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HAF’s Participatory Approach and Cooperative-Building Efforts Intertwined

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By Eliana Lisuzzo
HAF Program Assistant

  

In a little under just one week, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has met with members of 21 cooperatives throughout four provinces of the Oujda Region in Morocco. We have learned the stories behind the development of their cooperatives, about their products, unique manufacturing techniques, the highs and the lows of establishment, ongoing challenges, and impressive achievements. These details, of course, differ across each cooperative, but one common sentiment was reiterated time and time again: members from provinces stretching across Oujda have all shared gratitude for the knowledge and skills they acquired through HAF’s cooperative-building training, made possible by the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).

 

While we are overjoyed to hear the different ways in which our MEPI-funded training has significantly impacted the progress of cooperatives in Oujda, we recognize that is just the beginning of how we can help pave the way to success.  We assist along many steps, such as helping cooperatives build relationships with their provincial authorities.  On September 9th, HAF staff met in one large room with members of seven cooperatives of the Guercif province. It is perhaps no coincidence that facilitating a meeting utilizing the participatory approach—the very core of all of HAF’s sustainable development projects—proved to be extremely fruitful.

 

One result of having a participatory meeting with multiple cooperatives was the revelation of the commonalities and shared needs among the large group, followed by equally beneficial solutions. For example, Haoud Jdi and Elmanousri are two women’s cooperatives, both established in 2017, that sell food products: olives and couscous, and cookies and couscous, respectively. Each cooperative expressed a need for a central location for production as it would not only be more able to acquire certification from the food inspectors and thus enable the product to reach national markets, but also increase the quantity of their products made daily. Seeing this shared need between two similar cooperatives, HAF President, Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, suggested Haoud Jdi and Elmanousri join forces for shared benefit. The women agreed and identified a goal to submit a proposal to their local governmentto create a coalition, including an invitation to a third women’s cooperative, and identify with them available land and a building structure for their production activities.

 

The participatory meeting also consequently highlighted the importance for cooperatives to consider how they can bridge their internal resources (i.e., skills) with their external ones (i.e., funding, land, etc.). For example, the TamzrayneCooperative, created in 2009, sells oil from different medicinal plants, mostly rosemary flowers. They have a partnership with Morocco’s High Commission of Waters and Forests, which has provided 3,000 hectares from where they can harvest the wild medicinal plants, and they also have members who skillfully sell their products. Again, seeing the cooperative’s strengths, Dr. Ben-Meir suggested Tamzraynemaximize the use of their resources and widen their cooperative’s production, based on the vision of the cooperative members. Specifically, since theyalready have land, water, and members skilled in selling plants and plant products, it would be feasible to establish fruit tree nurseries and cultivation (carob and nuts), thereby giving them the opportunity to make more profit from additional products. 

 

Further, the meeting exposed to cooperative members the significance of considering what resources they already have or that they can access on their own. Several cooperatives reported utilizing the ministries and other agencies to submit project proposals for potential partnership-building and financial support. The Hikma Agriculture Cooperative, for example, submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Agriculture to fund land, water well construction, supplies, and a building for production. On the other hand, the men’s bread-baking cooperative, Chebab Hamria, used their existing network to secure a production site rent-free for six months.

 

Over the course of HAF’s Oujda trip thus far, it has been made clear that trainings such as our MEPI-funded cooperative-building training is vital for giving members the tools, resources, and confidence to pursue their goals. Attending the workshop gave participants knowledge about how to establish their cooperatives as well as helped them acquire or build upon skills necessary for managing successful businesses. However, it has also been made clear that beyond knowledge and skills-building training, cooperative members need guidance on how to utilize not only already-existing resources but also how to team-up and utilize each other for shared benefit. The participatory planning meeting in Guercif proved to be a crucial tool that cooperatives can use to identify common needs and share experiences. Moving forward, HAF will urge members of different cooperatives within one municipality or province to develop a supportive network through the participatory approach as we continue our efforts to help cooperatives throughout Morocco excel.

Help enable cooperative development.

The Impact of Cooperative-Building Training on New Cooperatives’ Development and the Individuals Who Lead Them

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Khalid (left) tells HAF about the challenges of starting a new cooperative and the solutions he and fellow Alaymoune members identified as a result of attending HAF's training.
 
By Eliana Lisuzzo
Project Assistant

  

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) staff has met many driven Moroccan people with big plans to make a difference in their lives and for their communities, enthusiastic to turn their fresh ideas into successful associations and cooperatives. HAF facilitates cooperative-building trainings to provide the necessary tools and resources to ensure their goals are tangible. In the workshops, made possible with funding by the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), participants learn about the core differences between associations and cooperatives, the required legal steps to take for cooperative establishment, accounting principles, marketing and communication strategies, vital administrative tasks, and effective management. On September 5th, HAF was able to reconnect with members of two relatively young Oujda-based cooperatives who previously attended training sessions.

