When Americans think of Morocco, we often picture an exotic place of markets and spices or Humphrey
Bogart and the resistance. I suppose this is a little better than most stereotypes of Africa or having no
image at all. Either way it highlights our general lack of knowledge of other parts of the world. Last
May, Leadership Pioneer Valley had the pleasure of hosting a professional fellow from Morocco through
the Institute for Training and Development. Farrah Achbabe was with us for a month, sharing her
insights and culture and learning about civic engagement in the US. Although we spent a month
together, I realize I didn’t really learn that much about Morocco. I am incredibly appreciative of being
accepted into the same program with the opportunity to spend 10 days in Morocco with 3 other US
We arrived in Rabat, Morocco on Saturday afternoon. Since that time, we have toured some of Rabat’s
sights with some of the local fellows. The last two days, we participated in a conference with roughly 20
of the Moroccan fellows from the last two years. Like Farrah, they each spent a month in the US with a
non-profit organization or public agency. They were tasked with creating an action plan for civic
engagement back in Morocco. The conference featured presentations from both US and Moroccan
fellows about our organizations, projects, and issues.
I was particularly struck by a session about civic engagement in rural areas. Thirty nine percent of the
Moroccan population lives in rural areas. They are challenged with lack of infrastructure, education,
health care access, economic diversification, and emigration of youth to cities. The Moroccans called for
stronger urban and rural partnerships and access to broadband. The conversation rhymed with
conversations we have had at Leadership Pioneer Valley in Franklin County. Broadband access, rural
poverty, transportation, and aging population are all issues that we discuss in our regional leadership
program. I appreciated the ways the fellows were engaging young people in the cities to advocate for
rural areas. I could see opportunities to build collaboration with our counterparts in Boston to build
support for our rural initiatives. Western Massachusetts like rural Morocco is often forgotten in Boston
as they are in Rabat.
The final day concluded with a panel on intergenerational dialogue. Our Moroccan counterparts did not
use the word millennial but the otherwise the conversation could be happening in Springfield. They
spoke about the need to engage young folks and build leaders. Unlike the US, Morocco has a large
youth population. They spoke about involving more young leaders in decision-making. The need to
develop the next generation of leaders is the reason that Leadership Pioneer Valley exists. Leaders in
our region saw the need to engage the next generation in decision-making and civic involvement.
Whether in Morocco or Ashfield, Massachusetts, we face many of the same challenges in our
communities. My new Moroccan friends reminded us that “with freedom comes responsibility.” This is
a notion that it is easy to take for granted in the US. We ended the conference in a circle hearing from
the Fellows about the impact of the conference and their plans for their future. They take their
responsibility seriously and were enthusiastically embracing their next steps. It reminded me of the
closing circle for our leadership program when our participants discuss the impact on themselves and

what their next steps might be. The conference has provoked me to instead ask what impact they want
to make on our region.