This week, the State Department announced the winners of the 2014 Alumni Innovation Engagement Fund (AEIF). The 60 winning teams will receive a grant of up to $25,000 each to support public service projects. The grant is an opportunity for alumni to make a real difference in their communities, like Ali Aaouine, who won an AEIF grant in 2013 for a project that develops employment skills in young adults.
I had the privilege of meeting Ali in his home community, Imouzzer-Kandar, Morocco, a small city located in the mid-atlas mountains. As an alumnus of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), Ali’s exchange experience in the United States inspired him to assist youth in his community. He discovered natural talents in young people that, with proper coaching and mentoring, could be developed into a sustainable skill. Ali partnered with a former Peace Corp volunteer in Morocco, Bo Ghirardelli, to establish Greenside Development Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to empowering unemployed young adults through new enterprise creation.
Ali submitted a proposal for the 2013 Alumni Innovation Engagement Fund (AEIF) to increase funding for Greenside to develop more entrepreneurial trainings and workshops for the talented individuals in his community. After winning and receiving a $25,000 AEIF grant, Greenside was able to finance and support the launch of 35 new micro-enterprises. Over the past two years, Greenside has created over 70 new businesses in the region that employ over 80 youth in Morocco.
As I interviewed the rising entrepreneurs in his community, I witnessed how the foundation helps individuals develop the necessary skills to succeed in a variety of business endeavors. Fatima, the first woman store manager in her community, expressed that she “wouldn't know how to manage the store or how to perform sales and deal with customers and dealers without the help of the Greenside Development Foundation.” Nadia, a button maker, conveyed her appreciation for the program’s support as well, sharing that “without Greenside Development Foundation, our cooperative wouldn't exist.”
As community members shared their gratitude for Greenside with me, it was evident that the AEIF grant helped Ali produce the change he foresaw in Imouzzer-Kandar, Morocco. With each successful entrepreneur and each independent store that opens, Greenside Development Foundation continues to create opportunities that ultimately strengthen prosperity and security as it multiplies. From artisans to goat farmers to store front owners, “Greenside has cultivated and strengthened the entrepreneurial spirit among us and provided help and inspiration to local youth here to kick-off their own projects,” said Fatima-nezhra.
We look forward to similar success stories from our 2014 AEIF grant winners and the ongoing impact this will have in their communities around the world.
To view the 2014 winning projects, log on to alumni.state.gov.
About the Author: Kelsey Brannan is a video producer in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.