service in Morocco.

Their key decision was to build a talented staff from scratch who then acquired their skills by constructing the company from the ground up. Youssef El Kachchani of www.doofry.com, the food delivery company, found great success in recruiting widely via the web and putting potential employees through a two-week intensive reading session before starting.

This was similar to the strategy used by Youssef El Hammal, who launched www.stagiaires.ma in 2012 to connect students with recruiters. He found that hiring recent graduates was better than employing ones with more experience because “they’re highly motivated and excited to learn. Because they haven’t been working for corporations, they’re still open-minded, creative risk-takers.”

So it should be an interesting time to catch up with what’s going on in Morocco. With a new government coalition being formed and an extensive economic reform agenda in the wings, it is a period of great anticipation that the economy will expand and create the jobs so badly needed in Morocco.

Morocco in a rising Africa: Expand opportunities, extend friendships

Last week, the annual meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) were held in Marrakech, Morocco under the theme “The Structural Transformation of Africa.” It has been 29 years since Morocco last hosted the meeting and the event and its location demonstrate how few divides now exist between north and sub-Saharan Africa.

In the past, policy analysts and companies treated North Africa as part of the Middle East; to many, Africa began at South Africa, and extended upwards to Nigeria and Kenya, encompassing the largely English-speaking areas of the continent.

While that is still the dominant perspective, leaders in the Maghreb have increasingly forged closer and more robust economic, commercial, and political ties with their counterparts in central and West Africa.

Some of these efforts were clearly political, as with Gaddafi’s investments throughout the continent. Other ties have grown out of the need to have common efforts against smugglers, militants, terrorists, and extremists who populate the poorly guarded territories along common borders. The bottom line is that building long-term south-south relations is now a permanent feature of intra-African affairs.

In his message to the annual meetings, King Mohammed VI of Morocco emphasized that Africa’s human capacity and natural resources are great assets in the economic and social development that is occurring. He also noted that “we must root out the causes of national and regional conflicts so that peace may prevail throughout Africa.”

The King called for “major projects at the level of sub-regional groupings, and to insure the sustainability and optimal management of our resources, for the mutual benefit of our populations.” In outlining his vision, the King calls for Africans to take the leadership in the development of their countries without becoming dependent on foreign entities.

King Mohammed VI also spoke to the need “to ensure food security for all our African peoples and to reduce our dependence…through the creation of a common African agricultural market. Finally, we should promote support and assistance programs to reduce social and spatial inequalities and ensure inclusive, shared growth.”

These challenges echo themes of conferences held earlier this year in Morocco on south-south dynamics, most recently the 8th Morocco International Exhibition of Agriculture in Meknes, where attendees discussed topics related to regional markets, food security, and innovations in agriculture.

Yet the AfDB’s mission is built around the capabilities of its 79 members (54 African, 25 non-African) to not only grow their GDPs but put into practice the means of further reducing poverty, inequality, and discrimination. Despite a doubling of GDP since 2000, great disparities remain and there is an over-reliance on FDI to drive growth that is often uneven among and within countries.

As reported in the final communiqué of the meetings, there is a need to use the current UN discussions on revising the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to set realistic goals regarding the inclusion of youth, women, and other vulnerable groups.

The final AfDB statement included a strong emphasis on committing higher levels of investment in human and infrastructure development, promoting strategies that accelerate economic growth including support to small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), improving human capacity and skills development especially for youth, and renewed efforts to build efficient regional markets through joint public-private investments.

In his remarks at the closing session, Nizar Baraka, who was named “Minister of Finance of the Year” in Africa, pointed out that a key outcome of the meetings was to review, evaluate, and discuss AfDB’s activities to better develop strategies to mobilize financial resources for the structural transformation of Africa so as to better serve the African people and “meet their expectations for a dignified life, social mobility, and job opportunities.”

Morocco garnered additional awards including Best Bank of North Africa to Attijariwafa Bank and Best Development Financing Institution to Credit Agricole, which was cited for “working hard…to build a model of sustainable and efficient financing for development in rural areas, with good management practices.”

These institutions and their counterparts throughout Africa are key players in the fact that 13 of the 20 fastest growing countries in the world in 2012 are in Africa. In its third annual financial review, the AfDB noted that regional economic integration is the “key factor” for African producers to develop regional value chains, to achieve economies of scale, and become competitive internationally.

And for AfDB, the private sector is the main engine of growth and poverty alleviation, providing 90% of the jobs, two-thirds of the investments, and 70% of the earnings growth on the continent.

Morocco and the rest of the Maghreb will gain mutual benefits from a heightened involvement in Africa, one that shares a common vision for dynamic human and economic growth.