 

First, we sat down with Khalid, a co-founder and member of the Alaymoune Cooperative in the Berkane Province. Alaymoune, created in 2017 by five men who drew inspiration from an association of carpentry and handcrafts, is a carpentry cooperative with the purpose, Khalid explained, to preserve Moroccan artisanal furniture-making. The furniture produced by members is so well-made that Morocco’s Ministry of Crafts, Social Solidarity and Economy awarded Alaymoune with a certificate for the quality of their products. Despite this recognition, however, Khalid relayed how he and the other members still found it difficult to sell items. They attended one of HAF’s trainings where, Khalid said, they learned a great deal about managing a successful cooperative, including the significance of marketing. As a result of the training, Alaymoune identified a goal: improve marketing by highlighting what is unique about their furniture in order to showcase the pieces in exhibitions as well as to attract customers. “Thanks to the training conducted by HAF, we received many tools to know how we can manage and organize this cooperative, and especially about marketing,” Khalid said.

 

Second, we met with Souad, a co-founder and member of Slimania. Slimania is a women’s ranching cooperative in the village of Zagzal that Souad created with four other women in December 2017. With a lack of projects in their village and the desire to start one for community benefit as well as to keep busy, the group decided the purpose of their cooperative would be to raise livestock for sale. Like Alaymoune, Slimania was faced with obstacles. Souad recalled how she spent three months navigating the legal process of establishing a cooperative and more time after that marketing Slimania as a worthwhile investment to potential members. Souad found it hard to engage women of Zagzal and encourage them to join as they felt they were not experienced enough nor had the proper training on how to manage a cooperative. Souad later attended a HAF training for which she expressed gratitude for not only learning more details about the legal components of running a cooperative but also how to market one—to both potential customers and, importantly, potential members. Currently Slimania still consists of the original five co-founders, however, Souad expressed her optimism in attracting more local women to join the cooperative after participating in the training.

 

Both Khalid’s and Souad’s stories highlight the challenges of establishing cooperatives as well as the significant impact HAF’s training has on cooperatives’ development not only due to participants acquiring technical skills and knowledge but also the confidence to implement what they learn. It is clear that such trainings are vital to open the opportunity for Moroccan people who might otherwise not have the required information or resources to establish successful cooperatives. The benefits of cooperatives are aplenty: they help people achieve personal fulfillment, economic advancement, and can unify communities. In addition, the skills as well as financial revenue gained can be applied to the implementation of other development projects that improve communities as a whole.

 

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Souad discusses the different obstacles she came across when establishing her cooperative, her current frustrations, and how HAF helped her come up with a marketing strategy
 
 

The power of passion for development work, sharing knowledge, and cooperative building: Nordine’s story

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By Eliana Lisuzzo
HAF Project Assistant

  

We met Nordine on a sunny Wednesday morning. His tan skin revealed how he spends many hours outside planting as well as tending to the already planted almond trees throughout Irzaine in the Berkane province, Oujda region. He proudly walked us through one of the fields with growing trees while explaining how time is still needed for these almonds to be ready for sale. Witnessing Nordine’s passion for his work in Irzaine, you would never guess that he once had extravagant plans to leave Morocco behind and travel and work abroad. But he did, and he happily rejected those big plans to, instead, give back to the community in which he grew up.

 

Nordine explained: while studying at university in Rabat, he was inspired by a combination of his experiences at school, a friend, and his passion for helping others; he joined a student association involved in development work and was a member for five years. Instead of moving abroad after graduation as originally planned, Nordine returned to Irzaine and created his first development work association; he later created a second association in Irzaine focused on providing clean water; and Nordine’s latest project is an almond production and valorization cooperative, which he established in 2014.

 

Creating and managing a cooperative is not an easy task. Unlike associations, which Nordine has had much experience with, cooperatives are intended to be lucrative entities and require capital to support themselves. Nordine recognized that he needed a little guidance.

 

He attended a training facilitated by the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) that builds participants’ awareness of the vital components of building and leading a cooperative.  This highly important training, funded by the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), teaches participants the differences between cooperatives and associations, and many different cooperative-building topics such as legal aspects, accounting, management, marketing, and communications.  Nordine found the training so helpful that he attended four more. He enthusiastically explained how HAF “opened up the world of marketing” and taught him how to not only find a market for his product but also how to sell it. He reported gaining skills to record and organize files as well as to problem solve, stating, “I was proud of myself because when problems occurred, I found that I knew solutions because I got it from HAF trainings.” Nordine identified both the accounting and proposal writing and submission components of the HAF training as the most helpful. Last year, his cooperative created their first detailed financial and annual report.

