Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mbruk Marche Maroc 2009

aka “Exhilarated but Exhausted”

Oh my what a week it’s been. Home for a couple of days to debrief and write up the Sustainable Marketing Workshop and Marche Maroc 2009 Project reports. Have to report into grant funding agency, but also want to capture it all while it’s fresh…..

Left a week ago for Fes to put the final touches on the weekend program for 60 artisans and 35 Peace Corps Volunteers. It went better than I had hoped for. Oh sure, there were challenges and plenty of frustrations, but none that couldn’t be overcome fairly easily, and there were always lots of willing bodies to help deal with unforeseen needs.

Most everyone arrived in Fes on Thursday. All the artisans were registered in the Al Qods facility and most of the PCVs stayed at a hostel. Came up with this alternative PCV housing when Al Qods couldn’t accommodate all of us (and we PCVs are on our own dime for this sort of thing, so needed “thrifty digs”). Seemed great-very clean, nice, quiet, excellent location. Only problem is, it appears to stay fully booked, so they’ve forgotten that they’re in the service industry. Find out upon check-in that they close from 10-12 every morning, 3-6 every afternoon, curfew at 10pm and hot water only from 8-10 every morning. The woman at the front desk is a raving bit**. How did she ever get hired in tourism? It’s so unfortunate, as they have tons of potential, but turned us all off with their horrible attitude. For example, they woke up one PCV at 2:30 while taking a nap to remind her she needed to be out at 3. Can you imagine? Anyway, their loss. At least it was within a couple blocks of the American Language Center (ALC), so that made up for some of the downside.

Friday arrived with all of the artisans registered, greeted, split into 2 groups and moved into the workshop rooms across the street-in time to start only 10 minutes late at 8:40!!!! Unheard of!

They sat through 2 workshops, ½ day each, facilitated by staff from Al Akhawayn University-private Univ in Ifrane. One was on Marketing, the other on Costing and Pricing. They had interactive exercises and the feedback was terrific. One of the participating Coops made couscous lunch for everyone. That was our only scheduling goof-up. It’s Friday, and we hadn’t allowed time for the men to go to the mosque-kayn daruri (it’s necessary), so we just moved things around. At the end of the day, they had a 1 hour presentation/discussion with the Quality Consultants we brought in-all about new quality standards and design ideas for the domestic and export markets. This was stimulating enough that even at 6pm they were still asking questions. Hamdullah.

Through the course of the day, the Regional Delegate for the Artisanat Ministry came by a couple of times with Ministry press, and we had 2 other press people interviewing and photographing the participants at breaks.

It had been a long day, so artisans were on their own for the evening. Note that some had never travelled this far, some had never participated in something like this, so this was a big step for many. A bunch of the PCVs on the other hand, went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner where the food was mediocre but the beer was cold. I don’t think a “Hamdullah” is appropriate here.

Now the tent guys arrived, assembled the tents and were on their merry way w/out a single problem-loved them. The tables and chairs were another story…..Got the Ministry to allow us to use their tables and chairs. Great. Free, yak? My guy at the Ministry even arranged for a camiyo and helped negotiate a fair transport price-300DH for 60 tables and chairs. Had 2 PCVs lined up to help load/unload. Then the camiyo owner starts to do his own bargaining once they get the first load to the American Language Center (ALC). Seems they’ll need 3 loads. Says more work than he thought. I’m thinking “too bad”, I’m only paying 300DH. At this point the Ministry Delegate has come back around, and asks what the problem is. First he “hshuma’s” the guy, then agrees 800DH should be paid. I’m thinking, the guy just increased his price since he’s delivering to the ALC. (Note that ALC is a pretty wealthy private language school in a pretty posh neighborhood of the Fes Ville Nouvelle. Seems that it’s not uncommon for prices to be higher to them, per my friend who works there, since vendors figure they can pay more). However, this is NOT an ALC event, and I’m not paying more than was agreed. Oh how I love a good argument in Arabic. Even more, I love winning them. Only paid 300DH. (The camiyo driver and helpers don’t lift a finger on Friday-make the PCVs do all the work. I get retribution on Monday morning when they come to pick everything up. Guess what? All the PCVs are gone, and they need to do their own lifting. Hah!)

