August 3, 2010—Hajar Biyad, 15, works out on gymnastics equipment in the courtyard of her school in Sale, Morocco. Suspended on ropes high above the ground, she is a picture of grace and strength.
Four years ago, Biyad was an 11-year-old runaway on the streets of Rabat and Sale. Today, she is a student at an alternative school, l’Ecole du Cirque, that teaches acrobatics along with reading and math.
“God willing, I will be an artist and work in a circus,” she says.
Biyad was once one of the 50,000 people living in extreme poverty that Morocco’s 5-year-old National Initiative for Human Development (INDH) seeks to help.
The $1.1 billion initiative, with $100 million in financing from the World Bank, provides funding to l’Ecole du Cirque and other programs that shelter orphans, street kids, and other poor people. The goal is to offer health care, moral support, education and job-training, and to reunite families and reintegrate individuals into society.
And across the country, the broad-based initiative is also giving poor people of all ages access to potable water, electricity, sanitation, health services, and financing for small businesses and projects.
Since 2005, INDH has financed more than 20,000 sub-projects, targeting more than 4.6 million people, in 264 urban neighborhoods and 403 rural communities.
Morocco's Circus School provides education and training to former street children.
“We have already seen some significant results from the field,” says Mohamed Medouar, the lead on the World Bank’s National Initiative for Human Development support project.
Rural poverty has decreased from 36% in 2001 to 14% in 2007. Some 46% of households report their livelihoods have improved, 62% of households (60% of women and youth) say they have greater access to infrastructure, while 58% of households (51% of women and 54% of youth) report increased access to socioeconomic services, according to a 2009 study.
The results include increased participation from the public, and from local and provincial governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the development of greater human development expertise, Medouar adds.
In addition, communities and individuals have acquired new “value and dignity” and adopted a “better look on the future,” says INDH National Coordinator Nadira El Guermai.
“They only needed someone to help them realize it – and this is an important part of INDH. This allows the person to say, I am someone, and able.”
New Approach to Social Programs
Prior to 2005, Morocco spent 55% of its budget on social programs yet ranked 124th out of 177 countries on the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index.
Some 40% of Morocco’s population was considered economically vulnerable, 72.2% of rural women could not read, versus 52.7% at the national level, and maternal mortality was 45 times Europe’s average.
In May 2005, King Mohammed VI announced Morocco would seek to address socioeconomic conditions through a new, demand-driven, community-based approach to alleviating poverty and social exclusion in rural and urban communities.
More than 700 regional, provincial and local human development committees, composed of equal shares of representatives from civil society, local government and government ministries, were set up under the initiative. The committees’ 11,000 members decide which projects respond best to the needs of the population, including the poorest and most vulnerable people.
“There is really strong ownership and the mobilization of stakeholders at all levels. Decisions are now made in a more participatory way,” says Medouar.
On the advice of the World Bank, the initiative encourages financial contributions from NGOs. These contributions now amount to 10% of the funding for programs targeted to rural and urban areas, and 30% of the funding for a countrywide program. “That really helps with ownership and the success of the project,” says Medouar.
All projects are audited, and results are published on the initiative’s website, says El Guermai.
“This is the first time that projects are audited, and that the information is published,” she says. “It is a new kind of management, meaning we are completely transparent, and coherent.”