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Unlikely Education Leader Links Business and Schools in Morocco

Former President Clinton and Moroccan education advocate Mhammed Abbad Andaloussi at the Clinton Global initiative. Photo courtesy Mhammed Abbad Andaloussi.

Mhammed Abbad Andaloussi is one of those people with a knack for getting what he wants, at times without even asking.

He is sitting in his downtown office, with a wall of windows overlooking Casablanca, telling one of his favorite stories: the one about visiting an auto dealer to purchase a van for an education project, and ending up with a free car.

“We talked about the work for a long time…then [the auto dealer] pointed to the vans and told me to pick one,” Andaloussi says.

It’s not hard to imagine Andaloussi inspiring spontaneous generosity – he is a seasoned business man-turned education advocate, who speaks with enthusiasm and passion about the new turn his life has taken, working to improve Morocco’s schools.

In Morocco, about 40 percent of boys and 36 percent of girls attend secondary school, according to UNICEF, and resources at those schools are scarce. Andaloussi began to focus on the country’s education system more than a decade ago, after nearly 35 years in the banking industry, when he founded a non profit called Al Jisr, which means “the bridge.” The mission of the organization was to encourage companies to adopt a local school and take some ownership for its improvement.

Andaloussi’s efforts through Al Jisr, and now running a project that trains high-school students to become entrepreneurs, have gained notice on a global scale. In 2010, he won the Social Entrepreneur of the Year award for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Economic Forum. This September, he won a Clinton Global Citizen award from the Clinton Global Initiative.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton called Andaloussi’s work to link business and education “a model for the Arab world and even for the United States.”

“I was not looking for philanthropy, I wanted true engagement and involvement,” Andaloussi said. “[The companies] were ready to give money, but for me that was not the issue.”

Now one in every four schools in the Casablanca area is involved in these partnerships, and he aims to reach 1,000 schools by 2014. The companies meet with school leadership and help craft plans to address the most pressing needs, determined by teachers and the school community. Some focus on building infrastructure; some on teacher training. The companies decide how much they want to contribute based upon the plan and needs.

The partnership project continues to grow, but Andaloussi has shifted his focus to a new education cause, Injaz Morocco, which involves teaching high school students how to start their own businesses.

Over the course of about six months, students pitch a business idea, build a business plan, sell shares in their company for a few dollars and launch the product or service. Andaloussi has been astounded by the students’ creativity. Businesses have ranged from engineering tools like an automatic houseplant watering device, to running computer literacy courses for teachers and students’ parents.

“Today, everything [in school] is based on memorization,” he said. “We encourage imagination and team work. We transform these students. In the beginning they don’t even speak.”

One of his favorite recent business models is a street art design company called Youth Yell (team pictured below). The students design custom graphics for customers, or work with outside street artists, to create images for T-shirts or posters based on the customers’ preferences.

Lina El Yakhloufi, 18, is one of the students who headed the Youth Yell project.

“Street art is becoming more and more common here in the Arab world, and we chose to work on this,” she said. “Here you can only find street art creations on metropolitan walls, so this gave them a way to share their art in a more legal and profitable way.”

111.bmpThey sold their creations for about $10, and they made a profit. El Yakhloufi shared one of the designs (left), which symbolizes how Arab youth felt unable to express themselves openly, until this year.

After the six months, they were required to wrap up the business, as all the companies formed through Injaz are required to do. Andaloussi said that is to make sure students understand they need to finish getting an education before entering the business world.

El Yakhloufi said her team plans to restart the business in the future.

“I learned a lot of stuff. I was a CEO of a young company for six months, so I did feel that difficulty between management and leadership,” she said. “I think that unemployment is a problem all over the world, not just in Morocco and I think the solution is to teach people about entrepreneurship– creating new companies and working for one’s own business.”

Andaloussi says he is constantly inspired by the students. He hopes that programs like this will ultimately change Moroccans’ attitudes about education and encourage risk taking.

“When you want to innovate, it is always possible,” he said. “We are a developing country, but we can also produce. We can also come up with innovative ideas.”

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