Often, Fridays’ speakers are far removed from life on a college campus. These professionals offer a valuable glimpse into projects we might model in the future, but not necessarily something we can achieve here and now.
Jihad Hajjouji, however, is one of us. The junior from Morocco is an international politics and economics major at Middlebury, and even more encouragingly, she believes anyone can adopt the spirit of entrepreneurship.
“Entrepreneurship is a lens through which you can look at the world,” said Hajjouji at the start of her presentation on Friday, April 5. “Entrepreneurs no longer see challenges or problems — they see opportunities.”
Before coming to Middlebury, Hajjouji attended the African Leadership Academy (ALA). In addition to academics, Hajjouji studied entrepreneurship and leadership. Along with fellow classmates from Morocco, she decided she had to work to bring these lessons to other Moroccan students.
Hajjouji sees a “magic” in entrepreneurship: “the sweet spot between two elements: passion and a need in the community … There is a need in the community, and in thinking about your passions, you can fulfill that need.”
Hajjouji took her passion for the philosophy of entrepreneurship and combined it with a dire need in her home country, where approximately 22 percent of Moroccan youth remain unemployed. During the summer of 2010, Hajjouji and classmates from the ALA ran the Rabat Entrepreneurial Challenge, a one–week camp in Morocco’s capital for youth to learn the tools to becoming an entrepreneur.
In the summer of 2011, Hajjouji received funding from Middlebury’s Education in Action center to repeat the project, and in 2012 the group received a $10,000 Davis Project for Peace grant. During the summer of 2012, Hajjouji and her former classmates hosted 35 students from 11 different regions throughout Morocco.
The National Entrepreneurial Camp’s vision is to create a generation of job creators, not job seekers, which they accomplish through their mission of finding the entrepreneur in each participant through their training program. The curriculum was inspired by Middlbury’s own MiddCORE program, in addition to curriculum from Babson College.
Hajjjouji emphasized the group’s focus on measuring their social impact. At the end of the camps, she and the other organizers asked themselves two main questions: what did the participants learn, and what did the organizers learn? Participants continually mentioned learning concepts of personal development, social entrepreneurship, and teamwork. The organizers learned the need for expanding the program beyond the camp, and the necessity of providing support for these young entrepreneurs after the program has concluded.
In addition to quantifiable impact, Hajjouji told moving anecdotes about certain participants who had unquantifiable, yet clearly life-changing experiences at the camp. One participant, Ali, was extraordinary shy — so much so that his mother was worried about his ability to participate in the camp. However, Hajjouji described how when participants presented a project idea, Ali spoke eloquently and with confidence about his plan to invent environmentally-friendly vehicles.
“Even if we did everything else wrong, affecting one person’s life like that means something,” said Hajjouji. “This is the kind of impact that makes me proud.”
The students who run the camp, all ALA alumni, are not paid. Additionally, most of them now study in the U.S., and the group is trying to come up with a way to keep people on the ground in Morocco. Nevertheless, the group’s passion unites them.
“We love this. We love what we’re doing — this is what keeps us together,” said Hajjouji.