Starting a Women’s Non-Profit in Morocco

 

Farewell Ramadan, hello Eid el Kabir.  Never mind that there are two months between the two.  Two months that were filled with back-to-school and all that that entails with three kids.  Plus there’s the whole women’s cooperative project.  We applied for Cooperative status back in May, and now, five months later, I can confidently say that I’ve been initiated into the high realm of Moroccan beauraucracy.   It’s everything they promised it would be, long, unclear and unexplained, and hopelessly rooted in the ’50s.   The application has gone through 4 different offices and now comfortably resides somewhere at the top level.  Each of us seven founding members is waiting to receive a visit from local authorities to check on us, to see if we are serious about creating a cooperative or something.  And there seems to be nothing we can do to speed up the process, so far only three people have been called on (they come to your house).

Luckily we have a good advisor at the Chambre D’artisanat (Chamber of Handicrafts) who strongly advised us to create  a non-profit instead of a cooperative.  They can both function in similar ways, we can have our training center and restaurant, except that in the cooperative the profit is divided up between the members, whereas in a non-profit it’s not.  It’s a lot easier to create a non-profit, and when I think about it, it’s more aligned with what we are planning to do.  We are planning to train local women in Moroccan cooking, making Moroccan sweets and Western baked goods.  The women are from marginalized situations, from the 10 we have as a starting group 3 of them are raising kids on their own, 3 are illiterate, none have finished high school, almost all are in abject poverty.  The locale we are planning to rent will be set up both as a training center and restaurant (it makes me so happy to type those words, I’m so excited about this project).

So we had our first general assembly a few days ago at the Chambre D’artisanat.  The great thing is that Moroccan cooking and pastry-making is considered a traditional handicraft.  Yeah!  This is exciting for several reasons.  There is a lot of government importance place on the traditional handicrafts like woodworking, leather goods, weaving, etc.  Morocco really has a lot of fine craftsmen and the government knows that this is one of the national treasures.  It’s exciting to be a part of that.  Plus any cooperative or non-profit that is created in the handicraft field is automatically exempt from taxes.  For our meeting, they let us use their super swanky facilities, check out the main door.

 

We had a good meeting.  We talked about how a non-profit is different than a business.   How we hope that it will enrich all of their lives not just financially but in several ways.  Those who are illiterate will receive classes from the get-go to learn how to read.  Those who know how to read will build on that, a few of the women have shown interest in learning English.  We will invite people with cooking expertise to come give workshops and demonstrations.  We will have trainings in hygiene and provide the women with all that they need in terms of medical tests, uniforms and cleaning products to be thoroughly in compliance with hygiene standards (if you’ve seen some of the local restaurants and the staff who work in them, you’ll appreciate this point.  No soap in the bathroom, is all I’m going to say).  We also talked about having high ideals and long-term goals such as: using local products and ingredients and eventually sourcing organic ingredients, supporting other local craftsment e.g. when we buy the furniture for the restaurant it will all be locally made, going back to old methods of cooking (which are invariably healthier).  I told the women not to be scared of the immensity of the project, that the responsibility will be shouldered by all of us.  (Uh, I think I was speaking mostly to myself as I kept repeating those words several times during the meeting).

For me, this project is immensely personal and exciting.  It’s creative: dreaming anything up from scratch is.  I need this level of creativity in my life, and Morocco needs it.  And if I can use my creativity compassionately then it’s perfect.  There are also challenges for me here to be faced, such as delegating tasks.  There are a lot of people who want to volunteer with this project and I need to organize them into teams, an advertising team, a crew to work on the space, etc.  I’ve had some freakouts about this project, I get scared that it will be too much or that I won’t be able to give it as much as it needs to be a success (not unlike those dreams I used to have when I was pregnant.  I think freaking out about things means they are real to me).  Honestly switching from the idea of a cooperative to a non-profit was a huge relief, it feels right.  It doesn’t feel so much like I am trying to open a restaurant (people in the restaurant business keep telling me how hard it is, I believe them) , rather that I am helping set up a training infra-structure for marginalized women that will sell food as a way to support itself.

When I talk about the project, it strikes a chord with a lot of people.  At this point in history, it’s time for women to shine.  To learn, to grow, to speak, to be heard, to live in safety, to believe in our power.   To nurture our spiritual bond with the Creator, ar-Rahman ar-Raheem, the Compassionate, the Bestower of all bounty.

 

15 thoughts on “Starting a Women’s Non-Profit in Morocco

  1. Amazing idea! I’ll be moving to Marrakesh after next summer, and will be teaching English. One thing I considered was tutoring/teaching English and/or French on the side, for free of course. Perhaps I’ll check in then and see if you need help🙂

  2. Hi Nora, I am a Peace Corps Volunteer living near Rabat (an American organization – we have volunteers living all over Morocco). I keep up with your blog but haven’t yet commented and just wanted to say that you are doing amazing work with getting this nonprofit off the ground! I work with Peace Corps Morocco’s Gender and Development committee and we try to inspire volunteers to do projects to empower women and provide women with new tools and resources. If there’s ever anything I can do to help you in your initiatives please reach out to me. Good luck and I look forward to keeping up with your great work!!

  3. MashaAllah, what a beautiful initiative! May Allah bless you, guide you and help you in the success of your non-profit project. Aïd moubarak to you and yours!

  4. T’bark Allah alik! Great post and inspiring. I lived in Morocco for 2 years (Peace Corps) and dealth with my share of bureaucracy. In the end, the help of some good folks and the merit of my cause (I think) helped me finish. Moroccan women can be so creative and strong. Sometimes they just need someone brave like you to show them they can organize and advocate for themselves. Look forward to seeing how this project progresses.

    Allah aoun’k.

    Eliot

  5. Hafsa says:

    Just amazing Nora! I’m so happy for you. Sounds like you’re on the path to something great. May Allah help you in every step of the way. Keep up the hard work, it will never go unrewarded!
    Big hug for the kids from Jamil and I.

  6. Dear Nora.. I am so glad your dream is becoming a reality.. you are such an inspiration to so many and I am very proud to call you my friend.. please let me help in any way I can….what a great feeling this must bring you to know you will be changing lives for the better. May Allah make this easy for you..Ameen

  7. Fatima says:

    Mabrouk Nora, and may Allah bless you for your patience with the Moroccan bureaucracy. You’re right, you’re going to have to learn how to delegate and not micromanage every detail or you’ll get very stressed out. Once it’s off the ground, you’ll have to learn how to write proposals for grants. A good place to start is with the Peace Corps volunteers who know what PC proposals should look like, which is good practice for writing proposals to larger orgs. You also need a Public Relations person who can connect with local businesses and restaurants so they can contribute ingredients, labour, etc. Much love and admiration, Fatima C.

  8. Molly says:

    So sorry Nora…….I wanted to sit down a while back and write you but the Eid break and the kids took all my time………..a big congrats to you and I pray that your dreams come true. May Allah reward you for all of your efforts. I can’t imagine all the things that are swimming in your head, but inshAllah, patience and love will keep you going. You have such a loving soul, mashAllah, and I know you will find success. Please let me know if you need me to help and also when I can stop by and pay a visit. Take care.

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