A short stroll through Casablanca's Derb Ghallef "informal market", with its endless stalls of goods and services, offers a panorama of the entrepreneurial spirit and capacity of Morocco's youth: entrepreneurship, innovation and the Silicon Valley.

These are all seductive terms that have been touted by everyone from private sector leaders to politicians as panaceas to a wide range of problems plaguing the world.

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However, in the context of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) - where there is a pronounced youth bulge - these words can still hold meaning and potential especially in Morocco, where four out of five unemployed individuals are inactive and, often, disaffected youth between the ages of 15 and 34.

While the government has been enthusiastic in developing youth entrepreneurship programmes to tackle this issue, the initiatives have had mixed results.

Unproductive youth

Before completely tossing aside their good intentions, however, the government should be encouraged to focus on supporting and partnering with existing initiatives - notably in civil society and the private sector - that have successfully taken the helm in building a youth culture of entrepreneurship.

If provided with the right ecosystem to thrive, the value of these efforts lies as much in their potential to funnel jobs into the economy as it does in their power to enfranchise youth and strengthen their sense of identity within their communities.

Casablanca's Derb Ghallef market [MarocStoun/Flickr]

Like many other countries in the region, the high levels of youth unemployment in Morocco can be attributed to a combination of classic factors, including a preference of public sector employment over private sector jobs, a scarcity of "high quality" jobs that will provide positive returns on education and investment efforts, and a mismatch of skills between the kind of education graduates receive and what the job market needs.

At the same time, these youth spend roughly 80 percent of their time "hanging out" and participating in unorganised leisure activities, as opposed to partaking in "productive" activities, such as volunteer work or joining a civic organisation or club.

This combination of unemployment and lack of organised social participation, unsurprisingly, makes this population at risk for isolation, frustration and potentially engaging in risky activities.

Failed efforts

This all but marginalised segment of Moroccan society presents a spectre for officials and policymakers who do not want a Mohamed Bouazizi on their hands, but a valuable window of opportunity for those who simply do not wish to see a generation waste away.

The government - fully cognisant of the fact that the public sector cannot possibly absorb all of the country's unemployed youth - has been eager to encourage entrepreneurship among youth.

Despite these challenges, the ship of entrepreneurship must be encouraged to stay afloat in Morocco.

 

Unfortunately, these efforts are often met with scepticism before they even get off the ground because of the failure of their predecessors.

Others are overambitious in scale and do not match the reality and Moroccan context on the ground.

For example, in 2006, the government launched the Moukawalati (my enterprise) programme with the goal of creating 30,000 small businesses and 60,000 to 90,000 jobs, with the idea that each enterprise would employ two to three people.

Many banks were wary of the initiative because it closely resembled the "Credit Jeunes Promoteurs", a job-creation programme that was launched in the late 1980s with the aim of granting young graduates with loans to cover up to 90 percent of the costs of their business projects at attractive interest rates.

This programme was largely considered a failure for a number of reasons, including a large number of borrowers defaulting on loans and the inability of many project applicants to develop proper business plans.

Success stories

Despite these challenges, the ship of entrepreneurship must be encouraged to stay afloat in Morocco.

Jamil Wyne, the head of research at the Wamda Research Lab, an entrepreneurship platform in the MENA region, describes entrepreneurship as "a mindset: creativity, critical thinking, leadership, communication skills, and interpersonal skills are at the core, accompanied by openness to risk, teamwork and flexibility".

He argues that not only are these skills needed to be an entrepreneur, but they are also an indispensable requisite for being an employee in any field.

I would argue one step further and say that these are valuable traits to cultivate in any enfranchised, value-adding citizen - especially amongs the youth demographic.


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Programmes such as INJAZ Al-Maghrib have already taken positive steps to cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship among youth.

Last year, the initiative supported close to 11,000 students through hands-on classes that familiarise them with the business world and teach practical skills in entrepreneurship and financial literacy and encourage creativity and imagination.

Enactus, another initiative that supports social entrepreneurship, is headquartered in Missouri, USA, but has generated much gusto in Morocco with a presence on more than 60 campuses in the country.

Last year, the Mohammadia School of Engineering represented Morocco at the Enactus World Cup in Beijing, and managed to take second place - only behind China, the host country.

Finally, programmes such as Startup Your Life aim to link local start-up enthusiasts with mentors and each other and help bring early and seed start-ups across the finish line into thriving enterprises.

Start-ups include daily deal website Hmizate, and DabaDoc, a platform that facilitates finding local health practitioners.

The OCP Group - the largest global producer of phosphate rock and controlled by the Moroccan state - has also dedicated substantial resources into its Entrepreneurship Network to help "foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem" in the country.

This list is far from exhaustive, but is enough to reflect the growing momentum and positive energy that the culture of entrepreneurship has created among youth in Morocco.

While the fairies of innovation and entrepreneurship will not magically dissipate the hurdles faced by unemployed youth in the country, if cultivated properly, they are a long-term channel for Morocco's youth to contribute to the country's growth and development as valuable members of society.

Sarah Alaoui is a writer currently based in Washington DC. Her work focuses primarily on North Africa. She is also a team member of the American Moroccan Legal Empowerment Network.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera