New York – A recent article polling Moroccan professionals shows an alarming trend of people under age 35 looking to move to other countries in search of better compensation and working conditions. According to the article, 74% of those working abroad wish to come back and invest their skills in Morocco; however, lack of local resources and poor responsiveness by companies prevent them from doing so. According to the article, Moroccan physicians are particularly dissatisfied with being sent to distant parts of the country to work for low salaries. They frequently have to serve in regions with underdeveloped infrastructure, which motivates few people to pursue this career.
But this situation is about to change as a result of a developmental process and a progressive, visionary strategy that can best be described as the Moroccan Renaissance. Already, Morocco has been making progress on the issue of energy, first by building an impressive solar plant in the Sahara, second by cooperating with other countries to build a trans-continental gas pipeline which would help send power to remote areas, third by building several nuclear power plants in different parts of the country, and fourth by planning several dam projects and desalination plants that would address water shortages. As the country opens up business opportunities in the West, it seeks to attract investors to water-related projects and technologies.
Meanwhile, cities around the country are undergoing renovation and build-up. New cultural facilities are rising up from the debris of condemned houses and beautiful new architecture is transforming the landscape, even in cities such as the relatively mild Rabat.
These developments show a glimpse of Morocco’s concerted efforts to highlight its visibility in the African and international scene. What started with King Mohammed VI’s tour of Africa led to the strengthening and renewal of important relationships with many countries across the continent, while also positioning Morocco as a central and rising actor in politics and development of the continent. At the same time, Morocco has been pursuing security and business ties with Europe. It has also been engaging in cultural activities in the Middle East. Moroocco is becoming an increasingly popular vacation destination for American tourists, who are beginning to discover the diverse appeal of the country. Still, in order to achieve its goals in becoming a country fully integrated in the international community and in being seen as more than just an exotic tourist spot, several developments need to happen. Some are already in the works.
The Path to Economic Liberalization
First, Morocco needs to open up to internal competition and privatize many of the sectors that are currently entirely government-controlled or heavily dependent on government sponsorship. Coupled with investments into infrastructure, this would address the issues that are driving would-be doctors away from practicing medicine. However, privatization alone will not solve the problem and without taking steps to combat the inevitable side effects of the phenomenon, there may be unintended consequences that will cause more internal dissatisfaction. A crackdown on government corruption, already in its nascent stages in certain cities, will provide public reassurance that bureaucrats will not manipulate the system to exercise monopolistic control over developing industries, thereby leaving regular Moroccans scrambling for scraps as a result.
Simultaneously, creatin civil society initiativesimed at private assistance to the poor and other vulnerable segments of the population will help ensure that those dependent on government services will not be left behind as a result of aggressive competition. A new competitive country would require a gradual transition because with bigger financial rewards come bigger risks, and implementing changes too quickly, even for a potentially better future, would not end well.
Integrating Civil Society
However, there are a number of social and cultural initiatives that would benefit from private involvement and investment. NGOs and private businesses could lead the way in development of these initiatives, which would also generate additional jobs. Reconstruction of employment structures towards more competitive model should starts with the sectors that do not initially hold significant risks, opening up other sectors will be easier. Government services would also be restructured towards more efficient models over time.
Many government jobs could be eliminated, but these functions would be naturally picked up by the private and non-profit sectors. For instance, medical doctors could open up private offices, and spend a portion of their time in more profitable private practice, that would compensate them for the time spent in public hospitals – ensuring that even poor patients get adequate medical care. That would likely require the restructuring of the insurance system, as well as greater investment in underdeveloped regions, where few doctors want to go, and where there is little opportunity to become financially successful. Such a system would face challenges, but it would also be merit-based. It would reward initiative, entrepreneurship, and investment in education rather than excessive control by a bureaucracy, which kills off opportunities for individual ideas.
However, talented Moroccans who wish to see their country prosper and benefit from increased opportunities should not wait for the reforms to trickle down from the government. They should actively contribute to the Renaissance by thinking globally, not just locally, and promote their businesses to the West, particularly the United States, which alone has a potential market of 330 million people. India and China should also be explored, along with other places with growing upper and middle classes and with a potential interest in luxury goods, craftsmanship, and other products that Morocco has to offer.
Growing Business Relationship with the United States
Promoting business in the U.S. should be an active process that involves several simultaneous steps: 1) networking with industry practitioners; 2) setting up expos to showcase available products to the public; 3) designing online platforms to introduce goods to the marketplace; 4) conducting specific market research on the demand for particular goods; 5) facilitating contact with US government officials; and 6) actively participating in local U.S. cities and their relevant organizations. An example of this final step is M.A.N.Y. (Moroccan Americans in New York), which is an organization that helps community members traveling to and from Morocco with various local arrangements, social issues, and promoting small businesses. It would be a good contact for new entrepreneurs looking to enter that market. Boston, Washington D.C., and Dallas, which all have significant Moroccan communities, may have similar non-profit or community organizations. These activities will also help the entrepreneurs attract domestic and foreign investors to grow their businesses inside Morocco. Internal investment and local entrepreneurship could also be encouraged through private investment into incubators and competitions such as Shark Tanks.