Now I haven’t mentioned that the drizzly, cold, shwiya weather of the last 2 weeks has disappeared and all week/weekend we enjoyed clear, beautiful sunny skies. I live under a lucky star.

So Saturday comes around and the artisans are all there at 8:30am ready to set up their exhibits. Never seen such promptness. Loving it. The booths are looking good. New guy hired by ALC has the little concession stand and makes zwin French/Moroccan food. Nice.

We get foot traffic, not as much as we’d like, but most who are coming are buying. Target audience was ex-pats and wealthier Fessians who want to support indigenous crafts and fair wages. We’re not on a major boulevard by design. Those who come in made it a point to be there, so we don’t get a lot of “looky-loos”. That’s ok, as long as the artisans are selling.

Saturday all the PCVs and Peace Corps staff who are attending are invited to a meeting with the Regional Ministry Delegate, who has been directed by the Moroccan Ministry to speak with us on their behalf, thanking us for what we’re doing and to answer questions. Both the Regional Delegate and my Delegate are very complimentary.

This is followed by the Certificate Ceremony. Don’t underestimate the importance of a signed, officially stamped Certificate of Participation. I’ve made these up, personalized for each participant and we’ve got a photographer to take their photo as each receives theirs from the Ministry representative and Peace Corps. This is a VERY big deal for the participants-disproportionately so, and we made certain that this need is met.

Jess, my friend from Sefrou who works at ALC and who was BRILLIANT in helping throughout the planning of this program, has arranged for live music in the garden of the ALC villa Saturday night. Part of the language school includes ALIF-the Arabic Language Institute of Fes. They teach Arabic to U.S. and British students who come over for a semester abroad. Part of Jess’ responsibility as cultural coordinator for ALC/ALIF is to put on a concert every 6 weeks. Works out that that comes during our event. She bring up a fabulous vocal/percussion group from Errachidia. Only took a gentle nudge to get all the artisans (and they ALL attended, along w/PCV, ALIF students, ALC/ALIF staff, etc.) on their feet dancing. What a great party it turned out to be!

Sunday arrives and it is finally time to enjoy the Craft Fair. I’ve been running all over all week, and everything’s under control. I can finally take a look at the exhibits and make my purchases, sit and talk w/artisans and other PCVs, sit and enjoy lunch in the garden. I have time to spend with my friend Samira, who came from the U.S. to visit her father's family in Fes and to come to the Marche Maroc! A bit of work still to do, but all very manageable. We take a tally of sales at the end of each day, and will send that out to the PCVs so their artisans will know how they fared vs others. Some sold more than they ever had at an expo. One group sold nothing. Lot to learn for all of us.

Throughout the Sat/Sun Craft Fair, the Quality Consultants, along with the 2 design students they brought with them, have sat down for 15 minutes with each of the artisan Coop/Assns to look at their products, ask questions, and provide some initial feedback and input. They will be following up with a written report that I’ll send out to the artisans thru their PCV.

The anecdotal stories start coming in. See exhibits with sheets for visitors to leave their information for follow up, also to collect comments. Artisans networking with one another. One Coop is going to visit another to do a design workshop for them. One coop stays an extra day in Fes to go to the medina a shop for better quality materials. Sharing information about the quality of their materials when asked about a price vs immediately just lowering the price. Asking one another how they make their patterns. Woodworkers using the spreadsheet they got in the workshop at their exhibit. This is what it’s about. Putting their workshop learning into practice.

And that speaks to measures of success. How does one measure it? For me, it is all about feedback from the artisans themselves. What did they think of the overall experience—the workshops, the quality consultations, the networking, the sales? What would they be willing to pay out of Coop/Assn proceeds to attend such an event in the future? This is what is most important.

Lessons learned? Still figuring out how to target the domestic, non-tourist market; Patience and persistence always work in your favor; Remain flexible; Have some fun; Distance myself from the nay-sayers and nitpickers-it’s always easy to be the editor!

So now I’m writing the reports, sending out the feedback, populating SBD Yahoo Group site with all my documents and planning tools for other PCVs to use, loading almost 300 photos that Lisa took, tallying up the budget and receipts, etc. Actually kinda nice to sit on my butt all day and do this work, since I was on my feet all week. It was worth it.

Mbruk Marche Maroc and all who contributed to its success.

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