Development, Education, Sustainability: Lead thoughts from lead players


I had the pleasure this week to speak at a panel organized by the Moroccan American Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange (MACECE) for graduating MBA students from the Fox School of Business at Temple University in Philadelphia. Besides the honor of being part of high-profile panelists from large impact organizations (the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Stevens’ Initiative of the Aspen Institute; Women’s Artisans of Morocco Network), I took pleasure in sharing and discussing around development, education and impact. Here are the key take-aways:

  • Bold local initiatives by global investors: In achieving its march towards inclusive education for all, the Moroccan Ministry of Education benefits today from a 2.5 million USD grant by the Millenium Challenge Corporation targeted towards vocational training and capacity building programs to bridge the university-market gap across the country. Several hundreds of young Moroccans have been part of this high scale initiative which is running for the next two years. In a similar vein, another initiative, launched by the Aspen Institute, Stevens’ Initiative, and the Bezos Foundation, focuses on deploying a platform for on-line exchange program for public university students in Marrakech and Casablanca regions. Heavily based on the latest technological advances, this experience, although uncommon to both students and the educational body at large, remains an interesting and quite intriguing one.
  • New patterns for education of the future: The fourth industrial revolution is increasingly calling for revisiting business models across industries. Education is no exception. In a highly unsustainable world marked by stark and even more widening inequalities, novel educational models can and should be used to lift underprivileged economies up the ladder of development. A possible pathway for such a lift-up is the “leapfrogging” model from the grassroots up through social strata. In such models, technology plays a pivotal role in interconnecting excluded areas with top-notch educational programs across the globe. Learners pick and select their curricula according to their own, quick-win needs, to integrate an increasingly conscious job market of these new channels. Model fine-tuning is still required for African and some MENA region countries.
  • Stronger women, stronger societies: Female entrepreneurship is taking crisper shape in the Moroccan handicraft sector, with bottom-up initiatives organizing the industry in a self-emergent pattern. This association in Marrakech headed by a female artisan and employing a large number of women from the region voices some of the unspoken concerns/needs of handicraft female entrepreneurs: the right to express herself at both national and international instances, the right to generate income and to be independent, the right to exist as an essential and unequivocal pillar of society, not just as a spouse or a mother, but also as an agent of economic development.

Corporate Responsibility: less numbers, more impact

Image result for more social impact

2020 has come, and yet another challenging year is ahead of us to intensify efforts towards bending the emissions curve, achieving more global equality, and managing resources more sustainably. If governments have failed to efficiently address the planetary challenges that marked the previous decade including climate change, rising inequalities and global political turmoil, the corporate sector is called upon now more than ever to take an ethical stand with respect to its responsibility towards the planet and its inhabitants. Corporate social responsibility, which has arisen over the past decade as the flagship “quick-win” answer to solving all kinds of social and environmental problems, has only left a bitter taste of dissatisfaction, incompleteness, and almost failure. Why? We believe this is more related to how the concept has been adopted than to its core essence.

In attempting to lessen their negative externalities, firms find generally safe harbor in starting various scattered initiatives around local communities, with the hope to enhance corporate image and to be more engaged in improving society. However, little might be expected of such initiatives in the absence of a holistic sustainability strategy that has a tangible link with the firm’s business and a measurable impact on the environment and society.

Creating positive and lasting impact goes beyond crafting an annual CSR program with half a dozen well-rounded local actions with a nice marketing campaign and a catchy annual report. More strikingly, corporate managers tend to confuse “impact” with “output” when it comes to social and environmental action. Numbers are good, yes, but they need to tell the things that matter most. It is good, for example, to learn that company X has provided 500 children in the icy mountains of the Atlas with a hot meal and some warm clothes. It is better, however, to assess the impact of such an initiative on transforming the lives of these kids and on making their existence more meaningful. No less important is, of course, the benefit of such actions on enhancing the firm’s public image and, collaterally, generating more revenue.

