What if Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia joined forces to solve their social problems?
It’s a germ of an idea that a small number of young Maghrebis believe could help solve a number of their national social ills, as well as tie the regional entrepreneurship ecosystem more tightly together.
Ayoub Ammar from Casablanca, who cofounded Morocco Leadership Academy and Tibu Basketball, has been seduced by the pan-Maghrebian approach.
He said events that brought together people from each country strengthened the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem because it allowed members to meet more “people who operate in the same cultural context as ours and face the same challenges as us”.
During a hackathon last week, 26-year-old Tunisian entrepreneur Elyes said he wanted to “know social issues in Algeria and Morocco and discover the specific challenges that entrepreneurs meets there, and mostly contribute to developing solutions”.
One event, three countries
The hackathon itself, the Maghreb Social Night Challenge on June 17-18, invited Maghrebis to find entrepreneurial solutions to several local social issues in Algiers, Casablanca, and Tunis.
Participants - 30 from each country - were, or became, aware of the many issues they share such as youth unemployment, difficult access to health and education, and marginalization of certain populations.
Each country chose an issue to give neighbours to work on: Tunisians choose the professional reintegration of young prisoners, Algerians, the lack of economic opportunities for rural women, and school dropout rates in rural areas in Morocco.
“The idea of this challenge is to mark the premise of a collaboration and concrete actions between our countries,” said the manager of Espace Bidaya in Morocco, who asked to remain anonymous, which organised the event alongside the Algerian Startup Initiative from Algeria, Espace Bidaya in Morocco, and Lab'ess in Tunis.
“We all have the desire to work together to [create] a connected and unified Maghreb,” she added.
Despite technical difficulties, participants were able to ask questions to their counterpart in other countries to better understand the challenges, the local conditions, and exchange with other teams.
The advantages of a unified Maghreb
Moroccan freelance consultant in social development, Rokaya, who did not give her surname, wanted to know more about social entrepreneurship and to share her 10 years of experience working with NGOs.
“I was curious to know more about the concept of [social entrepreneurship] and discover new tools and new people,” she told Wamda.
Yasser Khairy is the Casablanca-based founder of blood-donation app Blanky and has the same wish. “For a night, we put ourselves in the shoes of our Tunisian and Algerian brothers, and we found solutions to our issues together. The main result is this exchange, this friendship and these positive vibes that get rid of all the politico-social limits and restrictions.”
The need for execution and sustainability
The idea of creating pan-Maghreb entrepreneurship networks is not new. At the US-Maghreb Entrepreneurship Conference in 2012, for example, business leaders and government officials talked about how to lift commercial ties through entrepreneurship.
But the way these ties are most likely to grow is through grassroots efforts, aimed at issues that entrepreneurs care about or are in a position to affect.
The solution that won the Moroccan challenge was ‘bus magic’, by one of the two Tunisian teams. Its mission was to help with student transportation in remote areas.
The Algerian challenge was won by the second Tunisian team, who developed a training and mentoring project for women around the production and sales of regional products and handcraft.
For the Tunisian challenge, one of the Algerian teams won. With its idea of a ‘made in prison’ label, the team wanted to commercialize products made by prisoners to teach them a skill and help them save money to reintegrate society.
The three incubateurs hope these ideas will transition into real initiatives. To motivate and help participants act, the three organizations will offer free business incubation.
Even if none of those ideas turn into a concrete project, the event was a success because it laid the groundwork for a community of aspiring and actual entrepreneurs in Maghreb, raised awareness, and facilitated skills sharing between the three countries.