Youth Inclusion: What works?
The What works? research project held its closing seminar in Rabat, Morocco, 6th-8th June, 2023. Focusing on young people’s strategies of entering the labor market in the Middle East and North Africa, the Youth Inclusion: What works? seminars and field trips brought together the multidisciplinary team of researchers from Tampere University, Finnish Youth Research Society, and several universities and research institutions in the MENA countries. The gathering was the result of a four-year collaboration funded by the Research Council of Finland’s DEVELOP Program (2019–2023). In this travel blog, the participants share the insights from the journey and describe their rather autoethnographic but still commonly shared discoveries on young people’s pursuit for well-being in ecological and social reality and its inescapable relational interconnectedness with challenging rationalism and individualism, such as egocentric and materialistic life goals, along the way in Morocco.
Some of the researchers of the What works? project. Photo: Economia HEM Research Center.
Purpose of the collaboration
The backbone and overall purpose of the Global North and Global South youth research collaboration in the What works? project has been the notion that young people’s transitions to the labor market have become increasingly complex and multidimensional globally. In the early 2020s, youth employment continues to present a central challenge in the Middle East and North Africa. Last year youth unemployment in the MENA region reached 25 %, which is higher than the global average (15 %). During the Covid pandemic in 2020–2021, youth unemployment in MENA increased as in other parts of the world. (Country brief: Global Employment Trends for Youth 2022: The Arab States.) The precarious labor market and uncertain prospects represent the norm for the majority in this region, but some categories such as young women, university graduates, and urban youth are more vulnerable to unemployment. The high inflation, social instabilities and, finally, the conditions following the pandemic have all but worsened young people’s pursuit for jobs, income, and stability in life.
For the above-mentioned reasons, research-based knowledge is needed for understanding and tackling these problems from the perspective of youth research. The project aimed for a comprehensive analysis of the social, economic, political, and cultural barriers in working life that young people face in the MENA countries. The What works? research team has identified some of the persistent obstacles young people face when trying to transition into working life or find a decent job. The research in the project has also mapped successful youth employment initiatives, including social entrepreneurship, and various case examples of social innovations projects employing young people.
The book Les jeunes au Maroc: Comprendre les dynamiques pour un nouveau contrat social (2021) edited by Fadma Aït Mous and Zakaria Kadiri aims to deconstruct certain political narratives about young Moroccans through the study of their real life and regarding the social diversity and the societal history. As part of the research project this edited book brings together Moroccan and international specialists and contributors who recommend a new social contract focused on three-dimensional inclusion – political, economic, and cultural – with a focus on gender equality and greater attention to young people from small and disadvantaged regions.
Three-day exploration with the issues of youth inclusion and employment
It is a shared sentiment by the whole group that meeting in Rabat was crucial to explore both academically and in very concrete and sensuous ways the dynamics of youth transitions to adulthood. Some of us had not visited the region before or visited as a tourist. Despite the different social sciences background of the participants, their varying methodological traditions, and theoretical frameworks as well as the studied topics, there has been a common ground when it comes to addressing youth issues. Researchers could connect and develop new collaboration opportunities to broaden their research. This can facilitate universal consensus on identifying the dilemmas of future generations and creating more collaboration between the Global North and the Global South researchers on youth studies.
On the first day we worked on the study topics in a seminar at the beautiful resort Gîte Écologique Benslimane just outside Rabat, in the countryside. On the second day we had a workshop in the old town of Rabat in the Center of Cross Cultural Languages, which is a private cultural institution founded in the 1990s and directed by Moroccan academics with many years of experience in cross-cultural education. On the third day we visited the Ecole de Jardinage Bouregreg Med-O-Med in Salé, which offers ecologically and socially sustainable paths for education and employment for young people in marginal positions in society. This school is a Spanish Moroccan collaborative project launched a few years ago as the first gardening school in Morocco. Also, we got familiarized with Rach Recycle Skate’s workshop in Temara as another concrete example of local innovative social entrepreneurship.