There are multiple misfunctioning elements in our approach to corporate responsibility, and now is the time to embrace a new form of truly ethical CSR. This new form of responsibility must recognize the limits of our existing development models and must challenge our understanding of achievement and impact. This must be an approach that replaces short-term actions with long-term strategies, punctual benefit with life-long effect, and calculated outputs with equilibrium, meaning, and impact.


Fadwa Chaker

Educator and Social Entrepreneur

Ideas for Action 2019 : Financing and Implementing Sustainable Development

Source : World Bank

The Ideas for Action competition is an initiative in which young people submit their proposals for implementing SDGs. The attached report presents the 2019 winner projects that were selected from more than 3,000 proposals, which included over 21,000 participants from 142 countries.

The six winning (and mind blowing) ideas are:

  • Fetosense and U- Act: Novel Solutions for Monitoring Fetal Heart Rate and Uterine Activity to Reduce Neonatal Morbidity and Mortality
  • Using Location Intelligence to Solve the Urban Sanitation Crisis
  • WellPower: A Sustainable and Scalable Approach to Addressing the Water Crisis in Kenya Using an Innovative Smartphone App– Based Clean Water Delivery Network
  • The Eco Panplas Solution
  • Ekomuro H2O+: Collecting Rainwater in Used PET Containers in poor urban areas
  • DamoGO: Implementation of Mobile app–based Technology to Tackle Food Waste in the Republic of Korea and Southeast Asian Countries

The ideas are presented through the following perspectives:

  • Problem and context
  • Solution
  • Implementation and application
  • Scaling up the solution
  • Challenges and mitigations

For more details, kindly download the report “Ideas for Action 2019 Financing and Implementing Sustainable Development” by the World Bank

Station de dessalement d’Agadir : Nous n’avons pas le choix mais … !

De quoi s’agit-il ?

  • Une station de dessalement de l’eau de mer avec les caractéristiques suivantes :
    • Capacité totale à terme : 400 000 m3/jour 
    • 50% sera destinée à l’agriculture (irrigation de 15000 ha)
    • 50 % sera destinée aux ménages
    • Investissement de 4,4 milliards de DH à travers un partenariat public-privé
    • Date prévisionnelle de mise en production : Juillet 2021
    • Alimentation de la station à partir des énergies renouvelables
  • Il existe déjà des stations opérationnelles au Maroc. Mais celle-ci se distingue par sa taille même à l’échelle du bassin méditerranéen

Pourquoi nous n’avons pas le choix ?

  • Ressources hydrauliques insuffisantes dans la région du Souss-Massa
    • Irrégularité des précipitations
    • Niveau très bas des nappes à cause de la surexploitation
  • Augmentation de la demande au niveau des ménages et des exploitations agricoles
  • Projet déterminant pour préserver les activités économiques implantées dans la région ainsi que les emplois

Quels challenges ?

  • Le principal défi est celle du coût du m3 eau produite pour le secteur agricole (5 DH/mètre-cube) qui de toutes les façons serait plus cher que le coût d’exploitation des nappes ou ceux des rivières / pluies
    • Implication : Est ce que les cultures d’agrumes et maraîchères, gourmandes en eau, seront toujours rentables ?
    • 3 options s’offrent à nous :
      • 1) Rationalisation de l’utilisation de l’eau à travers des technologies modernes d’irrigation
      • 2) Recours à des cultures moins gourmandes en eau avec plus valeur ajoutée sur le marché local et à l’export
      • 3) Augmentation des rendements des cultures pour absorber le surcoût en approvisionnement en eau
  • Le défi écologique est également un point à clarifier pour ce projet. En effet, Le dessalement implique des rejets de saumure (solution avec forte concentration de sel) en très grandes quantités dans les océans. Sachant que la région de Souss est connue pour son potentiel halieutique, il est légitime de se poser la question de l’impact du projet sur les écosystèmes marins de la région

Climate change deniers should watch this!

A New research in AGU’s journal Geophysical Research Letters finds ice in the Arctic Ocean north of Greenland is more mobile than previously thought, as ocean currents and atmospheric winds are likely transporting the old, thick ice found there to other parts of the Arctic. As a result, ice mass in the area – the last place researchers think will lose its year-round ice cover – is declining twice as fast as ice in the rest of the Arctic, according to the new findings.

