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Immersion Experience – USAID: Morocco Trip

Five HBS students volunteered for two weeks over winter break to consult for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Morocco. Their project was to advise USAID on what policies the Moroccan government could adopt to encourage private sector development of domestic wind energy in a country that imports 93% of its electricity generation resources.

On our last full-day in Morocco, we boarded an early morning train to Fes to see the famed market of Morocco’s oldest imperial city. It was a rare day off for the team after spending the previous two weeks consulting for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Stepping out of the taxi into the market was a shock to the senses: a mixed smell of grilled kefta and raw leather from the tanneries; shops displaying a rainbow of spices; the click-clack of donkey hooves on cobble-stone; the aggressive hustlers trying to earn a few dirhams from tourists. While Fes is a city that one can spend years exploring, we were only able to spend 6 hrs in this chaos before heading back to Rabat. On that return trip, we shared a cabin with 4 Moroccans with whom we communicated by offering figs, dates, and clementines – essential staples of Morocco’s culture. And, for our team of 5 HBS students, that day symbolized our last two weeks in Morocco: a short, intense experience working in a culture of warm and inviting people.

When we began the project two weeks earlier, we hadn’t anticipated such an experience. Our project team was composed of ECs and RCs: Marwan Chaar (OD), Richard Chung (NI), Jon Doochin (NE), Alla Jezmir (OE), and Marc Oman (OA). On our first day, we met with the project sponsors from USAID who briefed us on the project scope: we were to analyze Morocco’s electricity market, evaluate potential investments in wind energy, and advise USAID on what policies the Moroccan government could adopt to encourage private sector investment. After our discussion with the Economic Growth Program Manager, who would be our day-to-day liaison, we left the USAID office to meet the U.S. Ambassador to Morocco, Thomas Riley (HBS ’75), who had graciously invited us to his home. While we drank cups of sweet mint tea, Ambassador Riley shared stories (and pictures) of his time at HBS with President Bush, his experience as an executive in Silicon Valley, and his plans when he leaves his post as ambassador.

Our “orientation” to Morocco that day was seemingly gentle compared to the 9 days that followed. USAID had set up a whirlwind of meetings for us with key stakeholders in the nascent renewable energy industry: high-level representatives of the national electricity provider, the Center for Renewable Energy, a potential private developer, manufacturing companies, and a trade association whose members were potential users/developers of wind farms. Through the HBS alumni network we contacted the co-President of Attijariwafa Bank, Morocco’s largest bank, and a fund manager of BMCE Capital Finance, who helped us understand his criteria for investing in this uncertain sector.

After numerous meetings, and with sufficient information in hand, our team split into two groups: one to build a financial model for investing in a wind farm and the other to create the presentation summarizing our key findings and recommendations. The days that followed were reminiscent of one’s 1st semester at HBS: rising early in the morning, meeting with the team to discuss the day’s game plan, working through the afternoon, reconvening in the evening to update each other on our progress, and continuing to work late into the night – the only difference with HBS being our frequent breaks throughout the day for mint tea and clementines.

When the final day of our project sneaked up on us, we presented our findings at the Embassy to the Ambassador, the Deputy Chief of Mission, other Embassy staff, and the USAID Deputy Mission Director, Economic Growth Team Leader, and Economic Growth Program Manager. The presentation jostled some discussion on the most efficient way for the Moroccan government to encourage private investment and for the U.S. government (through the Embassy and USAID) to support this development. Feedback from our sponsors at USAID was extremely positive and they were pleased with our thorough analysis and recommendations. It was the successful culmination of two weeks of intense work by the team with critical support from USAID.

We’ve only been back for a week, yet thoughts are already flying for a continuation of this partnership with USAID next year. As the line goes in the iconic movie Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

January 26, 2009
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