In addition to the conference rooms, we popped over to the historical and artistic sites such as the primary and official residence of the king of Morocco in Rabat El Mechouar Essaid (lit. 'Venue of Happiness'), Tour Hassan, Mausolée de Mohammed V, and Musée Mohammed VI. Also, we spent some relaxing time strolling around the alleys of Medinas and having fresh mint tea on all possible occasions.
Research on youth inclusion – Morocco versus Finland
The closing seminar provided a platform to share some of the current research done on the topics in Sociology, Global Development Studies, Management Sciences, Anthropology, Educational Sciences, and Youth Research. Most of the research topics concerning the inclusion of young people in the labor market consisted of case studies from Morocco, Algeria, and Finland.
Moroccan doctoral researchers under the supervision of professor Manal El Abboubi (University Mohamed V, Rabat and Research Affiliate, Economia HEM Research Center, Rabat) dealt with youth inclusion. Youssef Ouazzouz and Jihane ElHarizi presented the findings of their recent work on youth willingness to join formal employment and entrepreneurship inclusion programs. Alae Eddine Nassar explored how reverse mentorship can be a way to promote diversity and inclusion of young people at work and Mohamed El Koutour shared a field study he did in 2022 on youth inclusion through entrepreneurial speleology as an innovative path for responsible tourism at the Tazekka Parc in Morocco. Hamza Guelzim presented his study on the position and status of women in the coding field, in which the aim is to analyze their lived experience from university to the workplace. Youssef Maati, a young medical doctor, presented a platform he had created to improve medical consultation in rural hospitals.
Local mural art in Rabat depicting professions for females. Photo: Oona Myllyntaus.
As a Finnish counterpoint, academy research fellow Lotta Haikkola focused on young hospitality workers in Finland and their reasoning to continue in the stressful and low-paid working environment. She described eloquently the process of consent these workers produce to do their work. Doctoral researcher Oona Myllyntaus discussed the results of a study on tools to assess the safety gaps of children and young people in Finland and how to strengthen related knowledge production nationally based on an extensive literature review, a study on national surveys, and interviews of representatives of NGOs and municipal employees. Her presentation inspired discussion on the concept of existential insecurity, describing the precarious and uncertain societal circumstances created by e.g. changing working life, geo-political tensions, climate change, and other ongoing crises which intertwine with each other. These circumstances form serious safety threats for the young generations, which tends to be forgotten in political discussions and decision making. The concepts of existential insecurity could have a lot to give when implementing the policies introduced in the National Child Strategy and used in the academic security studies in the context of global youth.
Commonalities and differences between youth in the South and the North appeared vividly in the presentations of postdoctoral researcher Yahia Benyamina and doctoral researcher Valentin Chenier. Yahia presented his findings on university students’ work-study combination in the Algerian context, while Valentin explored the entrepreneurial elements in the skateboarding subculture in Morocco.
Professor Sofia Laine gave a speech calling for changing human behavior towards the environment and uniting efforts to create what she has termed planetary youth research. She quoted author and journalist Minna Salami on how to reclaim the values of so-called sensuous knowledge and reimagine and reshape these values. In that way mind, soul, body, movement, plasticity, and nature (including the natural and organic) would be all involved in knowledge making (Salami 2020, 96). Followed by Laine’s speech on planetary youth research the focus shifted to the future generations as professor Driss Ksikes (Director, Economia HEM Research Center, Rabat) took the microphone and asked from the baby in the audience what we should do for her, representing the generation whose challenges are estimated to be highly difficult when they reach adulthood. The first day culminated in the question: how to create meaningful and sustainable life within social and planetary boundaries?
Professor Driss Ksikes asking a question from a baby in the audience in Gîte Écologique Benslimane. Photo: Economia HEM Research Center.
Overall, the intensive discussions during the seminar increased our collective understanding of the meaning of work and good and sustainable life in general across national borders. The discussions emphasized how important it is to study young people’s lives not only in national bubbles and specific circumstances but also firmly rooted in global contexts and related to phenomena and processes which traverse national borders. The video DAY 1: Closing seminar and field trip “Youth Inclusion: What works?” can be found on Youtube.