This visualization shows the age of the Arctic sea ice between 1984 and 2019. Younger sea ice, or first-year ice, is shown in a dark shade of blue while the ice that is four years old or older is shown as white. A graph displayed in the upper left corner quantifies the area covered by sea ice four or more years old in millions of square kilometers.

More info on the research

Points clés de mon intervention lors de la rencontre organisée à la chambre des représentants intitulée « Bilan de la banque participative au Maroc après 30 mois du lancement »

Il n’est pas possible de réaliser une évaluation objective du bilan des institutions financières participatives marocaines car nous ne disposons pas d’une stratégie nationale de ce secteur avec des objectifs mesurables.

Cependant, nous sommes en mesure d’apporter une première lecture du bilan à la base des réalisations commerciales des banques participatives depuis plus de 2 ans. Il est à noter qu’à ce jour, les parts de marché des banques participatives au niveau des dépôts et des financements ne dépassent pas 1% du total du marché bancaire marocain. Par ailleurs, les banques participatives, n’arrivent pas à régler la problématique du taux de couverture des financements par les dépôts non rémunérés, ce qui impacte leur compétitivité sur le marché. Finalement, pour l’instant, le positionnement des banques participatives et orienté vers les particuliers avec une concentration très importante sur le secteur immobilier.

A la lumière des expériences internationales et à la base de l’analyse des résultats des banques participatives marocaines, mes recommandations ont porté sur les points suivants :

  • Il est impératif de développer une stratégie marocaine de finance participative au Maroc et en Afrique.  Cette stratégie couvrirait l’ensemble de l’écosystème de la finance participative (banque, assurance, marché des capitaux et social) et veillerait à la coordination et la cohérence entre ces différentes composantes. Sans une stratégie pareille, le pays ne tirera pas profit du potentiel de cette industrie au niveau national e continental. Il est à rappeler que tous les pays qui ont réussi dans ce domaine disposent d’une vision stratégique de la finance participative
  • Les banques participatives devraient placer les entreprises, en particulier les petites et moyennes entreprises, au centre de leurs intérêts et ce pour deux raisons. Premièrement, les services à l’entreprise génèrent une rémunération plus avantageuse et des encours plus importants que ceux adressés aux particuliers.   Deuxièmement, l’impact économique, social et environnemental de la finance participative ne se réalise qu’à travers le financement des entreprises
  • En continuité par rapport au point précédent, les banques participatives devraient disposer d’un positionnement leader sur la finance éthique dite également durable et responsable. En effet, depuis la crise financière de 2008, les paradigmes fondateurs du monde financier sont remis en question. Par exemple, la finance est-elle un moyen ou une fin en soi ? Quels types d’intégration la finance devrait-elle avoir avec l’économie réelle ? La finance participative dispose des fondamentaux nécessaires pour non seulement répondre à ces questions mais aussi pour être un acteur de premier plan sur ces thématiques
  • Dans un monde marqué par la quatrième révolution industrielle, le positionnement sur les Fintechs (technologies financières) n’est pas un choix mais plutôt une obligation dans un marché financier tiré désormais, notamment, par l’intelligence artificielle, le mobile, les plateformes et la blockchain. Ce positionnement est d’autant plus pertinent pour les banques participatives car elles sont plus agiles car elles sont plus jeunes
  • D’une manière transversale, le marketing reste une pièce maitresse pour la réussite des initiatives présentées ci-dessus

Beyond CSR


In 1958, Theodore Levitt presented a confrontational discourse against Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), alleging that the business of business is “making money, not sweet music” and that CSR breaks the rules of capitalism and free enterprise. Today, CSR must be brawled not because it undermined free enterprise, but precisely because it largely contributed to its reign with unprecedented empowering mechanisms. While CSR was initially intended to regulate the wild and uncontrolled growth of private corporation, it has (un)predictably nurtured the very foundations of unstoppable-growth-led capitalism. Here are a few arguments why we believe this is dangerous:

