Cooperative Development – it takes a village

Case study of the Aboghlou Womens Coopertaive, Ourika

It is a sunny Thursday afternoon as Amina El Hajjami, Projects Director at the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), and I drive out of Marrakech towards Ourika in Al Haouz Province, just one hour away. We are visiting the Aboghlou Women’s Cooperative in a small shopfront where 32 women have gathered from the surrounding districts to meet Amina. We are greeted with warmth, attention and of course ‘atay’ (mint tea) in the light-blue atelier where dried jasmine fills the air.



Freshly picked jasmine laid out to dry at the Aboghlou Womens Cooperative, Ourika.


There is a real closeness among the women and Amina, as she has been working with them since the beginning. The cooperative and community-managed nursery started in 2015 after HAF conducted participatory planning and women’s empowerment workshops with women in the province. This is a methodology that HAF trainers have successfully used with communities for a number of years now. It takes women on a rights-based process of self-discovery and identification of their own socio-economic goals, where self-interests in the cultural context are often sidelined. Within the context of Moroccan Family Law, or ‘Moudawana’, these workshops support women to become change agents and engage in the workforce.

Amina says the cooperative started because “we had the same result [in all of the workshops and participatory meetings] – that they wanted to generate income and a project. In the beginning some of them wanted to create jobs but didn’t know how.”

“We worked on what they already knew. Many had experience in making cous cous, others said they had experience in making biscuits...and they taught the other women.”

 “We visited many festivals and talked to other women who started their own projects in this way...and they came back with the idea of starting a nursery”.

From here, the group became a registered cooperative in 2016 and were put in touch with a cosmetic company in France, through the PUR Project, to grow 163kg of calendula flowers - a local medicinal plant. The PUR Project helps companies to strengthen their supply chains and works with farmers and communities developing agroforestry, land restoration and sustainable agricultural practices.

Fast forward to 2018 and they now sell a range of edible artisanal products at their shopfront and at festivals including biscuits, couscous, barley, organic almonds and more depending on what is in season. In 2019 they also expect to produce quantities of verbena, geranium, jasmine, and pomegranate for export, as well as expand the types of produce that they can sell locally.


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Almonds and barley locally available at the Aboghlo Cooperative for Women, Ourika.

Amina El Hajjami, Projects Director with High Atlas Foundation



In their coop atelier, Amina speaks with the women in Amazigh, their familiar Berber language found mostly in the mountainous Atlas regions of Morocco and the surrounding area. They conduct a needs assessment for support required moving forward. One of the top priorities is Arabic literacy classes and some basic English numeracy, which many of them have been undertaking lately. Some women pull out their notebooks and show us how astoundingly far they have come. Others have found it hard to commit and lack self-confidence, but after 10 minutes of discussion can be persuaded to return to classes. The importance of gender sensitivity is also raised as they share stories about misunderstandings with male teachers who had attempted to run classes previously. In addition, the record-keeping duties currently fall to those who are literate, but will hopefully soon extend to many more of the 32-strong women’s cooperative members.

The High Atlas Foundation continues to provide skills building, which assists the cooperative in meeting their contractual obligations with buyers. The PUR Project conducts regular visits, on behalf of buyers, to strengthen this supply chain and open up new markets for these high-value medicinal and neutraceutical products which would, arguably, be difficult to access locally.  It has taken a number of supporters for the Aboghlou Women’s cooperative to succeed, not to mention the families and communities rallying for its success. In the words of the African proverb, it truly has taken a ‘village’ of people to raise this cooperative.


In addition the benefits are also slowly trickling back into this village and beyond. After four years, their operations are self-sustaining economically and able to pay dividends to these 32 women and their families, many of whom did not have paid employment previously.The benefits are also spreading to surrounding communities where women’s groups have been approaching Aboghlou Women’s Cooperative to provide advice, guidance and assist other villages to develop in the same manner. This is a powerful model for community development - requiring the investment and effort of an entire ‘village’ of stakeholders but which sustainably gives back to a far greater number of communities in return.

For more information on this or other cooperative projects contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Amelia Haigh is a volunteer Proposals Writer for the High Atlas Foundation, Marrakech.