The meaning of work for young people: Meaningful life and sustainable well-being
While our contemplations started from young people and working life, we soon ended up pondering existential questions of meaningful life and sustainable well-being. From a Finnish point of view, we felt there is a need to assess the quality of young people’s life beyond the simple fact of having a job or running an entrepreneurial project. These perspectives have the potential to make the research of the lives of young people more accurate from their perspectives. This means exploring diverse subjective elements of well-being together with young people and assessing the sustainability of our way of life in general as well as the position of work in the young people’s life course and future horizons.
Such an holistic approach highlights that work is only one dimension to be studied and understood in the overall contexts of youth and young adulthood, young people’s relations to their loved ones, their community, society, and the whole ecosystem (Honkatukia & Rättilä 2023). Also important are changes in the local socio-economic environments and the emerging global youth cultures.
While contemplating meaningful life and work, Oona Myllyntaus, one of the authors of this article, reflected on whether the theoretical discussions on purpose in life and more specifically research into the development of purpose in young people (by e.g. professor at the Graduate School of Education and director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence William Damon) could be used here. This approach has prompted to design a didactic model developed in Educational Sciences presenting the following questions to be explored:
- What do I aim for in the future? (target)
- How do I realize my goals? (commitment)
- What is important to me in the future? (meaning to oneself)
- How does my goal affect others, such as the immediate community, society, and nature? (meaning to others) (Tirri & Kuusisto 2019, 74. Didactic model for teaching and learning the purpose in life adapted from Toom, Husu & Tirri 2015; Tirri & Kuusisto 2016. Translation by O.M.)
Multiple conceptions and incentives of youth entrepreneurship
In the second day we deepened the discussions especially on the theme of entrepreneurship in a workshop-debate with professionals of the inclusion of young people in Morocco. The round table discussion led to two main areas of focus that appear to be often brought into relation: the pursuit of a meaningful life and entrepreneurship. However, the relationship between these two concepts has been critically debated, as well as the conception of entrepreneurship itself. Attendees working in youth inclusion organizations were particularly critical towards the political narrative of entrepreneurship as “the easy way out” of unemployment and economic hardship for Moroccan youths. The local workshop participants emphasized that entrepreneurship took on the meaning of a discourse used by politicians rather than an economic concept that requires specific conditions for its success. Interestingly enough, this discussion seems to echo with Mejjati Alami’s study on young Moroccan adults’ livelihood strategies and her claim that “entrepreneurship appears more as a stopgap to employment than a choice and a massive deliberate orientation” (2017, 17).
Moustapha Alaoui, Regional Investment Center, Marrakech, Morocco (left), Nisrine Ouazzani, Moroccan Center for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship MCISE, Morocco and Imane Fahli, Moroccan Employment Laborator (Lab Emploi), Morocco. Photo: Economia HEM Research Center.
It seemed evident that youth entrepreneurship is a strong policy approach in Morocco to tackle youth unemployment. It is applied in several government programs such as FORSA and MOUBADARA. However, according to the presentations we heard, the success of implementation of these programs depends on good communication, training, and continued accompaniment of young people, especially those who have little education. Further, the state’s promotion of entrepreneurship can be perceived as a neoliberal stance. Contextualisation of entrepreneurship in Morocco can thus be informed by discussion on global governance and systems of power and post-development and post-colonial theoretical perspectives.
In scholarly debate, the discussions on youth entrepreneurship have relevance in the study of social enterprise (SE). However, the SE concepts such as social entrepreneurship, social economy, solidarity economy, and social innovation could gain more ground in the youth research conducted both in Morocco and Finland. The video DAY 2: Closing seminar and field trip “Youth Inclusion: What works?” can be found on Youtube.
Grounded experience: from vulnerability of young people and nature to the youth inclusion strengthening eco-citizenship
The third day took us to two field trips. Ecole de Jardinage Bouregreg Med-O-Med in the first stop was an eye-opening experience for many of the participants: the school addressed young people at risk of exclusion, in marginal, or precarious situations. It not only works to teach sustainable gardening models for the era of climate change, but it also teaches respectful and purposeful living with the environment, nature, and among the youth themselves. The school also raises awareness on these matters among the public, architects, landscapers, and the authorities.
