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Empowering Women for Democratic Participation

by High Atlas Foundation
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Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation

It’s hard to not talk about how much the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted our dependence on social media. For a time it was one of—if not the only—place where people were able to come together and share time with the people about the things they love. Businesses took notice of this, and if they weren’t all-in on social media and its importance in reaching consumers before, they definitely are now.

Without the right tools for harnessing the power of social media to grow a business, it can seem daunting, even for those who are familiar with the larger platforms. That is why the High Atlas Foundation has made it a priority to get these tools into the hands of women-led cooperatives throughout the Marrakech-Safi region. One of the largest cooperative sectors in Morocco is the argan oil trade. Argan oil is mostly known for its moisturizing qualities, but it also has uses for cooking as well. Through interactive workshops and online training, volunteers and team members are helping women’s cooperatives establish a crucial online presence in a crowded argan oil market.

E-marketing, through social media in particular, has shown promise and has proven to be a resourceful tool for women’s cooperatives. Most rural cooperatives rely on word of mouth to generate traffic through their store. If one has the right connections, they can sometimes get their products into a larger market in a nearby city. In workshops provided by the High Atlas Foundation, these women-led argan oil cooperatives have created online stores and social media pages and have learned how to reach an audience outside of their town and local market.

Cooperatives everywhere understand the importance of expanding their reach through e-marketing. With a focus on e-commerce through social media integration, women-led cooperatives in rural Eastern Europe reported an 86 percent increase in sales, and 93 percent forged new partnerships over a two-year period. These new partnerships could serve to be especially useful to some argan oil cooperatives in the Essaouira Province, which also rely on selling their raw materials to larger companies to make products like shampoos and beauty products.

Social media can serve as a crucial tool for cooperatives in marketing their products. However, just as important is creating an online presence that people can trust and relate to. This is best understood through the words of Jayen Mehta, Senior General Manager of the marketing team behind one of India’s most successful milk cooperatives, “Don’t be an advertiser. Be a content creator.”

An effective e-marketing campaign can include content such as stories, positive customer reviews, and recipe ideas. Staying relevant and switching up social media content while keeping a clear goal can help to create engagement between the cooperative and its followers. These principles were reinforced through High Atlas Foundation’s coordinated training at two argan oil cooperatives in the Essaouira Province this October.

E-marketing can increase the capacity to reach new markets and create new partnerships to help grow an argan cooperative. With a higher demand for argan products, we would expect to see a greater need for more women to join and work at a cooperative. As echoed by a former HAF volunteer, the unemployment rates among young women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are 80% higher than that of young men. This is compared to the average gender differential of 20% worldwide. An attainable goal to strive for in conjunction with the continuous e-marketing workshops and support from HAF is to close the unemployment gap between men and women in the Essaouira Province.

COVID-19 made it clear that having a strong e-marketing presence is crucial to the success of a business. The High Atlas Foundation has a commitment to teaching these e-marketing skills to the women-led argan cooperatives of the Essaouira Province. Skills learned at these workshops can translate into reaching a larger consumer audience, developing new partnerships, creating a positive brand image, and empowering women in local communities. Continued e-marketing workshops would only continue to strengthen these communities and benefit the economy as a whole. 

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In early September, I visited the women’s Tamount Ntourite cooperative in Tourite village (Mzouda commune, Chichaoua province) with staff from the High Atlas Foundation’s program Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F). We spent two fascinating days with the Amazigh women who live in this small village as they participated in a training workshop.

The women of this cooperative are responsible for production of thirty different types of couscous. They only started to sell their products ten months ago, and already these are being promoted in different areas of Morocco.

When we arrived at the village on the first day, the women seemed a little shy and introverted, but their warmth towards us was apparent nonetheless. The women represent their culture in beautiful ways. For example, they wear skirts in various patterns and materials on top of their normal clothes, which is very common for this area. It was also explained to me that this area is well known for the traditional weddings and birthing procedures, for which people from all over Morocco travel to this area to experience.

Their president is a very welcoming and energetic woman. Her gratitude toward the other members of the cooperative was obvious, and the members clearly feel the same towards her. From the beginning of the workshop, the women laughed together and with the people from HAF, which created a very nice environment.

The first day of the workshop focused on how to improve their cooperative, especially improving the management structure (i.e., creating a client list, and so on), one of the women’s goals. But one of the important aspects, according to the president, is the fact that their purpose is not solely to earn money. The cooperative offers the women the opportunity to grow, and it offers them a change of scenery from their daily lives. This was illustrated by one of the younger members describing the cooperative as ‘an addiction’ (in a positive sense, of course).

