Coming to Casablanca: The United States and the Maghreb Build Economic Partnership
For businesses seeking to access North Africa's emerging market, NAPEO offers a window of opportunity for long-term sustainability through public-private partnerships
In his 2009 speech at Cairo University, President Obama called for broad, cross-sector partnerships to promote prosperity and sustainable growth in North Africa, focusing on youth, education, economic development and science and technology.
"All these things must be done in partnership," he said. "Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life."
CROSS-SECTOR, CROSS-BORDER: SHARED PROSPERITY THROUGH PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS
The following year, Obama's vision was implemented when the U.S.-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO), a regional public-private partnership (PPP) led by the U.S. Department of State and the Aspen Institute's Partners for a New Beginning (PNB), was launched at the inaugural U.S.-Maghreb Entrepreneurship Conference in Algeria.
Involving the nations in the MaghrebâAlgeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and TunisiaâNAPEO is aimed at fostering regional integration, creating job opportunities for young people by providing education and skills training and nurturing "locally-owned, mutually beneficial partnerships between leaders, innovators, and organizations from the United States and the Maghreb that foster economic opportunity and regional integration," according to a June 7 State Department press release.
"The U.S.-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity is building a network of public and private partners and programs to deepen economic integration among the countries in North Africa," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "These people-to-people contacts have already helped lay the groundwork for cross-border initiatives to create jobs, train youth, and support start-ups."
EDUCATION AND INNOVATION: THE CURRENCY OF THE 21st CENTURY
"ll of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century and in too many Muslim communities, there remains underinvestment in these areas," Obama said in his Cairo speech. "I'm emphasizing such investment within my own country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas when it comes to this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement."
That engagement is being built through NAPEO's biannual policy dialogue, in which American and Maghreb officials get together to advance the shared mission of economic growth, with a particular focus on creating opportunities for the younger generation across a variety of key sectors, including renewable energy, agribusiness, infrastructure, information technology, creative industries and tourism.
THE KIDS ARE NOT ALRIGHT
The focus on the youth is key, as many young people across the Maghreb are neither working nor in school. A report released last month by the World Bank, for example, found that almost half of all Moroccan youth between the ages of 15 and 29 fall into that category.
NAPEO connects the dots between economic opportunity for Maghreb's youth to economic growth in the United States, where many businesses are eager to tap into the 100 million consumers who make up North Africa's emerging markets.
MEASURING SUCCESS IN MAGHREB
NAPEO's stated goal is to "positively impact thousands of young people in the Maghreb through 1,000 new partnerships in the next five years."
The State Department notes several achievements since the launch of NAPEO:
- the formation of more than forty locally-driven partnerships
- the training, mentoring and showcasing of 70 prominent Maghreb start-ups by entrepreneurs and early-stage investors
- the training of 50 creative entrepreneurs in Algeria
- the launch of the annual NAPEO Conference, which convened 450 partners and over 100 trainers, experts and mentors in 2012
- the launch of the Maghreb Start-Up Initiative, the first-ever Maghreb start-up competition linked to diaspora with over $70,000 in cash prizes
- the launch of the Online Partnership and Investor Platform, which hosts 70 NAPEO entrepreneur success stories
In the classic 1942 film Casablanca, Captain Renault (played by Claude Rains) asks Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart), "What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?" Bogart replies, "My health."
Today, American entrepreneurs are coming to Casablanca, but the kind of health that NAPEO seeks is strictly of the economic variety.
Barack Obama. Remarks by the President on a New Beginning, Cairo University, Cairo, Egypt. June 4, 2009. Accessed June 13, 2012.
U.S. Department of State. U.S.-North Africa Partnership For Economic Opportunity: Locally Driven Partnerships That Build Prosperity. June 7, 2012. Accessed June 13, 2012.
World Bank. The Challenge of Youth Inclusion in Morocco. May 14, 2012. Accessed June 13, 2012.
image: Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca (credit: Ferdinand Reus, Wikimedia Commons)