  • CSR is short-sighted: As opposed to long-term strategies, CSR actions and programs are often limited in scope and depth. Because they are mostly driven by short-term visibility and results, their impacts on society or the environment remain, at best, superficial: Shallow impact.
  • CSR as an instrument for branding and public relations: When CSR is used as a marketing and sales argument, which has been the case for several large corporations, the underlying operational strategies are developed towards satisfying the central goal of profit maximization. Thus, CSR is exploited as a communication and branding tool, often found under the auspices of the Chief Communication Manager, the goal of which being to simply reinvent the message that serves to sell the same old goods and services made with the same old value chains and production systems: No strategic revamping.
  • CSR as a competitive advantage: One of the most widely advanced arguments for CSR is creating a distinctive competitive advantage. However, unless this advantage is sustained in time, it will add little value, if any, to the firm. For a specific resource to be a source of sustained competitive advantage, it ought to be valuable, rare, inimitable and non-substitutable. CSR programs hastily engendered in corporate meetings are ordained to fail satisfying the four criteria simultaneously, thus questioning the real value to the firm –should that be the goal– of CSR: Not a source of competitive advantage.

CSR looked once attractive to various managerial levels of the firm. Today, the concept is gradually wearing off, calling into question our basic understanding of well-being within and outside business organizations. Some enthusiasts have urged towards thinking in terms of a corporate version of the more inclusive paradigm of sustainable development: Corporate Sustainability. Increasingly more business models and frameworks are being developed in this arena, disrupting everyday the way we think about and approach the social responsibility of business. It is probably hard time we moved beyond CSR.

Book of the month: The age of knowledge by Idriss Aberkane

Idriss Aberkane, a French essayist, is known for his writings and lectures on the knowledge economy and neuroscience. His lasted book “L’age de la connaissance / the age of knowledge “is worth reading. The book seeks to dismiss two contemporary paradigms: “Produce or flourish” and “Nature or employment”.

The key takeaways from his last essay are the following:

  • Knowledge is more valuable than natural resources. This statement is clear when looking at the evolution of global companies ranking in the last two decades.
  • Fostering a knowledge economy should be the priority of any government: To support his argument, the author frequently uses the example of South Korea who own little natural resources yet is one of major global exporters globally thanks to Korean technological powerhouses. However paradoxical it may appear, South Korea exported 45 Billion USD worth of Processed petroleum oils in 2018 even though the country does not have oil reserves !
  • All revolutions / radical innovations go through three stages:  They are firstly considered ridiculous, secondly as dangerous and finally obvious. Think of slavery abolition and labor rights for instance.  
  • Knowledge dynamics follows three principles :
  1. The exchange of knowledge is positive sum : “When we share a material good we divide it, when we share an intangible good we multiply it”
  2. The exchange of knowledge is not instantaneous : Unlike physical good, the transfer of knowledge requires more time and energy
  3. The combination of knowledge is not linear : “The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts”
  • Nature as a source of inspiration and one of knowledge economy applications : Nature is the largest deposit of knowledge on earth. The author is a strong supporter of Biomimetics, which is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems in locomotion, construction and architecture, structural materials, optics and agriculture to name a few.

The first ever Global Muslim Philanthropy Fund for Children

On 26 September 2019, UNICEF and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) launched an innovative fund that aims at reaching millions of children currently in need of humanitarian support in OIC countries. The idea of the fund was first announced last April during IsDB’s 44th Annual Meeting of Board of Governors in Marrakesh (Morocco).

Today, global humanitarian needs are at critical levels and children are especially vulnerable as they face the highest risk of violence, exploitation, disease and neglect. To address this need, the Global Muslim Philanthropy Fund for Children (GMPFC) will mobilize Islamic giving, including philanthropic and Zakat resources, towards humanitarian and resilience development programs that ensure the well-being of children. Projects include support for children in education, health and nutrition, water and sanitation, early childhood development, protection and youth empowerment. The fund will benefit from UNICEF’s on-the-ground presence and experience in all OIC countries.

