A recent six-day Practical Impact Alliance (PIA) Co-Design Summit, organized by MIT D-Lab and Moroccan PIA member the Phosboucraa Foundation, convened a group of local and national stakeholders, PIA members, MIT D-Lab staff, and aspiring local entrepreneurs working to create collaborative solutions to economic and social development challenges using D-Lab’s participatory design methodology. The summit, which took place in the city of Laâyoune in the Western Sahara, focused on youth entrepreneurship with the goal of catalyzing innovation and entrepreneurship in the region.
“Our work in general focuses on areas where there are needs in terms of economic and social development, and the choice of Laâyoune came through Phosboucraa Foundation, who asked us about the need to develop a new strategy to promote youth entrepreneurship,” explained Saida Benhayoune, co-lead of innovation practice at the D-Lab.
The summit, she said, was an opportunity for young, aspiring entrepreneurs to be in the spotlight, supported by local and national ecosystem actors. She noted that this is a way to “bring these young people on a path to creativity and innovation.”
The entrepreneurs who participated in the summit had the opportunity to create solutions to socioeconomic challenges in their region.
“It’s not just about the opportunity to grow a business and the potential increased income; it’s also about opportunities and identifying your own potential and building confidence,” said Mohamed Fadel, a young entrepreneur from Laâyoune, who was asked about his experience during the Co-Design Summit. The summit stressed the importance of co-creation with regards to entrepreneurship, attempting to change the perspective of the participants towards a more collaborative approach. Fadel acknowledged how his thought process changed saying: “I initially thought to try my ideas for a business on my own, but now I see that it is easier and there is greater potential to advance further as part of a team.”
While the summit had a primary focus on local entrepreneurs, the experience proved to be a growth experience for all participants.
The biggest learning [from the week] for me was how to have the entrepreneurs go through the steps of the design and mindset tools … [and] then use the tools themselves,” remarked Naa Ayeleysa Quaynor-Mettle, the sustainability project manager at Fan Milk Ltd., a subsidiary of PIA member Danone. “It was an example of how I can support and learn by leading from behind and encourage them to own their decisions.”
Several PIA members learned new strategies from the summit to apply towards their own development work. Stephen Njuguna, a project coordinator and consultant of Safe Water Enterprise Project of Siemens Stiftung in Kenya, explained: “After going through the co-design process, one is able to come up with solutions that will address the needs of the target audience. In the ordinary way of designing we tend to rush to the most obvious solutions at the very beginning due to their convenience, cost, attractiveness, and ease of implementation.”
Now, MIT D-Lab staff and the Co-Design Summit participants are looking to the future.
“The summit is just one step in the process, [local] trainers have been trained and the idea is that they will take this methodology and continue to teach it in Laâyoune,” Benhayoune said. In this way, the summit creates sustainable solutions to challenges, and the work that was started in Laâyoune during the summit is only beginning. D-Lab will observe the progress in the region and report back within a year after the summit takes place.
Another participant and aspiring entrepreneur, Sabah Aamar, was looking forward to working with the D-Lab looks for the future of entrepreneurs in Laâyoune.
“I want to follow one of the projects that I will work on during the summit in order for it to become a business and [to] share my experience with new young people so they can do the same thing and eventually enrich the local economy,” Aamar said.