Changing Business Perceptions One Company at a Time
I recently attended a rather thoughtful business conference on US-Arab Business, aptly titled the “C3 US-Arab Business Summit 2014.” C3 stands for collaboration, community, and commerce, and its founder, Ransel Potter, has developed the summits for the “sharing of best practices in an effort to advance ‘commercial diplomacy’ between the two regions.”
The sessions moved beyond the usual “how-to” guides and success stories to focus on issues such as the impact of water, advocacy, and cultural ethnicities on regional relationships; the importance of intellectual property protection; opportunities in infrastructure development; and the insights into how women can become more integrated into a country’s economy, ably presented by spokespersons who have practical experience in promoting women in the workforce.
This year, several topics highlighted issues that continue to challenge governments as well as private sectors: for example, why corporations should consider local human capital development in their strategic planning, the importance of knowledge transfer in the health and sciences sectors, and how to communicate with Gen Y.
For me, there is great sensibility in this type of program approach that explains business opportunities within the larger context of the regional and cultural environment. Yet I found that, true to the line in the movie Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money” was also a driving force, as the great majority of presentations dealt with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries whose enormous energy-export driven sovereign wealth funds and pool of experienced local companies overwhelm market opportunities in non-energy exporting countries.
Addressing the market prospects in a smaller economy like Morocco’s is a challenge I often face in these kinds of forums. And I was quite alone. The only other country from the Maghreb was Tunisia, whose representatives focused on social, educational, and cultural issues. So where does one start? The first step is to move beyond the “Casablanca” effect and Rick’s Café and describe the wholesale changes that Morocco has made in its business environment in the last 15 years. Companies are surprised to learn that more than 100 US firms are active in Morocco, and some of the giants of the industry, like Cargill, Boeing, and GE, have a significant presence there.
More importantly, Morocco is not just a market of some 32 million people but actually serves as an effective and efficient platform for driving business into west, central, and Atlantic Africa stretching to Nigeria. With its infrastructure, networks, cultural understanding, and long historical ties, Morocco is well positioned to enable US firms to navigate three challenges in opening new markets: finding the right partners, dealing with local governments and regulations, and minimizing risk by making informed choices.
I have worked in the GCC so I can understand and appreciate the attraction of the glitter, but doing business there is not for the faint of heart. As Danny Sebright, President of the US-UAE Business Council remarked, for small firms, one trip to the Gulf may consume their entire year’s market research budget. When one considers that the GCC itself is heavily invested in Morocco, then the benefits of investing in a smaller, regionally focused market become clear. Gulf countries appreciate Morocco’s stability, keen appreciation for business partnerships, and recognition that it can only thrive through global commerce – these are at the center of the country’s commercial ethos. So if one is intent on following the money, then it makes sense to look at opportunities in Morocco across a broad range of sectors, in the country and throughout the region.