This move from IsDB did not come as a surprise. It confirms IsDB’s President past commitments to position the bank as a catalyst in the achievement of SDG in OIC countries. The launch of GMPFC is a good news for the Islamic finance industry for two reasons. First, it sends a strong signal about the importance of Islamic finance active involvement in social issues. There no doubt that Islamic social finance has developed during the current decade, however, the industry achievements in the social sphere so far are not enough to address current social issues. Second, the GMPFC initiative confirms the Interest of large international organization such as UNICEF in Islamic finance and demonstrates that synergies with Islamic finance can play an important role in the achievement of SDGs. In the past, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) established a Zakat fund to alleviate the suffering of forcibly displaced people in OIC countries.

The fund, that will be administered by IsDB, seeks to raise US$250 million from private and public foundations, Zakat agencies and individuals. Although the fund purpose is clear, operational details have not been disclosed so far. In the coming weeks, the Islamic Finance industry and will be waiting for clarifications on the following questions:

  • What marketing approach will IsDB use to convince individuals to donate to the fund knowing that historically, IsDB has been dealing more with governments and businesses?
  • Which Fintech technologies will IsDB leverage to ensure transparency and efficiency?
  • What would be the fund priorities in the first years and what are the fund commitments in terms of impact (SDGs targets)?
  • What synergies will be built with the impact investing ecosystem in order to make the philanthropic funds more sustainable and more focused on income generating activities for beneficiaries rather than on simple cash transfers?

This article was first published in Islamic Finance news Volume 16 Issue 41 dated the 16th October 2019.

ESG, SRI, Impact investing…: Lost in terminology?

Source :

Despite all the dire consequence of the 2008 financial crisis, it did help to question the paradigms of modern days’ finance especially its role in addressing economic, social and environmental issues. As a result, multi-lateral development institutions, think tanks, academic institutions, regulators and financial players have undertaken various initiatives aiming at integrating sustainability and finance into a unified business model. The central focus has been to move beyond the “do well and then do good” approach as in corporate social responsibility to a “do well while doing good” approach that views sustainability as a strategic competitive advantage. Nowadays, concepts like ESG (environment, social and environment) investing; Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), Impact investing, mission-driven investing and responsible finance are gaining traction both in developed and developing countries and are even promoted by “traditional / orthodox” large financial players !  However, the finance and sustainability hype brought also confusion to investors looking for “double bottom line returns”. Are these concepts similar? If not, what are the differences between them? These questions are critical because the proliferation of terms related to financing and sustainability creates fuzziness that ultimately leads to inertia among investors and other market players. Therefore, clarifying the different concepts is key to the development of the impact finance industry.

In this post, I will focus on explaining the difference between ESG, SRI and Impact investing terms. Although, there are many others similar concepts used in the financial markets, the chosen terms are the most common.

ESG refers to the environmental, social, and governance practices of an investment that may have a material impact on the performance of that investment. The integration of ESG factors is used to enhance traditional financial analysis by identifying potential risks and opportunities beyond technical valuations. However, the main objective of ESG valuation remains maximizing financial performance.

Socially responsible investing goes one-step further than ESG by actively eliminating or selecting investments according to specific ethical guidelines. The underlying motive could be sharia compliance, personal values, or political beliefs. Unlike ESG analysis, which is valuation-centered, SRI usually uses ESG factors when applying negative screens on the investment universe. For example, an investor may wish to avoid companies engaged in firearms production, child labor or gambling.

Similar to SRI, impact investing also considers social and environmental effects. However, the difference is that impact investments are only made in companies, organizations or funds where the main purpose is to achieve positive impacts, alongside a financial return. In general, SRI is more concerned with negative screening whereas impact investing is more concerned with positive screening.

As part of the current initiatives to bring finance to its natural orientation, stakeholders (especially regulators) should not omit to take active steps to clarify the different concepts under the impact finance umbrella. Although, this effort looks pretty basic but it is much needed to transform the enthusiasm on impact finance into a more meaningful transformation.

This article was first published in Islamic Finance news Volume 16 Issue 39 dated the 2nd October 2019