Harnessing Corporate Social Responsibility for community development

By Amelia Haigh
HAF Volunteer from Australia

In a world where we create a living from shared resources, live in shared communities and all of our actions have flow-on effects, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is essential. It is also becoming more and more common, and we all know the benefits that CSR can provide. Though how can this be harnessed for sustainable community development?

We have seen a creative solution implemented by the private sector in Morocco. One such example is the OCP Group, which is making ‘human capital’ – their approximately 3,000 employees – available to work for one month in every year for civil society organisations and local community groups.

The incentive for company employees is a paid volunteer experience that releases them from daily duties, and applies their skills for the benefit of both communities and the company in which they work. Companies gain valuable insight into community development challenges, while also flipping power structures by working directly for community groups and placing them in the driving seat.

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has worked with companies to conduct training in the ‘participatory approach’ methodology giving company volunteers the tools they need to engage in meaningful and bottom-up development conversations with communities. The methodology provides a means for communities to communicate their needs and then prioritise their solutions (using a ‘Pairwise’ Ranking Assessment and other tools). Through this process communities agree on the highest priority projects and avoid ad hoc project implementation. Top priorities have emerged for many communities as the provision of drinking water, electricity, security and co-curricular resources for schools.



Yossef Ben-Meir Ph.D., President at the High Atlas Foundation undertaking a Pairwise Ranking training exercise with community members, OCP company volunteers and school directors.


Results of the participatory training with OCP employees with school directors for CSR have so far been extremely promising. A number of projects for community organisations are progressing in a short timeframe with the additional human capital available to them. Expertise can also be committed with a long-term project horizon that transcends short-term funding cycles.

As examples, a number of projects are being developed to provide water pumps to schools in the Marrakech-Safi province, to provide drinking water as soon as possible. Another progression has been the scoping of an organic tree nursery at the Alkhawarizmy Technical High School in Safi aiming to provide applied environmental and agricultural education to students through high-value industries of the future (STEM). This is not only a necessary complement to their electrical and mechanical subject offerings, but may also provide a potential income stream to fund other essential community infrastructure.



Representatives of the Alkhawarizmy Technical High School conducting a site visit to scope out infrastructure dimensions with HAF and company volunteers.




HAF staff, company volunteers and representatives of the Alkhawarizmy Technical High School on a project site visit. 


Providing human capital for development is a creative solution to CSR, providing a real investment in the form that many rural communities need – personnel and expertise – and not just cold hard cash which on its own may be misdirected.

This is a great strategy for more companies to come forward for the benefit of human development, especially in regions and rural areas where communities are being left behind.

For more information regarding the participatory approach methodology training or working regional communities in Morocco please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Amelia Haigh is a volunteer Proposals Writer for the High Atlas Foundation, Marrakech.


Seeding New Projects for the 2019 Planting Season

Manon Burbidge
HAF Intern- Marrakech
Lund University, Sweden

January is the traditional tree-planting season in Morocco, meaning that right now, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) is gearing up to take on new tree-planting project ideas that are springing up across the country. Last week, I joined Errachid, HAF’s project manager, on his site visits to find out more about these projects, how they will benefit local communities and their contribution to sustainable development. 

“Ait Ourir Bridge Center”, Ait Ourir

One beneficiary of HAF’s project will be the “Ait Ourir Bridge Center”, a language school for both children and adults in the town. Students here learn English in intensive 3-month programmes, and also have the opportunity to take part in exchanges with foreign students, namely those with English as their native language, to share cultural and linguistic experiences.

The project’s aim is to sign a partnership with six schools in the locality, who have asked for fruit trees to be planted in their grounds. The schools will then sell the fruit in order to reinvest the money into other projects. The exchange students and the Bridge Center’s students will conduct the planting together, to benefit simultaneously from knowledge of planting and learning a language. It is also hoped that there will be many activities and workshops surrounding the tree-planting involving the school-children.

HAF is forging a link between the AOBC and their project, covering the costs of the tree-planting and nurseries, as well as providing other incentives for participation in the project, such as sanitation and clean water. It is also hoped that the project will engage the Delegation of Education and the Governor of the region in the activities to highlight the importance of environmental education.


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“Centre Pour le Sauvegarde de l’Enfance”, Marrakech

The Centre for the Protection of Children, or “Centre Pour le Sauvegarde de l’Enfance” in Marrakech is home to 35 boys and 45 girls under 18 years of age. It is both a home for children who have been involved in criminal activities or those who have nowhere else to go, and responsible for these children’s re-education and day-to-day care.

