While Morocco’s community of start-ups and social entrepreneurs is relatively small when compared to many countries in the Middle East, there is a talented and driven nucleus of Moroccans set on changing this. Last week, Anou’s team was fortunate to be among many of these individuals at the Moroccan Social Enterprise Conference in Casablanca.
Several weeks ago, Anou was asked to present at the conference and we were excited to take part. Keeping in line with Anou’s vision of ensuring that it is a platform made for and run by artisans, we always ask standout artisans who use Anou to present, rather than myself. This gives artisans the opportunity to be recognized for the work, and risk, they’ve undertaken as some of Anou’s early adopters.
But presenting in front of over 100 people in a city an artisan has only heard of can be an intimidating experience. To prepare the artisans for this, we paired up artisan Mustapaha Chaouai (Association Nahda), who has never presented before, with artisan Rabha Akkaoui (Cooperative Chorouk), who has presented at a previous conference.
We spent the evening before preparing the presentation and then we did a last minute run through an hour before Rabha and Mustapha’s slotted time. The goal of the extensive preparation is not only to ensure that artisans do a great job presenting, but also to provide the artisans with the opportunity learn the why behind Anou, rather than just the how. This in turn helps us build a community of artisans that believe and advocate for the vision that Anou represents.
Anou has always been positively received at the conferences artisans have spoken at. Yet at this conference, Rabha and Mustapha started receiving applause halfway through their presentation and then received a standing ovation from the 100+ attendees when they concluded. Throughout the rest of the day, many attendees came up to Rabha and Mustapha to give them hugs and thank them for the inspiration to continue building their own start up or social enterprise. I have to admit that it was a little funny to observe the look of confusion on the face of Rabha and Mustapha as they were hugged – they felt that they had only given a presentation. What they slowly began to realize, however, is that they had struck a nerve in Morocco’s nascent start-up community.
There are a lot of reasons why Morocco’s start up scene lags behind many other countries in the Middle East. Mehdi Reghai wrote an excellent article (sorry, it is only in French) that touches upon this and cites many reasons for this including: segregated geography, lack of research and development, poor infrastructure and crumbling education systems. Zak El Fassi, the first Moroccan-educated programmer to work at Google, believes that Morocco’s consumption economy has yet to evolve into a creation economy. From our personal experiences at Anou, we constantly feel an undercurrent in many of our conversations that Moroccans just don’t believe they are capable of achieving big things.
None of these opinions are wrong. In fact, they all contribute to what makes Morocco what it is today. From the weavers in a rural village who wait for others to sell their work for them to the aspiring social entrepreneur with a big dream who is sidelined by the pessimism of his or her community, Morocco is often caught waiting for something to happen rather than actively pursuing its future.
Mustapha and Rabha’s presentation struck a nerve because it challenged this very mindset. When artisans are able to innovate around infrastructure problems, perhaps the start up community may now perceive a lack of infrastructure as an asset rather than a hindrance. When an artisan with only a fourth grade education is capable of delivering one of the most powerful talks at a conference, then why can’t an ambitious university-educated Casablancan do the same, or even more?
This is why Anou matters. Yes, the easy-to-understand version of Anou is that it provides artisans a better wage than typical fair-trade. But a better wage is only the collateral of igniting the belief that yes, perhaps artisans themselves are capable of doing big things. This change in mindset is infectious beyond just artisans; this past weekend it spread to many members of Morocco’s start up community.
Excitingly, Anou is only one thread of many that is contributing to the fabric of Morocco’s exciting future as a leading start-up community. Because of people like Adnane Addioui and Manal El Attir, who are inspiring Morocco’s youth to launch their own ventures through Fursa Challenge and Enactus, Kenza Lahou, who is building a community of entrepreneurs in Start Up Your Life, Zak El Fassi of JobFinder.ma, who’s raw coding talent demonstrates what Moroccan’s are capable of with lines of code, and even the late Karim Jazouani of the Nexties, who fostered a community of selfless collaboration in Morocco’s tech industry, it is clear that the Moroccan start-up community’s best days are ahead of it.
Our team, and many artisans across Morocco, are excited to be a part of this bright future.
To learn a little more about several start-ups our team has gotten to know, several of whom were presenters at the conference, check out the following links:
Looly’s Pearls: A female led cous-cous venture set on rebranding Morocco’s culinary traditions.
JobFinder.ma: A Moroccan job search engine with regional aspirations.
Stagaires.ma: A portal for Moroccan students to find internships.
Clothes That Care: A buy one, give one online retail store.
Start Up Your Life: A community of Moroccans committed to building Morocco’s start up scene.
Moroccan Center for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship: A platform committed to spurring social change in Morocco through innovation and entrepreneurship.
Anarouz: A social enterprise committed to supporting female artisans.
IT Pills: A electronic system that helps remind patients to take their medication. Started by two young entrepreneurs.
Nexties: Morocco’s online tech magazine.