US-backed program hopes to build youth employment opportunities – J. AbiNader

By Jean AbiNader (Marrakech, Jan. 16, 2012) — At Marrakech, the US and its regional partners are hosting the second “US-Maghreb Entrepreneurship Conference” to build the capacity of local entrepreneurs to meet demands for economic growth and jobs. And by ‘local’, they mean the countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. With more than 400 people in attendance beginning on January 17, there is very strong interest to see if private sector values can emerge from people whose talents have often been submerged or limited within state-driven economic models of the past.

Before the conference started, there was a series of 11 “workshops” on topics ranging from a Startup Boot Camp and Becoming an Angel Investor to Venture Capital Best Practices and an Introduction to Google Advertising Networks & Tools. The organizers realized that the attendees needed fewer presentations and more hands-on opportunities to acquire skills to maximize their experience here.

The illluminati have arrived: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute; Mostafa Terrab of OCP – the world’s largest producer of phosphates, based in Morocco; Ambassador Stuart Eisenstat; four former US Ambassadors to Morocco; brilliant economist Hernando de Soto; US Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fernandez; and the newly installed Moroccan Minister of Economy and Finance, Nizar Baraka.

Among the other 50 presenters and panelists are the three winners of last year’s TechTown incubator competition from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Whew. All of this before we even talk about how this is part of the US strategy to assist countries respond to economic issues by accelerating private-public sector partnerships to tackle employment and business development concerns to achieve specific and measurable results. While some have expressed concern about the costs of putting on such a conference, at the same time it brings home the message that probably the best tools that America has to convey to the Arab peoples are those same tools that helped the US become the world’s leading economy.

It all begins with instilling a set of operational principles about work, its value, its role in society, and the necessity of retooling throughout one’s life to respond to the shifting demands of the global economy. It also emphasizes the importance of recognizing and nurturing skills in everyone, not selecting out those who don’t meet certain social or ethno-cultural criteria. So this program is about giving people choices…about options for personal and professional growth, for understanding that job creation is as much about dignity as it is about compensation, and for integrating young people into economies in transition. BTW, the assumption is that this time governments are listening…

Jean AbiNader is Senior Advisor at the Moroccan American Center

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