The “Arab Spring was a turning point in the life of our NGO; we moved from a local association working on civic education and youth and women empowerment grassroots programs to a national network defending democratic change, and supporting youth economic, social, political and cultural rights,” says Imad Akka, the 30-year-old president of NED grantee Association Jeunes pour Jeunes (AJJ). Under Imad’s leadership, AJJ has been thrust into the center of the national debate in the aftermath of 2011’s spontaneous “February 20 Movement” to become a democracy powerhouse in a country where young people ages 15-29 represent almost a third of the population.
According to the World Bank, almost half of these young Moroccans are neither employed nor in school. “Many young people wait 10 to 15 years before getting their first jobs,” Imad said. In this environment, young people need the tools and direction to peacefully call for reform, and in the aftermath of the February 20 Movement, AJJ was one of the first organizations to convene a national gathering to evaluate and learn from the role of young people in the protests.
The monarchy introduced a range of reforms in March 2011, which ushered in a period of intense public dialogue and an opportunity for governmental-civil society consultations. AJJ channeled the energy generated by these reforms to hold a nationwide public discussion on constitutional reforms entitled “Future Dialogue: Youth and Constitutional Rights, a Common Vision to Ensure Youth Participation.”
The project resulted in eight regional forums with the participation of 500 NGOs and 8,000 young Moroccans. The forums produced a series of practical recommendations for the constitutional commission regarding youth participation in national decision making and the relationship between civil society and parliament.
When elections rolled around in November 2011, AJJ worked with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to monitor the campaign promises of 12 political parties; AJJ distributed its report on the monitoring initiative to almost 3,000 young Moroccans. In 2012, NED supported AJJ in its anti-corruption work in Chefchaoune province, where affiliate Ghomara Youth Association organized ten public forums to solidify a new anti-corruption network of local civil society groups.
Also in 2012, in partnership with other Moroccan civil society organizations, AJJ launched the Moroccan Observatory for Youth Policies, which enables young people to effectively monitor, evaluate and discuss public policy. In 2013, NDI worked with AJJ to expand this initiative beyond the capital to monitor MPs in their local constituencies, further promoting governmental accountability and youth engagement.
From a youth activist in the small town of Tiflet, to a national voice representing the future of Morocco, Imad’s leadership is constantly inspired by the AJJ motto: to be “من اجل حركة مدنية شبابية مؤثرة في الإصلاحات الديمقراطية بالمغرب (in support of a civic youth movement to influence democratic reforms in Morocco).”
Interview with Imad Akka on the Moroccan Elections