Moroccan NGO uses supply and demand to drive social change

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“We saw people starving in the streets and knew we had to act,” explains Khaoula El Haidi, the 24-year-old project manager, referring to the proactive COVID-19 response of the Moroccan NGO Pikala Bikes.

The team normally organize bike tours, repairs and classes, but had to change gears quickly when the pandemic struck. To alleviate hunger, Pikala has delivered 250 food packages to families in need every week since September of last year.

The initiative is a collaboration between local cafes, funded by independent donors, and Pikala’s long-time partner, Tui Care Foundation, an independent entity focused on “sustainable development of vacation destinations”.

Henna Cafe – a local nonprofit organization normally offering free educational programs, but currently operating as a soup kitchen – is one such contributor. Sara Shaygani, senior manager at Henna, says that for many this package contains the only food they will eat that day: “People’s joy and appreciation when they receive a package speaks volumes – hunger. is rampant in our community and we are doing our part to reduce it.

Morocco’s tourism sector is the fourth most affected in the world by the pandemic, according to an International Monetary Fund report released in August 2020, which has created a surge in youth unemployment, with rates in the country reaching 31%, according to Trading Economics, an online platform that provides historical data, economic forecasts and business news.

When Cantal Bakker, avid bike enthusiast and founder of Pikala Bikes, arrived in Marrakech six years ago, those numbers weren’t so bad – but in his eyes were “still alarming”.

This realization, coupled with a transformational bike ride through the high traffic city and a passion for sustainability, ignited his idea of ​​a youth-run, cycling-centric NPO. At the time, there were no bicycle tour operators in Marrakech. Cantal saw the market gap and decided to fill it.

“I was 24 and had everything going for me – my health, no home or kids, healthy parents – so I decided to go. If I failed, my worst case scenario was to go back to Holland. “

Five years later, what started as a bicycle mechanic shop run in the back of an abandoned freight container has grown into an exciting project employing 33 residents.

“It is a real pleasure to work with Pikala,” says Anna Lena Strehl, external affairs manager at the Tui Care Foundation. “There is such a team spirit among them, and the young people on board are really growing in their roles.”

“The aim is for Pikala to act as a bridge,” Cantal explains, “an entry into the work environment”.

Such spaces are still rare in a country where the risk of facing unemployment increases with your level of education. To keep up with the growing number of educated young people, Morocco would need to double its current rate of new job creation.

As Cantal negotiates an extension of the bike tour concept to Casablanca and Rabat, she is determined to keep the focus on youth leadership.

“From the start, the idea was to train young people, then gradually let them manage things independently. Accountability is the best teacher, ”she said.

Soukaina Rhafiri, Communications Manager at Pikala Bikes, joined the initiative two years ago and explains how Pikala transformed her way of thinking: “After graduating I had no idea what I wanted. do – I was only hoping to make a lot of money. Now I understand that investing in yourself while helping others is the way to go. “

This marriage of caring for yourself and caring for others is what makes Pikala so successful. The welcoming atmosphere of the project attracts motivated young people ready to work and curious clients ready to pay.

Yasminah Mamouchi, who describes her first encounter with Pikala Bikes as a “heartwarming discovery”, can testify to both: she went from client to volunteer in the space of a month.

The winning concepts do this for a reason: Pikala is thriving in a time of societal desperation, using the laws of supply and demand. The demand for food, education and jobs is being met, in turn attracting a motivated workforce ready to deliver more to those in need.

Listening to your inner voice and keeping an open mind and receptive to ideas is the recipe for Cantal’s success. Because sometimes the best advice will come to you when you least expect it:

“The name, Pikala, which is the Moroccan street-language for cycling, comes from my first bike ride in Marrakech. People were laughing at me, pointing and shouting “pikala, pikala” as they walked past them. It was so amazing, and I was ecstatic afterwards. Then Pikala was born.

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