The beginning of March 2020 saw the first forum of Act for Community, the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programme of one of the leaders in the phosphate industry, OCP Group.
It was held under the emblematic solar-panelled pergola of the Mohamed-IV Polytechnic University in Rabat, designed and constructed by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill, where the attendees’ dress codes cut a strikingly different profile from those of the students who usually occupy the campus.
In their pristine checked shirts, caps, and sturdy shoes, the guests of the day gave a more rural appearance to the campus forecourt and lecture theatres of this OCP-founded university. Taking over the seminar rooms and the university’s grand amphitheatre were 800 attendees, who had travelled from surrounding territories and further afield, such as the production and extraction sites in Gantour, Khouribga, Safi and Laayoune.
Most came from charity projects based in these territories, to join OCP employees and executives to discuss and present development projects supported by Act for Community (Act4C). “OCP group’s involvement as one of the territories’ social actors is not new; we’ve been doing it for a hundred years – but we are changing the trajectory with Act4C”, explains Nabila Tbeur, “chargée de mission” and in charge of running the programme. “Act4C is a programme that helps employees and executives get involved in high-impact charitable activities locally. It allows them to deduct their time spent on charity work from their working hours, and to work together with local residents to create new programmes.”
Launched in 2017, the programme is believed to have already enabled over 5,500 OCP employees – a quarter of the entire workforce – to donate around 16,600 days to charity work. Introducing the forum launch, Iliass El Fali, Executive Director of OCP’s industrial operations, emphasised the essential role of dialogue between OCP and the communities living near phosphate extraction sites.
2011, the turning point for CSR
The programme is now being managed locally from each operational extraction site, in order to stay as close as possible to its internal human resources.
“Since 2011, OCP has been investing more heavily in training for employability in order to meet societal demands—but it has also been teaching young people initiative and entrepreneurship. It has encouraged them to strengthen their skillset. Until now, we’ve been operating through intermediaries, external training providers. Act4C provides another option: we pool together all of our people skills and apply them directly to making our development programmes a success”, explains Nabila Tbeur.
2011 will remain a significant date in the group’s one hundred-year history: it was a time of rapid expansion for the company, driven by its industrial development programme.
Since then, hundreds of young people have received training in job-seeking, foreign languages, project management, and charity management. Act4C relies on this population in order to seek out “the highest impact” and to share “best practice and ideas”, explains Nabila Tbeur. The forum brings together the various strands of the initiative around four main themes: social and inclusive agriculture, employability and entrepreneurship, culture and artistic creation, and lastly, sport.
Agricultural development through innovation
Lhoussaine Aït Brahim, manager of Khouribga’s brand new multimedia library, explains how the programme works locally: “We want the multimedia library to become a hub for high-quality cultural and educational activities, one that approaches culture as a profession and a vocation, not just a leisure activity. We launched a public appeal that gathered 179 project proposals, half of which were selected to be brought to fruition. We have trained the project leaders in how to present their proposals and cost them, and we are working with them to implement their ideas.” The multimedia library regularly calls on the voluntary sector to lead meet-ups and workshops through thirty or so contracts each year, which benefits local charities.
Elsewhere, it is social farming projects that are being promoted, such as the women’s cooperative running a quinoa-farming trial in the Youssoufia region, or the chairman of this cooperative experimenting with hydroponic fodder production. “OCP group agronomists have supported our project—they came to see us to explain the benefits of hydroponics for feeding livestock. In practical terms, we are managing to produce more forage and equip ourselves to deal with climate variations—this benefits 2,000 families,” explains the chairman of the cooperative from the stage of the grand amphitheatre.
It is not by coincidence that cooperatives are being held up as an example. They help to illustrate the group’s capacity to help communities, in order to develop activities able to survive the droughts that threatened the agricultural year 2019–20. In total, the Act4C programme is working with 26 farming cooperatives, which between them provide 675 jobs and, by extension, support an even bigger number of Moroccan families.
Innovation through practice
In addition to the Mohammed-VI Polytechnic University in Ben Guerir, OCP group has invested in new educational establishments specialising in the teaching and learning of computer programming and development. The “1337” school in Khouribga, inspired by the methods of the “42” school in Paris, along with its sister school in Ben Guerir and the YouCode school in Youssoufia (supported by Simplon), now trains computer whizz kids from all over Morocco.
“Our institutions share the philosophy that you learn by doing”, explains Larbi El Hilali, director of 1337 school. The career path of this kid from Khourigba, a voice from Morocco’s critical blogosphere and the national social movement of 2011, sums up how far the group has succeeded in bringing even the most sceptical minds on board with its drive for development. “Go talk to young people and see for yourself!” he tells journalists at the entrance of the brand-new co-working building called, “P-Curiosity Lab”, situated opposite the university. Inside, a few groups are hard at work.
Among one of them is Rafiq Alami, IT specialist and one of the university directors. He presents the electronic oil quality tests that a group of OCP employees are currently developing with a view to launching them on the market.
Entrepreneurship as an objective
Further along, two young students at 1337, Younes and Abdeslam, present a prototype for a drone intended to spray fields with plant protection products. Their mentor is following their progress closely, ensuring they have all the guidance and resources they need. They have designed the drone’s course of movement and an application for controlling it, ensuring that its full size version will be able to cover 500 square metres of farmland on each outing.
“The point of P-Curiosity Lab is to provide a space for enterprising development programmes. The space will soon feature a Fab Lab, where people can build and innovate right through to the marketing stage of the process”, explains one of OCP’s officers. It will provide the Act4C programme’s training drive with a fertile ground for future entrepreneurs. In total, Act4C is responsible for having trained 490 microenterprises, half of which have already received contracts issued by OCP group, and their local economies. Younes and Abdeslam are full of plans and ideas. Their next goal is to raise 25,000 dirhams (2320 euros, or approximately 2000 pounds) to build a full-size prototype of their drone, so that they can complete the trials.
“Our motto is simple: social innovation for a higher impact on populations”, concludes Nabila Tbeur, when asked to summarise the philosophy of Act4C – a programme that is set to transform local dynamics in mining territories and beyond.