What follows is an account of a round of interviews organized by UNDP Morocco and held on 9, 10 and 11 June 2015. The interviews were meant to get Future Makers Global in sync with the way Moroccan institutional actors and their main stakeholders think about employment, social cohesion and data for accountability. The interviews were run by myself and @Driss. The account is driven by the need of the project to get a bird’s eye view of the main trends unfolding in Morocco, boiled down to a degree of simplicity such that it enables cross-country comparisons within the time and budget constraints of FMG. This makes it impressionistic and sketchy. It will be checked against official policy documents. Please do not quote until the process of collaborative editing is done.
Policy priorities and trends
Morocco’s political landscape appears to have been deeply influenced by the Arab Spring. Though no uprising happened in the country, most leaders and policy makers consider 2011 to have been a watershed, and accept that Morocco will not be able to maintain its stability and relative prosperity as long as its youth is disenfranchised and does not see itself as a part of the county’s common future. Some specific challenges facing youth in Morocco:
- about 400,000 youth each year drop out of school with no qualifications.
- the disconnect between school and labour market is possibly more marked than in other countries. This is affected by a language switch between school and university: school (up to 18 yo) is taught in Arabic, whereas university is taught in French. French is, in Morocco, the language of business, and most employers prefer to hire French-speaking staff. Additionally, vocational training is fragmented: different government departments, NGOs and the private sector have rolled out non-interoperable vocational training programmes. Finally, part of university education was attuned to employment in the civil service, but the civil service is currently not hiring – and in fact encouraging early retirement.
- the economic difficulties of the early 2010s (also due to slow growth in the EU, Morocco's main commercial partner) have set in motion an alarming mechanism of boys getting married later and girls getting married earlier, thereby increasing the pool of restless young men who do not feel invested in society, always a factor if instability.
- Islamist movements are on the rise.
According to our witnesses, there is relative agreement across the main Moroccan stakeholders as to what should be the country’s priorities in the face of these challenges.
Employment is priority number one. The official youth unemployment rate is 18.5% (2013, World Bank); but the real figure is likely to be much higher, once you count jobless youth who are not actively looking for a job and those “employed” in the informal sector where they do work, but receive no salary, only some tips. About 90% of employed youth works without a contract.
Civic participation is also a priority. Engagement in public debate is a powerful factor of inclusion, and Moroccan leaders believe young people who have a voice are less likely to become destructive. Moroccan youth are reportedly very disengaged: fewer than 1% of them engaged in volunteering activities (but the source for this, a World Bank study, was released in 2012 and may refer to pre-Arab Spring data ). On the other hand, there are very many NGOs in Morocco (reportedly as many as 100,000), most of them very small and dominated by charismatic founders.
Data is not a priority at all. No one we spoke to had heard of open data; no one seemed to ever have entertained the notion that it would be a good idea to encourage the public sector to run on open source software rather than paying a company in Redmond, WA for using its intellectual property. However, Morocco does have a rudimentary open data policy, with the portal http://data.gov.ma .
The policy response to these priorities does not appear to be particularly decisive. The Ministry of Youth and Sports (with the World Bank’s technical assistance) has launched in 2014 an Integrated Strategy for Youth (SNIJ), which however suffers from several weaknesses:
- it was ten years in the making
- while it did attempt to involve young people to give their input, it did so in a way that was reportedly "tokenist"
- it contains a list of measures, many of which (but not all) appear generic and vanilla (awareness campaigns, institution of the National Youth Day, involve the private sector in reforming the curricula...) and others are demand-constrained (create a formalised "first-experience work contract").
- it relies on the Maisons de la Jeunesse network; these spaces, created in the 70s-80s, are to be the "one-stop shops" for youth all over the country; but they are now abandoned and dilapidated after decades of disinvestment, with few exceptions funded by foreign donors.
- the Ministry itself is perceived as a relatively weak institution. At the moment there is no appointed minister, as the person holding the charge had to resign following a scandal in late 2014; but even with a minister in place, the institution does not seem to have the necessary grit. USAid is building partnerships elsewhere (ministries of labour and of education; an integrated strategy for labour is in the pipeline); UNV is considering doing the same. Elections coming up in 2016 add some uncertainty to these maneuvers.
A lot of the more promising policy efforts focus on entrepreneurship. The SNIJ commits to inserting it in the national curriculum. Some very active NGOs are promoting business and entrepreneurship among students, most notably Injaaz Al-Maghrib which, rightly, perceives itself as a success story. Injaaz has a Company Program whereby groups of students, during one school year, build a company (an actual company, not a simulation), then liquidate it at the end of the year. Some universities accept participation in this program as a replacement of the thesis. At the same time, Moroccan policy makers appear to be quite pragmatic in admitting that encouraging entrepreneurship, though a good thing that they definitely want to do, is unlikely to make a dent in the mass of young unemployed-underemployed youth. The only strategy perceived as realistic, it seems, is one that attempts to bring about piecemeal improvements, working on all fronts at the same time.
Finding successful policies has been a challenge. Some programs have impressive indicators (Injaaz has involved 50,000 students), but those are indicators of output rather than outcome. Decades of effort towards youth entrepreneurship (with standard measures like training, credit incentives, mentoring etc. have yielded “extremely weak results” [Trust Africa]. For example, a programme called Moukawalati (2007-2001) was able to to create about 2,050 new businesses and 6,180 jobs. The programme’s stated goal was to create 30,000 new businesses and 90,000 jobs in three years. The main constraints reported speak of capacity issues: slow, bureaucratic processing of the applications; reluctance of banks to actually make the loans (in their defence, banks have lost money in the past with government-spawned schemes of credit to youth); low quality of the projects submitted by young beneficiaries).
News from the grassroots scene
We started the outreach effort to get in touch with grassroots, high-autonomy initiatives. Due to the lack of an Edgeryders community in Morocco, we had to start from zero. For now, we have discovered an open data community, which is tiny but has two precious relationships: one with Sarah Lamrani, director of e-government at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Investment and the Digital Economy; the other one is with the hacker community at large (Sahara Labs, Arduino Day etc.). There is also a small social innovation/social entrepreneurship community, slightly more structured.Both these communities have strong ties with their much stronger European and global counterparts, via organisations like the Open Knowledge Foundation, Ashoka and the Unreasonable Institute. A large charity, the OCP Foundation, has an initiative on entrepreneurship
Three things we could do
- Support the fledgling alliance between Lamrani and the open data scene. They could conceivably drive an operation around employment and data, for example aggregating the (presently very sparse) information on the (very fragmented) training opportunities available in Morocco. What opportunities do I have available if I want to be, say, a carpenter? Which training centers have the best records in terms of their trainees getting jobs? Can I compare the different programs (say, price vs. number of hours)? Etc.
- Investigate the hardware hacker, Wikipedians and OpenStreetMap scene, starting from Sahara Labs in Tarfaya.
- Have a follow up meeting with Eric Asmar from the Moroccan Center for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship to scout out that scene. He might be in touch with promising initiatives via their incubator.