Foto: Souk Attanmia

Entrepreneurship takes hold among women and young people in Morocco

The successful Tunisian entrepreneurship programme, Souk Attanmia, is now being exported to Morocco. The founders hope that it supports women and young people to develop their own innovative and sustainable ideas.

Rachida Doudjane has long wanted to change Moroccans’ eating habits. Rachida was married at the age of 16 and had to drop out of school before her secondary school exam so she could take care of her two boys, who are now 11 and 14 years old. But Rachida always believed that she could be self-reliant.

“I’ve been surprised that my food has received so much interest from far and wide. People want to taste something new and more healthy.”

Rachida Doudjane
Entrepreneur, W-Healthy Food

Rachida’s idea is simple. She wants gluten-free food, prepared with healthy and organic ingredients, to find its way onto Moroccan dining tables. And there is one particular dish that she has set out to make healthier. It is a dish that many Moroccans eat every Friday: couscous.

“I have been working to develop our traditional recipes for several years so that they can become modern and low-fat. I’ve been surprised that my food has received so much interest from far and wide. People want to taste something new and more healthy,” says the 34-year-old Rachida with a hint of pride in her voice.

Rachida lives in the Guelmin-Oued Noun region, where four out of ten women are unemployed, and where unemployment among young people is twice as high as the national average.

At the end of April, her idea was chosen from among 350 projects to join a new programme called Souk Attanmia – which means ”development market” in Arabic. The programme helps women and young people in Morocco to fulfil their aspirations of becoming entrepreneurs.

Souk Attanmia is supported by the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme (DAPP) and operated by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in close collaboration with the Moroccan Ministry of Economy and Finance, together with various regional players. The selected projects receive both technical advice and financial support.

Supporting women

On the edge of the desert in southern Morocco is Guelmim, a town with a rich history as a pit stop for trading caravans. But nowadays the area needs development and jobs. As a result, the locals see the Souk Attanmia programme as a needed boost that will have a tangible and positive impact on the entrepreneurs there.

“I see it as my mission to help the women in my city and not just those who stay at home.”

Rachida Doudjane
Entrepreneur, W-Healthy Foods

“It gives me hope of a better future for our local community when I see that large international organisations believe in my idea. It is a pat on the back for me and for the other participants when I see the Danish ambassador in our city, because it sends a clear signal that we are not alone with our challenges,” says Rachida.

Rachida Doudjane was one of the ten winners for best entrepreneurial idea. Photo: Souk Attanmia.
Rachida Doudjane was one of the ten winners for best entrepreneurial idea. Photo: Souk Attanmia.

Rachida is not only passionate about organic food. Managing her own business is her way of contributing to the economic development of women in the region.

“I see it as my mission to help the women in my city and not just those who stay at home. I would also like to open the door to young, well-educated women who have knowledge of sales and marketing,” she says, adding that she wants to build a company where most of the employees are women.

Caring for the young, the unemployed and women

In Morocco, Souk Attanmia focuses its support on entrepreneurs based on three main criteria: feasibility, commercial viability and job creation potential. Once these criteria have been met, the focus moves on to  projects for young people, the unemployed, women, and projects with a positive influence on the environment.

“We targeted creative and innovative women and young people in the area who are willing to take a risk.”

Charafddine El Mostapha
Chairman, FREE Foundation

“We targeted creative and innovative women and young people in the area who are willing to take a risk and who have the energy to invest their time in creating better opportunities for society in general. We hope that they can be good role models for other young people,” explains Charafddine El Mostapha, chairman of a regional foundation that supports entrepreneurship, and which is part of the Souk Attanmia project.

Creating jobs for people with disabilities

Another entrepreneur who satisfied Souk Attanmia’s criteria is 34-year-old Maalainine Foulil from the town of Tan-Tan, 850km south of Rabat. His idea is to decorate walls and ceilings with recycled wooden boards, and he hopes that the project can benefit the local community in Tan-Tan.

Photo: Souk Attanmia.
Photo: Souk Attanmia.

Maalainine is one of ten siblings, but only two of them have regular work. He is unmarried, unskilled, and has a physical disability. But this does not dampen his ambition. He sees entrepreneurship as one of the only ways to create work for himself and for others who face the same challenges.

“Employers and companies are reluctant to hire people like me because they have many prejudices about people with disabilities, unfortunately.”

Maalailine Foulil
Entrepreneur, Top Lisar Tantan

“Employers and companies are reluctant to hire people like me because they have many prejudices about people with disabilities, unfortunately,” he says

By participating in Souk Attanmia, he hopes that he can help businesses see people with disabilities as a valuable asset in the workplace. At the end of the day, his ambition is simple.

”I just hope they will start giving us a chance.”

Maalailine has spent more than 10 years as a volunteer in an organisation for people with different kinds of disabilities. He firmly emphasises that his company is not only trying to turn a profit.

“I’m delighted and humbled at being given this chance to make a difference for myself and for others who are in the same situation. That is why I have promised that five percent of my company’s profits will go to the local organisation that I have volunteered for.”

Souk Attanmia receives financially support from the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme. Danish ambassador Nicolaj Harris took part in the launch event. Photo: Souk Attanmia.
Souk Attanmia receives financially support from the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme. Danish ambassador Nicolaj Harris took part in the launch event. Photo: Souk Attanmia.

Capital is not everything

Rachida and Maalailine’s projects were officially selected during a ceremony in the town of Guelmin. Denmark’s Ambassador to Morocco, Nikolaj Harris, took the opportunity to stress the uniqueness of the Souk Attanmia programme.

“Financing is crucial, but non-financial support for those who launch their projects is even more important.”

Nikolaj Harris
Ambassador for Denmark in Morocco

He emphasised the programme’s ability to bring together stakeholders who are working to promote entrepreneurship in Morocco. He added that it was vital that the selected entrepreneurs not only receive start-up capital, but also advice and feedback.

”Financing is crucial, but non-financial support is even more important as entrepreneurs launch their projects. It is also necessary to promote a culture of entrepreneurship among young Moroccans and Moroccans in general. And this is how Souk Attanmia plays a role,” he says.

The ambassador hopes that the selected projects will leave a lasting legacy by inspiring more local young people to set up their own businesses.

In addition to the Danish ambassador, a number of representatives from NGOs, universities, ministries and local authorities took part in the ceremony. Many journalists and budding entrepreneurs were also present.