The Centre would like to plant trees in its grounds to be able to sell the fruits for additional income, to provide quality educational activities for the children. The project will consist of approximately 50 olive and carob trees over an area of 15m2. They also wish to start a tree nursery on the site in future.

HAF hopes to also conduct workshops with these children to work out their needs and assess where it is appropriate to provide assistance alongside the tree-planting project.




Bouchane Secondary School, Bouchane

Currently educating 1102 students, Bouchane school is a previous beneficiary of HAF projects. In 2014, HAF helped the school to plant 300 olive, pomegranate and lemon trees as well as herbaceous and medicinal shrubs.

It now wants to expand its project by starting up a pilot tree nursery for the region, equipped with a greenhouse and with water-saving measures. Over time, they hope that the nursery will provide trees for farmers, other schools and co-operatives in the region, and even further afield.

They will focus on planting olive and carob trees, as they are both suitable for the dry soils of the province, but also generate good income. This money will then be used to reinvest in other projects which will benefit the school.

Like the Ait Ourir Bridge Center, the Bouchane school also want to involve the governor of the province as well as other officials in the project and to sign a partnership agreement with the Delegation for Education.


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Miara Jewish Cemetery, Marrakech

Inside this peaceful walled cemetery in the heart of Marrakech, a tree-planting project is underway. The guardians wish to plant 60 olive and 30 carob trees in the grounds of the cemetery, lining the walkways and providing shade over the area.

Preparations are already underway, with holes dug into the ground and an irrigation system set up to provide water for the saplings when they arrive.

The fruit trees will help to make guardianship of the cemetery, a place which has remain unvandalised for over 500 years, a financially viable position for the future.


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Tagelft Lycée and Middle School, Tagelft

Due to deforestation and the removal of vegetation, soil erosion is a big problem in the High Atlas Mountains. Snowmelt in the spring can also lead to bad flooding, also partly due to the lack of trees.

The remote mountain community of Tagelft is hoping to combat this problem in part by commencing a tree-planting project in both its Lycée and its Middle School. This will help to stabilise soils and to provide a greener and more attractive learning environment for its pupils.

Although this project is still in its infancy, it is hoped that the site could host between 300-500 trees, seedlings of which could be given to local farmers to supplement incomes and instigate a culture of tree-planting in the region. It will also provide the opportunity to deliver workshops on environmental education and to raise awareness of the importance of trees for mountain communities.


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Manon is a post-graduate student of Human Ecology at Lund University, Sweden


Morocco Environment News Summary for w/b 5th November

 Manon Burbidge
 HAF Intern- Marrakech
 Lund University, Sweden



Eco-Friendly Public Transport in Safi

The urban commune of Safi announced that it would be introducing eco-friendly buses into the city from 1st January 2019. 45 new buses, which are engineered in Germany and tailored for those with special mobility needs will join the fleet in the new year. The buses will also have WiFi and CCTV on board.

The city hopes to increase the number of new buses to 135 by 2024.

Read more:


€117m Invested into Sustainable Drinking Water Access

On 7th November, the African Development Bank approved financing of €117m to enhance the security and sustainability of Moroccan people’s access to safe drinking water. The bank states that this investment is a strategic contribution, due to water being the foundation and starting point for sustainable development.

The beneficiary provinces will be Guercif, Zagora, Tangier, Al Hoceima and Beni Mellal, impacting over 2.5m people.

Read more:


Morocco Makes Good Progress on SDGs Related to Food Security and Climate Change

The Economic Commission for Africa’s most recent report found that Morocco has integrated the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their development strategies, and has done particularly well in relation to climate change and food security.

However, the report also recommends that national priorities are realigned to meet the SDGs across the board, as the Maghreb region faces many complex challenges including industrial transition and youth unemployment. Morocco should also strive to integrate and form partnerships between NGOs, the private sector, government and civil society.

Read more:


Morocco Launches Campaign to Combat Harassment of Women

On Saturday 10th November, the Moroccan online movement #Masaktach (I won’t be silent) calls for women in Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakech to carry a whistle with them, and to use them if they are harassed in public or on transport. 

