If I asked you to name the country that comes to mind with the following characteristics:
- Population about 35 million
- Big exports include automotive, natural resources, and agricultural products
- A constitutional monarchy, with a prime minister and 2 level legislature
- Stretches across the northern end of a continent
- Geo-politically, if you look at its borders to the North and South, on one side is a harsh, sparsely settled wasteland with a wild beauty, while on the other side is an economic and cultural powerhouse with whom it has a free trade agreement.
Given the title of this blog, you will be forgiven for answering Canada, but in fact, this also describes Morocco, where I’ve spent four weeks working pro bono with IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) for AMDIE, the Moroccan government agency responsible for promoting Morocco as a place to invest, and helping Moroccan Exports.
After our team finished updating and validating their IT Vision and strategy I spent a week on vacation in Morocco and Spain with my wife and her sister. As we were headed north to Chefchouen, a beautiful blue city in the Rif mountains, our driver Youssef discovered our nationality and said “Canada? My dream is Canada!” He then proudly showed us his Canada Goose jacket to demonstrate his sincerity.
Youssef’s spontaneous praise of Canada got me thinking about the differences and similarities between our countries. While superficially, trading out the Sahara (in the south) for the Arctic (in the north) and European Union for the USA, they seem quite similar, they are worlds apart. Morocco is working hard to pull itself into the modern world –the main roads are excellent, this past week the King cut the ribbon on a brand new TGV high-speed train that runs from Casablanca to Tangiers. Modern windmills generating electricity are seen on mountain tops. AMDIE is actively promoting the key benefits of Morocco – stability, proximity to markets, tolerance, increasingly educated workforce.
But in a reasonably large Moroccan city like Chefchouen, at least some people are still using the public fountains for basic water. And we saw women washing the family clothes in rivers many times as we drove through the country. About ½ of people under 35 are unemployed. While those kind of things still happen in pockets in Canada, it is pretty rare. In Canada, we hear about these types of issues in some small northern communities (mostly First Nations or Inuit), and it is seen as a tragedy that needs to be fixed, not as the ‘normal’ way of life.
I was surprised to hear the Morocco share’s Canada’s interest in diversity. Despite Morocco being 98% Muslim and about the same percentage being ethnically similar, many Moroccans talked to us about the importance of encouraging diversity in all dimensions. One of my favourite things about Canada is our openness to others and tolerance of other people’s ways. Like most things that people claim represent their countries ideals, you can find many ways we fail at this. But of the 4 “Canadians” on our 15 person CSC team – one was an American who married a Canadian, 1 was from France, who also married a Canadian, the third was an immigrant from China. Only 1 (me) was born Canadian. What’s remarkable about this is that it is pretty unremarkable in Canada. Generation after generation came to our country, and by and large, brought the best parts of their country and heritage, while leaving whatever divisions and animosity they had behind.
I have many fond memories of friends I made in Morocco and the experiences I had there. It is such a privilege to be able to experience living in other cultures and having a chance to contribute in a small way to their country’s growth. I look forward to visiting again and seeing some of the places I missed this time. But like our driver Youssef, my dream is Canada.