The Mediterranean, one of the hotspots of climate change, is already tackling water stress. The school was created on a landslide where the Oulja dump, an illegal landfill on the eastern outskirts of Salé, used to be. It has been rehabilitated in recent years thanks to the project. The school also welcomes different groups for shorter training through their concept of “School of Nature”. The most recent publication (2023) of the What works? -project describes one social innovation case example by Meryem Naji (doctoral researcher in Social Sciences at Hassan II University of Casablanca) on environmental education to strengthen eco-citizenship among young people at this gardening school.
Med-O-Med organizes transportation to the school and free lunch daily for the students. Despite this, the dropout rate is relatively high during the three years of education which might not be surprising considering the precarious conditions the students come from. However, the school is a unique model of working towards the possibility of sustainable and natural growth for both young people living in vulnerable situations as well as to vulnerable nature in the era of climate change. Respect, patience, and love is what both needs. As the school’s motto goes:
“Being a gardener is to be patient to nature,
loving green spaces and working with the land.
It is a noble profession
that provides joy
Lastly, we had a visit to the Rach Recycle Skate’s workshop as another concrete example of local innovative entrepreneurship. Rach is a passionate skateboarder who now owns a business of handmade household items that he crafts from recycling broken skateboard decks. Rach learned woodworking from his father and his brother, both carpenters. In the past, he occupied different jobs, including skateboarding instructor for the national federation of skateboarding. As he first started recycling skateboards as a hobby, he quickly grew the idea of turning it into a business and his main source of income. This took him a while though. To finance the purchase of woodworking tools and renting a workshop, he started a mobile coffee shop. Progressively, he could earn more from his skateboarding recycling business and eventually turn it into his current full-time self-employment. He benefited from the support of the local skateboarding community and media promotion of his innovative enterprise. Nowadays, Rach also proposes workshops to schools and organizations where he teaches the basics of his craft. His ambition grows along with his business as he is now launching a local skateboarding brand with boards that he presses and prints himself. Rach illustrates the idea of pursuing a meaningful life by reconciling his hobby and entrepreneurship. The video DAY 3: Closing seminar and field trip “Youth Inclusion: What works?” can also be found on Youtube.
As a main conclusion of the whole journey, we began to highlight the recognition of the interdependence between people and environment from the point of view of well-being. Professor Arto Salonen (2014, 39) states along the same line that reciprocity and sharing are the steppingstones for the humble recognition of interdependence – the belief that a human is a part of a larger whole. This means that the perception of self and one’s surrounding reality are formed and developed in a network of interdependencies wider than the human community – in ecological and social reality. No aspect of human life is fundamentally separable from humans or nature.
People living in individualistic cultures only seem to have forgotten the importance of communities, a variety of people, and diverse natural environments as a source of social and ecological well-being (see Martusewicz et al. 2015, 78–79). Therefore, we believe that the research done within collective culture, as in this research project, will give our own scientific communities and wider audiences new food for thought for many years to come.
To conclude, from the point of view of the delegation from Finland we wish to express our sincere gratitude and thanks to the Moroccan team (Manal El Abboubi, Driss Ksikes, Fadma Aït Mous, Aziza Mahil, and Jihane ElHarizi). Alongside intensive academic and professional discussions we encountered overwhelming hospitality and kindness throughout the journey. We were well taken care of and appreciate all the effort very much! Besides academic knowledge we took with us the whole lot of multifaceted silent and sensuous knowledge (Salami) on youth transitions but also on diverse elements of academic and everyday life in Morocco.
PS. This fall 2023 What works? project will be preparing a special issue for a scientific journal on studies conducted in the project and a lecture series online as well as possibly a collection of targeted proposals for new youth-specific policies and approaches for the MENA region. Please be in contact if you wish to collaborate.
Oona Myllyntaus, Yahia Benyamina, Päivi Honkatukia & Valentin Chenier, Tampere University
Sofia Laine & Lotta Haikkola, Finnish Youth Research Society
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