Agadir... the view out my window. The weather was perfect, the wind and waves heavenly.
Ahhh... my mind is a blur of all the delicious memories of the past week. I traveled to Agadir (on the coast) for our six-month In-Service Training with my 50(ish) fellow volunteers. Half Small Business Development; half Youth Development. IST was much-needed, practical, refreshing and exhiliarating at times.
I started out being self-conscious about my proposed action plan. (In our SBD sector, the goal of the first six months is to do a complete site analysis - comprehensive survey of the needs - and develop an action plan for the remaining 18 months of service, and then present a 15 minute PowerPoint presentation to our fellow volunteers at IST.) I felt I had done so little work in these past months, and that my proposed ideas were either too impractical or overdone. But after thinking and discussing with friends, I was reassured that I had done what I could with the site I was given.
Break between sessions for coffee and orange juice and dipping our feet in the pool.
The day before our presentations, the Ministry of Tourism and L'Artisanat (our Moroccan "boss" in Rabat) gave a presentation of their new economic development strategy 2015. It lasted four hours. I ate up every word. I could see the whole plan, and had a profound number of opinions (negative and positive) about many different aspects. I was fascinated to hear a first-hand presentation of a government's new development strategy. For me, there were two marvelous outcomes: 1) I realized that I absolutely love economic development strategy stuff... and would love to become an economic advisor someday. It reinstilled my love for this field... and proved that I actually do get passionate about something. (The past couple months, I had been rather depressed, partly due to a fear that nothing in my career life would instill sincere passion in me, that I was vainly running after a non-existent state-of-being.) I would love to explain the whole strategy here and present my own opinions, but considering that I work for the Moroccan government and represent the U.S. government here, this is not the time or place for such a discussion. Perhaps when I have more time I can at least briefly expound.
The second outcome, though, pertains much more personally to my work: as the Minister completed his sketch it became apparent that they and I had made many similar observations and developed strategies around the common elements (mine, obviously, only a miniscule part and scale, in comparison). They understood first, that Morocco's artisana sector has potential for export, but that the middlemen/technology/exporters are missing. They are beginning to turn their focus toward aiding the development of these middle players. Many crafts could currently be shipped in small quantities, but shipping is tedious, unpredictable price-wise, not guaranteed, etc. They just established an agreement with DHL and the Post Office to cooperate with their ministry in guaranteeing shipments of artisanal crafts, cooperating with associations, and all artisanal shipments are tax-free. The news was golden.
My plan is to develop a rural shipping center. When my parents came, they wanted to make many more souvenier purchases but were limited by their suitcases. We tried asking artisans if they would ship and they always turned the responsibility back on us. We did not know where to find packaging materials, or where DHL was/how expensive it was (and DHL only exists in big cities, the closest is seven hours from Agdz), etc. It just wasn't an easy process. My idea is to create a full-service shipping center here in Agdz. Packaging service, guarantees, tax-free shipments coordinated with DHL, price sheets, credit-card capacity; and to cooperate with artisans and (carpet) bizarres locally/regionally so that when a tourist is interested in buying something, the artisan or bizarre clerk can easily handle the whole process for them and have the item delivered to their door. I believe that it will stimulate the regional economy in the tourism/artisana sector here, providing a new incentive to buy. I could expound further but it is late.
Several counterparts and the Minister of Social Devlepment discussing PCV presentations during a session..
At any rate, I realized that their brand new agreements with DHL were the exact elements crucial to my plan which I could have little/no influence over. They had just been taken care of; my gamble could potentially become reality. I immediatly set up a meeting between sessions with both the Ministry of Tourism & L'Artisanat and the Ministry of Social Development (which just happened to be the helpful, young energetic delege I had recently started collaborating with in Zagora, teaching in his Guide School), and my program manager, Bouchra. It took a bit of a sales pitch to make them all see how my plan was a key link missing in their strategy (that I was willing to put my back into). Once they grasped it, they quickly offered cooperation. If I could conduct a feasibility study/surveying tourists througout the region to determine if we were right about interest in shipping items, and prove it statistically to them, then DHL, both Ministries, and the Post Office would come to Agdz, hold a meeting to develop a regional agreement for the shipping/holding center - and they would help or possibly fully provide the computers, internet, credit card service, building, etc. I was, needless to say, elated. The idea had gone from "out there" to right in line with the ministry's direction, and possibly ... potentially feasible.
I've got lots of work cut out for me now ... trying to bring as many local assocations and partners on board so that I am not operating in a vacuum, and have the community working alongside me to develop the idea into reality ... sustainability. I feel like I actually have a job to do now!
(There were many other elements of my action plan, and much more I could say about IST, but it is late, and I am very tired and must prepare for my trip to the States, so that's all for now, folks!)