Entrepreneurship and Economic Growth in North Africa

February 11, 2012
Assistant Secretary Fernandez Addresses 2nd U.S.-Maghreb Entrepreneurship Conference

Just as my Department of State colleagues witnessed the entrepreneurial spirit of the Arab Spring with Jordanian entrepreneurs in Washington, D.C., I experienced that same spirit energizing the halls of the Ryad Mogador Agdal in Marrakech, Morocco.

I recently participated in the second U.S.-Maghreb Entrepreneurship Conference, initially launched one year ago in Algeria just weeks before the uprisings in Tunisia that sparked the Arab Spring. The conference was the annual partnership meeting of the North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO), part of the global alliance Partners for a New Beginning (PNB) initiated by Secretary Clinton in April 2010.

This year the conference was hosted by the PNB-NAPEO local advisory board in Morocco. The 450 conference participants were almost entirely from the private sector, including Maghreb and U.S. entrepreneurs, early-stage investors, prominent business leaders, Maghreb diaspora leaders, job trainers, academics and professors, members of civil society, and youth. The creativity, ambition, and know-how of the people gathered were awe-inspiring; these are truly the people who will catalyze economic growth in their countries and throughout the region.

The three winners of the PNB-NAPEO TechTown Detroit start-up competition, selected on our recent entrepreneurship delegation to the Maghreb, provide an excellent example. Youghourta Benali of Algeria started an electronic payment system that could help address the gap in e-commerce in the region. Dr. Souad Rouis of Tunisia launched the first medical biotechnology company of its kind there. Yassine El Kachchani of Morocco developed an innovative mobile phone application for the restaurant industry in Morocco. These three are perfect examples of the creative minds and innovative spirits who represented the Maghreb at the Conference in Marrakech.

My role as a government official -- and as the U.S. government partner in the PNB-NAPEO inititative -- is to listen and observe that creative process, and to help encourage policies that enable entrepreneurs and young job-seekers to create and grow businesses. In discussions with my counterparts from the governments of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, I came away with the impression that we are all in alignment in the desire to support youth and entrepreneurs to the fullest extent possible.

This is a critical feature of PNB-NAPEO -- to provide a public-private conversation that transcends borders in the United States and the Maghreb. PNB-NAPEO represents a new paradigm of public-private partnerships in foreign policy. Partnerships will play an increasingly important role as public budgets continue to shrink and private leaders, as we heard recently from Davos, are under pressure to respond to the imperative of job creation, especially for youth.

We have come a long way since PNB-NAPEO was launched in December 2010. The more than 20 locally-owned and locally-driven projects created in the past year are a testament to the positive impact PNB-NAPEO is having in the region. Like the local PNB-NAPEO board in Morocco that organized the Conference, we have established local advisory boards to support the partnership's work in Algeria and Tunisia, with a new board in Mauritania just launched and a board in Libya is in the works. It was thrilling to see members of the local boards representing the new voices of the region come together to share ideas for promoting job creation and entrepreneurship in the Maghreb. The current global economic situation has proven the need for innovation in job creation and for economic integration to boost growth. I am certain that the creative minds and entrepreneurial spirit of PNB-NAPEO can help accomplish this.

I look forward to the conference's third installment -- 2013 in Tunisia!

Learn more about the North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity here, and more about Partners for a New Beginning here.Stay connected with the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs on Facebook and Twitter.

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