The movement was started after widespread outrage over cases of gender-based violence in the country and is helping to shed light on the extent of sexual harassment of women in Morocco.

Morocco’s government recently introduced a law, effective from 12th September 2018, aiming to eliminate violence against women and giving prison sentences of between 1 & 6 months to sexual harassers in public places. Nevertheless, incidences of discrimination and violence in the country remains high.

Read more:


Marrakech Plays Host to Global Environment Facility’s International Waters Conference

Between 5-8th November, the 9th International Waters Conference (IWC), organised by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) will be held in Marrakech. 300 participants from 80 countries are expected to attend, representing GEF project managers, beneficiary nation representatives, NGOs, UN agencies and the private sector.

2018’s theme is Sustaining International Waters Co-operation, aiming to promote water sustainability and to share best practices.

Read more:


Africities Youth Forum to be Held in Marrakech

Africities Summit Youth Forum, an event which takes place every three years will be held this year in Marrakech, with an expected 5000 attendees from Africa and the African diaspora.

2018’s theme is centred on the role of local and subnational African governments in the transition towards sustainable cities, placing a special focus on the role of youth in achieving this.

Participants will include leaders, city officials, the private sector, academia and development partners, among others, and is supported by UN Habitat and UNESCO.

The event will take place between 20-24th November.

Read more:


Manon is a post-graduate student of Human Ecology at Lund University, Sweden

Beyond Cultural and Religious Boundaries

 By Professor Afaf Hamzaoui
 Faculty of Languages, Arts and Human Sciences in Ait Melloul

Dr. Yossef Ben- Meir, president of High Atlas Foundation and he is one of my best friends, asked me if I would like to meet a group of American-Jewish ladies who would like to know about the Moroccan historical background as well as the coexistence and the tolerant life among the Moroccan Jewish and Muslim people. This meeting was supposed to be at Villa Mandarin in Rabat on the 6th November, 2018.




I was really excited to meet these ladies for two main reasons. The first was because I want to talk about the Moroccan history and culture, which is a mixture of many cultures; and which both the Islamic and Jewish cultures are the main influencing components of it. The second reason, I wanted on my part to learn from these Jewish ladies and become friends and go beyond the religious boundaries. The meeting was successful.


We sat together at a round table freely and we started our conversation. At first, I presented myself to them and informed then that I have recently been hired as university teacher of English at Ait Melloul Faculty of Languages, Arts and Human Sciences in Agadir, specializing in Moroccan cultural studies and postcolonial feminism. I informed them that I am interested in multiculturalism. All of them kindly congratulated me.


I felt happy and free among them to speak about whatever topic they were interested in. At the same time, I felt that the ladies may feel as if they were in a classroom, so I quickly changed the atmosphere into a friendly informal gathering among friends who are visiting Morocco. They would like to gain from their stay via learning about all components of Moroccan cultural, social, historical and religious perspectives. The ladies started trusting me.

I felt free to laugh and share personal stories referring to our Moroccan Jewish neighbours, how they used to share meals among Muslims neighbours, how our Jewish neighbours mourned my grandfather when he passed away, and how my father mourned one of his best friends.  They also attended weddings, and not only my grandparents’ neighbours. This coexistence and the culture of sharing existed among both Muslims and Jewish Moroccans in all cities.


Also, we talked about trade exchanges among us, Moroccans both Muslims and Jewish.  In addition, how they helped my grandmother to learn how to sew, and a lot of stories about this harmony from both historical and personal backgrounds.  We shifted to speak about other subjects such as Moroccan women’s status and their development due to the family code (Moudawana) and language diversity in Morocco. I informed them that as Moroccan Muslims there are both Arab and Amazigh Moroccan Jews. This surprised them. 


On their part, whatever we discussed they compared it with what they experience in the United States.  In that way, I have learned a lot from them as well. It was really a cultural exchange meeting. The ladies at the end wondered if coexistence as among Moroccans, Jewish and Muslims exists elsewhere, as it does over centuries and decades until now.  Because we were happy and excited by this meeting, I was supposed to stay for one hour but I stayed with these wonderful ladies for three hours. At the end of this friendly gathering, I suggested that we should take pictures all together as women with no differences and no boundaries.  And this was really my feeling.


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HAF in Morocco

High Atlas Foundation
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