 

The cooperative reported that since 2014, a total of 124,800 almond trees have been planted across 600 hectares of land, at a ratio of 208 trees per hectare. Some planting is financed by Morocco’s Ministry of Agriculture, some financed by donors, and planting on 400 of the 600 hectares was financed by a Belgian government agency. It takes five years for the trees to produce almonds, so with 2019 approaching, Nordine is preparing to start selling within the upcoming year. He is eager to use the marketing skills he acquired through the trainings.  

 

In addition, it was reported that the cooperative supports 342 beneficiaries in Irzaine. Its establishment has created jobs and not only strengthened the community’s economy but also its identity. Nordine has found that the cooperative has had the power to persuade local people to stay in the village. Like Nordine did years ago, many community members are rejecting the once-popular idea to leave their small village and, instead, are choosing to stay and preserve their land. In this way, Nordine explained how the cooperative has changed the idea of migration. Rather than small-town people moving to big cities in search of opportunity, Irzaine is now attracting many people from Oujda City and surrounding larger towns with work opportunities. After all, the cooperative needs the support of willing workers—Nordine looks forward to planting almond trees on the remaining 1,000 hectares of available land.

 

These additional consequential benefits of his cooperative are meaningful to Nordine as its creation came from his passion for development work and to help people. Nordine aims to support his community to the best of his ability and, through this initiative, has found many ways in which to do so. For example, he provides almond trees to people who own less than five hectares of land so that they can plant the trees on their land and reap the economic benefits. He also teaches them about cooperatives by sharing the knowledge he acquired through HAF’s trainings, and offers them to become a member of his cooperative.

 

Nordine finds cooperative-building so fulfilling and beneficial in both the short- and long-term that he is already planning his next endeavor. Noticing a need for women involvement in the community, he is interested in helping establish a women’s cooperative in Irzaine. Nordine also recognizes, however, that there is a serious need for literacy courses—for which he has already found 18 interested women. It is clear that Nordine’s generosity and passion for development work started long before he returned to Irzaine after university. It was a pleasure spending our morning with him and learning about his work. We at HAF are grateful to MEPI for paving the way to provide us the opportunity to have played a role in assisting Nordine—and others like him—make his goals a reality by providing the necessary tools and resources to establish successful cooperatives and projects; we are grateful to find that the knowledge we share at the trainings we facilitate is being passed on through participants to others, such as in the case of Nordine and his plans to train women in Irzaine to start their own cooperative. 

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Assist cooperative-building here.

 

The Journey of Empowerment in the Oriental Region

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Ibtissam Niri
Office Manager


  

Today was the last day of Imagine workshops in Oujda, but the first day to think about the journey of Empowerment in the Oriental region for 58 women of different cooperatives. 

From August 10st to August 17th, 2018, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) facilitated an eight-day women’s empowerment workshop in Isly Golf Hotel in Oujda for more than 25 cooperatives.

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HAF and the Empowerment Institute ork together to enhance women’s liveshoods. Specifically, we aim to help them identify their goals and visions that will lead them to become a powerful force in society—fighting for their rights and dreams without any confusion or self-doubt.  

To start the initiative in the oriental region, the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) took action and added its value to improve women’s capacities in specific areas, such as finances. The women also explore topics such as explore self-discovery. For example, each woman learns how to identify her needs and start transforming her beliefs into a vision and then into reality; each woman becomes motivated to realize her strengths and utilize them to enhance her life, family, community, and her country.

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In the two workshops I observed, I discovered the women had great interest in both the empowerment program—including the sustainable development of building capacities step by step starting from the self discovering—and the cooperative building program—including the creation of cooperatives based on the participatory approach.

Many of the women participating in the workshop had never before thought to ask themselves where they are now in life, where they would like to be—their goals—and what steps they need to take to get there. Most of them were introduced to the technical term “growing edge,” which is a concept involving constant advancement in one’s life by consistently making and working towards achieving goals.

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HAF created a Moroccan model that combines many components (i.e., the Moroccan Modowana law, the Koran, and the participatory approach) to effectively build capacities of women's cooperatives through the Empowerment program. This adaptation helps women find themselves and discover their self-confidence in not just one area, but in seven: Emotions, Relationships, Sexuality, Body, Money, Work, and Spirituality. Through these workshops, most of the participants become more confident in themselves and identify clear visions. One of the participants said,

 "I’d never say ‘no’ to anyone because I might lose people if I say ‘no,’ but I suffered more and more because of this. I couldn't appreciate myself and I didn't care about it. The more important thing for me has always been to give to others, and not put me first. But, in this exercise of core beliefs I found today that I need to appreciate myself before all, and don't say ‘yes’ if this ‘yes’ will cause me pain and suffering with others. I have self-esteem and I love myself as I am.”

 

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I appreciate the opportunity that HAF gave me to go to the Oriental region and learn from a powerful group of women that have many, many strengths and just needed the tools to discover them. I think the Imagine workshop gave them the resources to do so and to excel in their lives.

