Casablanca, Morocco: – Argen Robben & Mario Mandzukic would probably qualify as two of the happiest persons on 25th May 2013. After all, they made the difference on the field and helped Bayern Munich lift the UEFA Champions League cup. Some 2800 kilometers away, in Casablanca, people were as passionate as the people in the stands at Wembley stadium in London. All cafes in Casablanca were full of people watching the final match intently. Sipping Moroccan tea and chanting Yalla-Yalla (which mean “Go-Go” in Arabic), it seemed like they were having the time of their life.
Though I will not even faintly qualify as a football fan, but the enthusiasm and energy that day surely rubbed off on me too. On the same day, I also happened to visit a government school in Casablanca where I observed and participated in an innovative session titled the “Entrepreneurship Master Class”, facilitated by Injaz Al-Maghrib – a social organization based in Casablanca.
Entrepreneurship Master Class (EMC) is a 5-hour long class conducted by volunteers. These volunteers however, happen to be senior executives from major private sector companies in Morocco. The Class is directed at students from Grade 6 to Grade 9 (referred to as Collège in the French baccalaureate system) with an objective to instill a sense of entrepreneurship and understanding of corporate structure from a young age. In the class that I observed, students were divided into small groups and all activities were required to be done and submitted as a group activity. A volunteer from Attijariwafa Bank (one of the biggest banking groups in Morocco) showed logos of famous brands and asked students to identify them with the company concerned. Students were explained the importance of a brand and were later asked to design a logo which is simple in design but one that resonates in the mind of people for a long time. The next activity was a discussion about the company structure and the designations & roles of important people. Students were then asked to suggest a role for themselves and also mark on a sheet facilitated by Injaz listing characteristics that define them. They were then required to create a business card for themselves. “The best thing that I liked was the enthusiasm and the sheer excitement among the students to do something different than the other group. And to do this, they were keenly looking at each proposal that was coming from the members of the group”-said another volunteer, manager at Attiwariwafa Bank who works in the credit card division of the company.
Unemployment rate among the youth is a major problem in the Arab world and Morocco is no different. In the past couple of decades, the Arab world has gone through a dramatic demographic transition. With more than 3 million new individuals entering the job market every year, the labor force in this region is growing by a CAGR of about 3.3%. What makes matters worse is that the unemployment rate among the youth is at its peak at the moment. According to a World Bank report, the average unemployment rate in Morocco is 35% (only better than Iraq and Palestine), and the average rate in Arab countries is about 24%. With a stable democratic political system and its geographical advantage (only 7.7 nautical miles from Spain), Morocco has all the potential to overcome the problem of unemployment. According to a survey conducted by a consulting company with the CEOs of private companies in the Arab World, only 54% agreed that the current educational system provides the graduates with the adequate skills needed by the industry. Even after investing 25% of the Total Government Expenditure (TGE) on education, things are not moving in the right direction for Morocco, which also witnessed sporadic protests by young people in the backdrop of the Arab uprising that was visible in many countries especially Tunisia, Egypt and Syria .What is needed is the right kind of education and training that resonates with the needs of the industry making it easy for the fresh graduates to be absorbed by companies as soon as they complete their graduation.
I feel initiatives such as EMC are a step in this direction since they are providing business skills to students at an early age, making students look beyond the existing rote based learning in schools. The final task in the EMC session is the new product development. Students were asked to design a greeting card. In order to do so, each group was asked to buy the raw materials (such as tapes, paper, crayons, etc.) necessary to make the greeting card. Specifications regarding the minimum standards of the final product were provided to each group. In the end, each team submitted their work including the logo and the final product for evaluation. The final product also had a cost sheet where each team was required to first calculate the cost of each of the raw materials purchased and then determine cost per unit. They were also asked to define the selling price of the product and also the net profit per unit of the product. “This activity was interesting as I understood what direct & indirect costs are. Also how the cost can change when produced in large quantities was interesting to see” said Sanaa, a student who happily showed me the logo that her team had prepared.
A winner was declared at the end. Each team was given a feedback on their performance. Prizes were distributed to the winning team and everyone who participated in the class was provided with a certificate. The smiling faces of students flashing their business cards while receiving certificate clearly showed the impact made by the program.
As I saw the students leaving the classroom with the certificate in their hands, they had a big smile and a glint of hope in their eyes. It seemed as if a whole new different world awaits them in the future, but only if we continue to nurture this talent and prepare students to face the challenges of the professional world, come what may.
According to Gloria La Cava, World Bank Senior Social Scientist and author of the report ’The Challenge of youth inclusion in Morocco’- said “Before the ‘Arab Spring,’ there was a lot of talk in Morocco, and in many of the neighboring countries, about how the youth were an important resource, that they represented the future. Now is the time to advance in the direction of actualizing an ambitious vision to place this generation at the center stage of development in Morocco.”