Moroccan Alum at Portland State University Links US-Morocco Social Entrepreneurs
Ahmed Abidine is a global-minded millennial Moroccan with a strong sense of social entrepreneurism. Over the past year, while working on his advanced degree at Portland State University’s (PSU) School of Business, he won the school’s Pitch Fest for the best presentation by a social entrepreneur. A public event, the audience also participates in the judging, which makes the award even more impressive.
His winning project is both entrepreneurial and beneficial to the community. Ahmed was inspired by his leather-working grandfather and designer/seamstress/teacher mother to create, design, and manufacture a line of handmade luxury handbags. What is quite special is that he has a production partnership with Morocco’s Deaf Artisan Group of Marrakech that offers deaf people training and education to become self-sufficient. Ahmed told me that his solution addresses two challenges for Moroccan handicraft projects to be competitive: attaining sufficient quality for global sales and education and training for the craftsmen/women.
So through this project he does both – create a viable product while raising the skills of the workforce. But it is not an easy path. It took two years, working with the Chamber of Moroccan Artisans where a friend was studying the sustainability of Morocco’s leather industry for his Master’s degree, which brought Ahmed to the University of Cadi Ayyad (UCA). His top priority now is linking a new program on international entrepreneurship and business exchange between PSU and the University, which is located in his hometown of Marrakech.
Next for the PSU-Morocco Partnership
Ahmed is keen to promote entrepreneurship in Morocco. He told me that there are hundreds of young people at the University and in Marrakech who are actively engaged in trying to build businesses that can mean employment for the country’s youth. He said that “the seeds have been planted but have not been harvested,” due to a lack of access to financing and support for the entrepreneurial spirit. This is why the proposed joint program is so important. He found a willing counterpart in Professor Abdelaziz Baçaoui who heads the incubator and entrepreneurship program at UAC.
“Entrepreneurs are about creating solutions – not sitting in a classroom and letting someone else take the initiatives,” Ahmed stated. He believes that a lot can be done by bringing coaches and mentors from PSU to meet with the counterparts and students and share knowledge about building research and business cases in support of entrepreneurs, including changes to curricula, how to maximize the impact of an incubator, and what would a long term partnership involve.
The PSU-UCA “international entrepreneurship and business exchange” will be launched on Friday, March 20 and sessions will continue through Sunday, March 22. The goals of the event include exploring opportunities for bilateral trade and investment, establishing academic exchange programs between the schools, setting up the Marrakech Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and strengthening the start up community in Marrakech through, among other efforts, encouraging exchanges between entrepreneurs in Morocco and the US.
The program has three components. The first day will feature presentations from both sides on their respective start up communities, followed by an exploration of the growth industries for trade and investment. The second day will focus on building and rehearsing pitches to be made by Moroccan entrepreneurs to the coaches from Morocco and the US. On the final day, the teams will make their presentations and awards will be made to the winning teams.
Marrakech is certainly a vibrant city with scores of businesses yet to be developed by entrepreneurs who see opportunities where others see challenges. As Ahmed says, there is a long way to go but this event has the potential to catalyze into an annual program of international scope. A number of private and public sponsors from the US and Morocco have signed on as partners and this should enable this innovative project the lift it needs to become a sustainable event.