They discussed the challenges they have faced, such as some of them being illiterate, the costs of materials and transport, and difficulties in getting certain certificates to sell their couscous in Moroccan stores. However, they aim to improve their skills and expand their knowledge.

In the past, going to another village would have been a big step; however, because of the cooperative, they are not holding back from taking these steps anymore. It is very clear that the women work closely together, characterizing it with phrases like “working hand in hand” and “everybody completes each other.”

When we returned to the village the next day, I received a different kind of welcome, with the women opening up more because of the previous day’s activities. They had made a very beautiful skirt for me and dressed me in traditional jewelry, which was a very special experience.

On the second day of the workshop, the expert trainer focused on different strategies for solving the problems faced by the cooperative. Exercises helped them make a distinction between urgent tasks and other ones, and organize their budget.

After spending two days with the Tamount Ntourite cooperative, I felt that they are very welcoming, kind and motivated women. It is clear they are very proud of their culture, as they should be!

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Members of the Damnatena Women’s Agricultural Cooperative in Demnate (Azilal province, Beni Mellal-Khenifra region) completed the Imagine empowerment 4-day workshop at the end of August with the High Atlas Foundation’ (HAF) Farmer-to-Farmer and Family Literacy teams.

The women of Demnate built their capacities through this continuous holistic process of cognitive, psychological, social, and economic empowerment with the intention to improve their economic future and quality of life.

HAF’s training courses bring a diverse group of women together to learn from each other, looking critically at their work to build a stronger cooperative. The participants on this occasion included youth and adult women from a range of backgrounds. As the course progressed, it explored these differences and challenged the participants’ views.

The women developed a set of strategies for research, documentation, networking, influencing, training and using media in their cooperatives. However, many of the women who participated spoke about the challenge of acquiring life skills and the search for meaning in their lives. They wanted something in their minds “besides the everyday.”

Where a workshop creates space for the discussion of issues and for questioning the meaning of “a happy life,” this can lead to exploring the problematic connection between life issues and “getting ahead.” In this way the nature of challenges in life can be broadened and the possibilities of social change strengthened.

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When I remember my visit to the Aboughlou Cooperative as a volunteer for the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), it is immediately the very beautiful smiles of the women of the cooperative that come to mind, and the pride declared in their eyes.

On that summer Saturday morning, staff members for HAF, Hajiba, Safaa and Omar, who are responsible for supervising the cooperative, accompanied me to visit the women of Aboughlou.

We took the road towards the cooperative—the road to Ourika, the road of a thousand and one gardens. When we arrived, we appreciated the warm welcome of all the cooperative team, who were quite lovely.

The cooperative was built in 2015 with eight women at the beginning and has grown thanks to HAF, which devoted all of its efforts to supporting and encouraging these women with training and counseling workshops. The women appointed Lalla Rachida as president, and they all started working on local organic products, such as couscous, Moroccan cakes, and other items.

And thanks to these efforts and also to the united commitment of all the women, the cooperative has been able to establish partnerships with national and international organizations and have its products certified by the National Office for Food Safety (ONSSA), and involved in significant exhibitions in Morocco and elsewhere.

My visit to the Aboughlou Cooperative was different from what I expected. I was really surprised to see how well the cooperative is developed in all dimensions (through organization, work strategy, and even the sophisticated and refined packaging of the products provided) and how confident and proud lalla  Rachida was of her collaboration with HAF, which has enhanced the cooperative to its current level.

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At first glance, Mrs. Nezha, and Ms. Hassna look no different from any other rural women in Morocco. They live in a far-away area called Tourit in the Chichaoua Province and lead a relatively common country lifestyle looking after their households. But, that is what appears on the surface.

Unlike most of the rural people in Tourit, they are more independent and proactive in many ways. Above all, they enjoy a degree of financial independence and can support their families.

Their lives changed when a women’s cooperative was established in their area in 2021.

The cooperative produces, markets and sells a range of value-added products such as couscous - a national dish usually made of several crops including wheat, maize and barley.

Led by Mrs. Mnouch, president of the cooperative, all women who work here have different stories to share but one common goal: to make a living for themselves and their families and create employment opportunities for other women in their community.

Now, the women of Tamounte Ntourite participate in the empowerment program and learn about life skills from July 1st to 4th.

The USAID Farmer-to-Farmer program implemented by the High Atlas Foundation in Morocco helps by organizing women's empowerment workshops for these and other cooperative members, and will follow up with an expert-volunteer assignment in order to deliver training on marketing and organizational operations.

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Fatima Zahra Laaribi
Marrakech, Morocco
$30,605 raised of $50,000 goal
 
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