Hi guys, am spending my final two days in Morocco after which I will be in Lebanon. Some quick notes.
Marocco has a system of generous unemployment benefits. In the town where I am right now, Tarfaya, it is the main source of income for large swaths of the population. I have been told that it is the government’s attempt to keep rebellion at bay in parts of the country. (That could it be in response to the Arab spring? Don’t know, need to find out.) This has several adverse effects as it dis-incentivises people from working. I have found the work ethics in this town (where we currently are) to be “so-so”. People keep inshallah-ing about everything and take a lax attitude to getting things done. Perhaps it is because of the subsidies, perhaps everything is just slower in the desert If we are to do anything here we will not be able to rely on local collaborators.
There are several immediately visible and possibly actionable problems which could be good calls to action / areas of focus for incubated projects. (Because success at tackling them will be visible fairly soon?):
- Crazy high sugar consumption as well as high prevalence of diabetes (need to check whether it's Type A or Type B). The main culprit? Moroccan Tea. It's the key social ceremony, you cannot walk past any group of acquaintances without being offered, and having to drink, it. And people put in insane amounts of white processed sugar.At the same time they all have at least one family member who has diabetes. Perhaps they have been told that they are correlated. But several people whom I spoke to seemed to have no idea about the consequences of excessive consumption of sugar, especially the white processed kind.
- Chronically bored teens, hash addiction and lack of initiative. The most active crew are the surfers. I guess it makes sense, you have to be disciplined to practice a sport like surfing since it's equipment intensive, weather dependent and hard.
- Surfing and water sports in general are interesting for our initiative because there are many interesting projects with commercial potential which we could incubate in the residencies. E.g. production of surf boards from mycelium and recuperated plastic bottles (which litter the city and beach). Tarfaya is great for surfing. Which means market opportunities for certain kinds of cottage industries.
- Tourism. Also, it looks like the new ferry service connecting Tarfaya port with others including the Canary Islands. This will mean tourism. There is literally no infrastructure for tourism, we could get in there and quickly set the foundations for sustainable tourism businesses if we move quickly.
Agriculture and food. We found two interesting possible allies / mentors. Frederi is a French guy who is a biologist (I think) and has a lot of experience with setting up commercially viable small scale agriculture/food businesses. He wants to set up an agriculture venture in the desert - but cannot get the permit without political backing and 80k in a moroccan bank as a deposit. Very experienced and could be possible partner for fundraising. Second is Dr. Issam Boucholy who is a pharmaceutical doctor and has developed cheap rapid-testing kits for different diseases including HIV and Diabetes. He also tried setting up a local spirulina production plant, but the equipment was saboutaged by vandals. Is from Casablanca but a Tarfaya resident since over 10 years. Pretty much a biohacker and entrepreneurial - possible local mentor in the residency program.
(It’s Frederi’s house we could rent for 300 Eur per month. We could possibly also do a deal where we do a non monetary exchange - we help with some renovation of his house while we use it (ideally rent free) and he helps with setting up some kind of revenue stream to finance the space and generate income for Edgeryders.) E.g. he mentioned that the demand, and willingness to pay for, for organic food in the main cities in Maroc is comparable to that in Western Europe. So it could be a nice partnership. Frederi likes us and the OpenVillage project. If and when the ferries start running (people say September 1, but you never know) then he wants to move to Tarfaya permanently as the French Reunion islands where he lives are turning from a tropical paradise to a crazy commercialised consumption space with the entry of large chains like Carrefour. So his interests are aligned with ours. OpenSource Hardware for agricultural / food production starts to get interesting as land is dirt cheap, you have loads of water and sunshine.
- Microbrewery. A potentially high return on investment venture is microbrewery. Because for the alternative of importing alcohol, you need a 3 million EUR license. Which is still profitable according to a canarian hotel owner we have befriended. You can count on 3 EUR a cup, which is a lot of money in local context. If you brew your own locally? Well :)
After having thought about this a lot I think it would be wise to just make a decision to set the space here starting now and running for the duration of the project and a couple of months afterwards. And run a killer party / festival in December here. That will give us a month in town to build social capital, and recruit people into the project at a pace natural to this place. It’ll be easy to get people to come here in the winter (weather’s much better, sunshine, sea, not crowded, nice escape esp. around Christmas / New Year).
There are a lot of opportunities to show tangible outcomes and build support for the Reef from unusual sources who want in for different reasons. We have someone on board to set up a biohacking space and convene the bleeding edge around local projects. As we have learned – get a place that looks amazing on a postcard and you have basically won already. Our outreach infrastructure are the cafes, the beach and the market. Get a stall in the market for very little money (50 USD/month) and run a bunch of activities out of it. Host everyone in the house (300 USD/month). Minimal effort to get a space up and running and focus on producing results.
GIrls and Women. We are going to have to make extra efforts to engage girls and women. The simplest will be setting up a ladies cafe with lots of activities close to their interests. Crafts, Health Science etc… Engaging Girls from other countries will be a mess if they are religious. They will need separate residency quarters and much more patience in terms of engagement. So with Women I suggest we focus on locals. If/ When we raise sufficient financing we can sort out a space that also works for females from elsewhere in the region (separate sleeping quarters). Another issue is that the girls and women who do show up from other parts of the region and world will have to adapt to the local norms when it comes to behaviour and clothing in public. Modest clothers, no public displays of affection with males etc etc etc.
Once we have the proof of concept in place, we can then raise engagement and money for other iteration in different parts of the region and beyond.