CorpsAfrica in Morocco and Beyond

06/16/2015 02:40 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2016

When I first met CorpsAfrica founder Liz Fanning in Casablanca last fall, CorpsAfrica struck me as an effective model to invest in Moroccan youth capacity-building through development volunteer service. Now, the NGO is expanding to other African countries: Senegal and Malawi. Corps Africa is one of the few NGOs training youth in developing countries as domestic volunteers. In the case of Morocco, I see four major benefits of CorpsAfrica's service model.

First, CorpsAfrica develops Moroccan youth's skills and professional perspectives in their own country through the field of development. CorpsAfrica/Maroc has indeed sought to mobilize the expertise of Moroccan and international actors to strengthen volunteers' skills through an intensive training phase before service in local communities. Volunteers thus go through a four-week intensive training with international, regional and local development leaders, and government officials working on development policy goals and youth programs. Then, volunteers are placed in rural communities throughout the country. During their year of service, they immerse themselves in the community, working with the community to determine what they see as most urgent to address local needs, such as in healthcare, education, water, or infrastructure-building. Once the priority is identified and the project idea turned into an achievable goal, the volunteer is there to facilitate its implementation by the community. The volunteer has the opportunity to confront the theoretical tools learnt in training with the realities on the ground, and to experience all steps of a development project from initial design to implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. Liz Fanning highlights her attachment to this "experiential education" supported by CorpsAfrica, a learning-by-doing model.

Second, by bringing with them project and conceptual tools learnt from experts, CorpsAfrica volunteers contribute to the professionalization of local governance in development practices. Although the number of Moroccan associations has exploded since the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH)'s launch in 2005, many were born without the necessary tools, skills, and previous experience to carry out efficiently and sustainably local development projects. A model like CorpsAfrica supports the diffusion of expert tools and practices that local associations may not be able to obtain on their own. But the CorpsAfrica model resonates to a large extent with the culture of local governance and participation diffused in Morocco in the past few years. CorpsAfrica's vision supports the local appropriation of issues and tools, and "demand-driven development" - designing and implementing projects based on the needs expressed by communities rather in fields chosen ex ante that might not be as relevant in the local context. "For greater impact, development volunteers must learn to act as facilitators rather than serve as assigned project managers," explains Liz Fanning.

Third, CorpsAfrica's model raises awareness among volunteers on domestic development issues, and shows the benefits of their own involvement in their own country's development. CorpsAfrica's volunteers desire to help their own country develop to its full potential, rather than leaving it to foreigners who will not stay on long-term and have no previous attachment to the country. In other words, domestic volunteers want the opportunity to act upon change themselves, rather than giving that responsibility to others. Liz Fanning also underlines local service as more sustainable and strategic: "the cultural and language learning curves are much less steep, international travel expenses are almost zero, and the benefits of the transformative experience on the volunteers themselves will stay in the country."

This transformative aspect of the service is important. For Moroccan volunteers often from educated and urban backgrounds, immersing themselves in remote rural communities is also an experience that entails a lot of personal learning. Through their service, volunteers get to see their own country in a completely different way, outside their comfort zone. Being confronted with drastically different ways of life within Morocco challenges their views, beliefs, habits, and misconceptions.

How can CorpsAfrica evolve in Morocco? Liz Fanning hopes to enhance the diversity of backgrounds within the cohort in the future, and contemplates reaching out to older volunteers who may have either a professional or a personal interest in the program. CorpsAfrica is also investigating the possibility for volunteers to serve in their own communities. Finally, while sending volunteers to rural communities has been the model until now, Liz Fanning sees avenues for service in urban communities on the long-term, as urban areas face acute development issues of Morocco in terms of extreme poverty and socio-economic exclusion.

And beyond Morocco? Liz Fanning affirms her belief in a culture of inter-continental African service to address broader development issues and promote understanding and opportunity across the continent. With the organization's upcoming expansion to Senegal and Malawi, CorpsAfrica's efforts to address development issues on the African continent through inter-African service cooperation are taking a new turn.