Khalid (left) tells HAF about the challenges of starting a new cooperative and the solutions he and fellow Alaymoune members identified as a result of attending HAF’s training.
By Eliana Lisuzzo
The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) staff has met many driven Moroccan people with big plans to make a difference in their lives and for their communities, enthusiastic to turn their fresh ideas into successful associations and cooperatives. HAF facilitates cooperative-building trainings to provide the necessary tools and resources to ensure their goals are tangible. In the workshops, made possible with funding by the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), participants learn about the core differences between associations and cooperatives, the required legal steps to take for cooperative establishment, accounting principles, marketing and communication strategies, vital administrative tasks, and effective management. On September 5th, HAF was able to reconnect with members of two relatively young Oujda-based cooperatives who previously attended training sessions.
First, we sat down with Khalid, a co-founder and member of the Alaymoune Cooperative in the Berkane Province. Alaymoune, created in 2017 by five men who drew inspiration from an association of carpentry and handcrafts, is a carpentry cooperative with the purpose, Khalid explained, to preserve Moroccan artisanal furniture-making. The furniture produced by members is so well-made that Morocco’s Ministry of Crafts, Social Solidarity and Economy awarded Alaymoune with a certificate for the quality of their products. Despite this recognition, however, Khalid relayed how he and the other members still found it difficult to sell items. They attended one of HAF’s trainings where, Khalid said, they learned a great deal about managing a successful cooperative, including the significance of marketing. As a result of the training, Alaymoune identified a goal: improve marketing by highlighting what is unique about their furniture in order to showcase the pieces in exhibitions as well as to attract customers. “Thanks to the training conducted by HAF, we received many tools to know how we can manage and organize this cooperative, and especially about marketing,” Khalid said.
Second, we met with Souad, a co-founder and member of Slimania. Slimania is a women’s ranching cooperative in the village of Zagzal that Souad created with four other women in December 2017. With a lack of projects in their village and the desire to start one for community benefit as well as to keep busy, the group decided the purpose of their cooperative would be to raise livestock for sale. Like Alaymoune, Slimania was faced with obstacles. Souad recalled how she spent three months navigating the legal process of establishing a cooperative and more time after that marketing Slimania as a worthwhile investment to potential members. Souad found it hard to engage women of Zagzal and encourage them to join as they felt they were not experienced enough nor had the proper training on how to manage a cooperative. Souad later attended a HAF training for which she expressed gratitude for not only learning more details about the legal components of running a cooperative but also how to market one—to both potential customers and, importantly, potential members. Currently Slimania still consists of the original five co-founders, however, Souad expressed her optimism in attracting more local women to join the cooperative after participating in the training.
Both Khalid’s and Souad’s stories highlight the challenges of establishing cooperatives as well as the significant impact HAF’s training has on cooperatives’ development not only due to participants acquiring technical skills and knowledge but also the confidence to implement what they learn. It is clear that such trainings are vital to open the opportunity for Moroccan people who might otherwise not have the required information or resources to establish successful cooperatives. The benefits of cooperatives are aplenty: they help people achieve personal fulfillment, economic advancement, and can unify communities. In addition, the skills as well as financial revenue gained can be applied to the implementation of other development projects that improve communities as a whole.
Souad discusses the different obstacles she came across when establishing her cooperative, her current frustrations, and how HAF helped her come up with a marketing strategy