Washington — After attending the U.S.-Maghreb Entrepreneurship Conference in Algiers, young Moroccan entrepreneurs learned fear has no place when it comes to starting a business.
Mohamed Chakib Ouabi, an engineering student at the National Institute of Post and Telecommunications (INPT), said he was inspired by American entrepreneurs at the conference.
“How they are very ambitious and they don’t fear new experiences,” Ouabi said. “They just jump whenever they see an opportunity and they try to seize it.”
Organized by the State Department in partnership with the U.S.-Algeria Business Council, the conference hosted North African and American entrepreneurs for panel discussions and workshops December 1–2. The conference was inspired by President Obama’s Cairo speech in 2009 and follows the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship, held in Washington last April. (See the U.S.-Algeria Business Council website.)
Entrepreneurship programs at the National Institute of Post and Telecommunications play a major role in preparing Moroccans to lead their country into the future. The INPT opened an annex in Casablanca earlier in 2010 that focuses on leadership, management and marketing training. (See the INPT website.)
Ouabi heads the INPT’s Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) association. SIFE is an international nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing university students “to make a difference in their communities while developing the skills to become socially responsible business leaders.” (See the SIFE website.)
At the conference, Ouabi reached out to entrepreneurs for ideas on how to achieve SIFE goals. “I tried there to look for people who could finance us or orientate us in order to do good for the people we help at SIFE INPT,” Ouabi said.
SIFE INPT projects include Green Taza Ecotourism, which supports rural poor by bringing tourists to villages to experience “traditional” Moroccan living, and Deco Bayti, which helps women with disabilities run a sewing cooperative.
Entrepreneurism is a growing movement across North Africa.
“I learned about entrepreneurship in other countries, even here in the Maghreb, and I don’t have the opportunity to see that every day,” Ouabi said of his experience at the conference.
Hamza El Fasiki, a student at Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah University and member of the Moroccan Association of Friends of English, said he also benefitted from meeting like-minded business pioneers at the conference.
“While networking, I grasped a lot … of the methods that I can use to implement my microfranchise project,” El Fasiki said. “A bunch of business cards and direct advice helped me set my specific path to go on in entrepreneurship.”
Three months ago, El Fasiki began laying the groundwork for a microfranchise project modeled after Fan Milk Limited in Ghana. The project provides bicycles with coolers to unemployed Moroccans who will roam neighborhoods selling refrigerated products.
“The project is a ready-made, low-risk project that can help poor people and unemployed people to get jobs,” El Fasiki said, adding that companies benefit by moving the products in untapped markets.
El Fasiki said promoting entrepreneurship among Morocco’s youth is an important component to attracting overseas business. Partnerships between American and Moroccan entrepreneurs, he said, will lead to more investment in Morocco’s economy.
Economics aside, El Fasiki said attending the conference boosted his belief that one person can make a difference. During a question-and-answer session, one of the speakers called El Fasiki a “young social entrepreneur.”
“You cannot imagine how this expression touched me,” El Fasiki said. “Thanks to this, I received so many invitations from lots of organizations and universities to collaborate in one of their entrepreneurial programs.”