The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) is a Moroccan-US organisation dedicated to participatory development approaches that build partnerships for projects determined by the participating communities themselves. The HAF philosophy is to create an inclusive process that emphasizes the participation of disadvantaged groups and uses methods of community planning towards the realization of development projects.
The absolute essence of HAF’s work is that communities decide what is in their best interests. In making this decision, HAF facilitates the inclusion of those who might ordinarily be excluded or marginalised and seeks to support the sustainable development of the communities’ rich human resources, in particular women and young people. In training community members to work in participative approaches, the training itself encourages the formulation of ideas, priorities and development projects – as well as ensuring a corps of local leaders trained in techniques necessary for their implementation. In this way, the learning is experiential and participants learn by doing.
Although the backbone of the HAF approach has always been participatory development, the Foundation has come a long way from its roots in the High Atlas Mountains and its first tree-planting projects. Although tree planting is still a key element of HAF’s work, we are now helping the communities help themselves in eight of Morocco’s 62 Provinces and Prefectures.
At the HAF National Team Meeting in Mohammedia earlier this month, we reflected on the growth of our organisation and our vision for its future. HAF was founded in 2000 by former Peace Corps Volunteers as a way to build upon the relationships and knowledge gained during their years of service for the continued benefit of the Moroccan people. Since 2011, HAF has Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.We discussed how our work might translate to other contexts in other countries. We acknowledged that Morocco provides a particularly enabling environment for HAF’s work. The principles of participatory development are enshrined in a number of Moroccan national frameworks and local policies. However, the essence of participation and community-determination are applicable elsewhere – not least, we believe, among our immediate North African, Middle East and sub-Saharan African neighbours.
HAF is an organisation which has not been afraid to challenge convention. Our approach is deliberately inclusive, which ultimately produces truly collaborative and community-led results that include all community stakeholders, especially those who have been historically deprived of a public voice.
In the city of Mohammedia, far from HAF’s rural beginnings, we have a burgeoning cohort of community leaders, trained by HAF at our training center housed in Hassan II University to identify projects in their local communities. It was with some of these students who we discussed the future of HAF. We all believe that with our unique and expansive set of tools, the enthusiasm of our staff, our interns, our partners and our desire to make positive change at all levels of society – but importantly at the community level – the HAF approach is scaleable and can cross national borders. As one of the student interns remarked: “Kolshi Mumkin,” Everything is possible! HAF’s duty is to get the “participation of the people” right in Morocco, which is our best way to serve humanity at large.