One example of a creative local idea that is now reaching international audiences is the Marjana Cooperative outside Essaouira, a collective run by women that produces the widely popular Argan oil. It started in 2005 to address the lack of employment opportunities for women in the region and has since grown from 25 to over 60 women working to produce high-quality oil for cooking and cosmetics. They lead demonstrations of their process, have opened a restaurant, and now have a large store with various products that are also sold abroad.
Simultaneously, the cultural blossoming of the country is in full force, with dozens of cultural and artistic festivals taking place in Morocco annually, as well as many other regional events involving Morocco as a participant. All of that, however, is just a start. Morocco is looking to revive industries that have fallen in popularity, as well as to develop new pursuits that can make it one of the cultural leaders in Africa, thereby introducing Moroccan culture to the world.
Moroccan cuisine is already well-known in many large cities around the world, but with the help of an active entrepreneurial mindset, it may eventually make it to parts of the U.S., Europe, and even Asia, which has had little exposure to this culture. Sushi in the U.S. proves this strategy’s success. Sushi was once considered an exotic delicacy, but it has now become so popular that even small towns in the middle of America have sushi restaurants. To promote Moroccan culture, there should be three concentrations: 1) support of new and fresh public relations campaigns; 2) financial investment, both public and private; and 3) partnerships with national and international organizations that can work congruently to achieve these goals.
Investing into the Arts
While Morocco hosts several film festivals annually (and is trying to organize more), the cinema as a forum has been dying out in part due to piracy and in part due to the availability of other means of watching movies. However, creative thinking can still preserve this forum. In the West, successes that have helped bring the audiences into the cinemas have been experiential and impossible to replicate in the home environment. Investment in 4D technology has made a difference for movies focused on special effects. For more psychological or artsy films, investing in high-quality digitization or film can elevate the art form into a transcendent experience. Rebuilding beautiful cinemas and creating lavish experiences with fancy leather chairs that turn into couches, or even restaurants, are restoring movie nights back to the earlier days of the cinema, when such outings were special and joyful occasions, not simply an easily accessible form of entertainment.
Morocco has an opportunity to replicate the Golden Age of Cinema with the renovation of theaters across the country. Rather than trying to outcompete each other with available technologies, these cinemas can be reinterpreted as experiences geared at the needs and interests of contemporary audiences. For instance, Fez alone has over 80 cinemas that are ripe for restorations. Restoring them would mean reinvesting in the local economies and using them for additional film festivals and other cultural events, which could increase the flow of tourists and investors into the city.
Fez, which is a cultural gem in Morocco with a rich history, is often overlooked in favor of Marrakech, which has been the primary beneficiary of investments and restorations, causing the city to attract the bulk of the visitors. Increasing the number of cities that are engaged in cultural and international events, and hosting a mini-Renaissance in each, would make Morocco a model for the development and revival of historic places. It would also provide opportunities for new artists, business people, and professionals of all backgrounds to get involved in this effort.
Last, but not least, expanding Morocco’s relationship with the United States would benefit both countries and open up a myriad of possibilities for growth and discovery. The young Moroccan population is industrious, creative, and interested in the outside world; many are already living in the United States while looking for opportunities to aid Morocco in various ways. More joint ventures between the U.S. and Morocco would provide opportunities for mutual investment and meeting of common interests.
High Level Government Contacts Can Promote Stronger Relations Overall
Official state visits, for instance, would highlight the importance of Morocco-U.S. cooperation and partnership. The administrations could expand defense and development alliances that would serve as examples for greater engagement between lower-level officials on other issues, which would confirm a mutual openness for private sector industries in both countries.
Moroccans could introduce their luxury goods to the United States market, creating jobs in areas seeking to revive industrialization. Both high-tech giants and start-ups looking for new markets would help Morocco flourish and innovate. Investment into joint scientific research and educational exchange would generate progress in both countries. The more researchers and educators are able to combine their expertise, the more people benefit overall. Cultural diplomacy between the two countries would introduce a far greater number of Americans to Moroccan music and more Western artists and entertainers visiting Morocco would enhance its international image.
Mutual Security Interests
Finally, in regard to security and technology, far more can be done to upgrade both countries’ cooperation for their mutual benefit. Morocco is becoming a cyber-hub of Africa and is already attracting attention from Europe, whereas the U.S., despite its impressive signals intelligence capabilities, has been dealing with certain cyber challenges in both private industries and the government. With the increased involvement of U.S. troops in African counterterrorism operations, closer relations with Morocco should be a priority. For Morocco, that would afford opportunities to expand the influence of its own cyber capabilities, find more allies to combat common enemies, and join international cyber-security leaders in contributing to innovation and the resolution of common problems.
Morocco is progressing quickly. Over the next few years, the Moroccan Renaissance will be fully underway. Coupled with a distinct focus on improving public relations—by developing closer relations with Western media; gaining support for English-language programs; broadcasting Moroccan issues of interest to the West; and welcoming American government officials, think tanks, artists, festivals, and experts from all areas to Morocco for meetings with professionals and young people—Morocco stands to become a prominent leader in the global advancement of culture, science, technological innovation, and unique business ideas.