Morocco Provides Safe Spaces for Youth

Julia Payne
Marrakech

As a society, we have hopes and dreams for the future; for our children, our countries, and the global community. These aspirations rest on the shoulders of the youngest generation. August 12, 2018 marks the 18th celebration of the U.N.’s annual International Youth Day. This awareness day is an unique opportunity to reflect on youth’s challenges and to celebrate and support the world’s future leaders. This year’s theme, “Safe Spaces for Youth,” marks the importance of youth’s engagement, participation, and freedom of thought.

Moroccan youth serve as an interesting case study to consider for this year’s Youth Day. The difficulties they confront are fairly representative of those that youth encounter globally. The U.N. 2016 World Youth Report outlines several issues that affect youth, such as high unemployment rates: youth are three times more likely than older adults to be unemployed. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is particularly impacted by youth unemployment, rising from 29.7 to 30.5 (2012 to 2014) in North Africa.  Morocco falls slightly below this average at 19.9 percent unemployment for people aged 15-24, affecting men slightly more than women. However, the youth unemployment rate still lies far above the national average (9.3 percent). Like many countries in the MENA region, nearly half the population is under the age of 30. Problems that affect youth should be of the highest priority, otherwise countries risk suffering economically and developmentally.

Unfortunately, on a worldwide level, economic barriers are often coupled with high political disillusionment and low traditional political participation. Voter turnout is low among young people worldwide; lowest in Africa and the United States. In Morocco, in the recent 2016 parliament election, voter turnout was 43 percent, remarkably low among urban and educated youth. Much of the pessimism youth experience stems from feeling that governments do not represent them and voting would not resolve this dilemma. One Moroccan youth said he had cast a blank vote considering it a message to the government. Another girl, still in high school, said she will not vote when she is older because she feels voting is not worthwhile.

When talking with two young Moroccan students, they cited pressing issues for youth as the difficulty to find jobs and the inability to freely express themselves, loosely confirming the National Democratic Institute’s findings in Youth Perceptions in Morocco: Political Parties and Reforms which reported youth’s priorities in Morocco as reforming the education system, addressing unemployment, and curbing corruption.

Both girls interviewed expressed frustration with the education system identifying it as the single most urgent concern, explaining that schools do not prepare them well for the job market. Issues that affect youth are deeply interconnected; an education system that poorly prepares for the job market precipitates high youth unemployment. A lack of visible change and economic irritation motivates political pessimism. The challenges youth deal with compound upon themselves.

Despite these frustrations, and low traditional political participation, youth are still highly active in their communities. The U.N. report emphasizes that instead of declining, youth participation and civic engagement are evolving. An excellent example of this in Morocco is the recent boycotts on Sidi Ali water, Centrale Danone dairy, and Afriquia gas, which gained a lot of popularity through social media sites like Facebook. One high school girl interviewed said she felt most comfortable expressing herself on Facebook, but her parents objected to her publicly sharing political views and made her take her account down. Both girls said they were disappointed by the mainstream media underplaying their concerns. These observations underscore the need for youth “Safe Spaces” where youth are welcomed to share their thoughts on needs and hopes for the future.

Safe Spaces include community dialogues, local meetings, workshops, and any forum for expanding viewpoints and encouraging vocalization. These settings both stimulate civic engagement and provide feedback to authorities. For Morocco, some of these opportunities have arisen from recent reforms attempting to resolve the same issues youth identified. One such initiative is devolution, increasing regional and local authority, affording more chances for community and youth engagement.

These kinds of improvements, along with methods such as participatory development--the identification and implementation of projects that directly address community identified needs--enable youth to be empowered. Youth benefit from remaining involved, active, and vocal in their communities, and in turn, governance systems can better support youth. Local “Safe Space” meetings are just one example of where youth can impact change in their communities. Other instances in Morocco include women’s empowerment workshops, such as the High Atlas Foundation’s Imagine Workshop, which educates women on their rights, and supports them in expressing and achieving their goals. This proposed program also involves young women from universities; they not only participate in the workshop but also are then qualified to lead it.

The celebration and promulgation of Safe Spaces for youth in Morocco and beyond is crucial in supporting what the world needs to ensure flourishing future generations. Moroccan youth face many of the same problems that youth around the world do, however, there is also a strong opportunity to effect change, making Morocco an excellent example for countries around the world. Youth are important to support, their passion is tangible - one Moroccan youth concluded her interview, “Morocco is my dad, my second dad. I want to give back to it.”

 

Julia Payne is a student in her fourth year at the University of Virginia and she is currently interning with the High Atlas Foundation in Marrakech, Morocco.

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Students in Marrakech, Morocco, planning change for their university community (photo by the High Atlas Foundation, 2018).

 

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