This is part one of a four-part series on The University of Alabama’s Executive MBA Class of 2016’s international trip to Morocco and Spain, February 27-March 8, 2016.
Morocco conjures up a world glimpsed from movies. Say the word Morocco and you immediately transport yourself to scenes out of Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, The Jewel of the Nile, The Bourne Ultimatum or Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation. It is a nation shaped by many cultures, and whose history is rich and deep and can be traced back to prehistoric times. A country where a Medina offers the intoxicating smells of spices and food, a visual kaleidoscope of yarns dyed and hung across the narrow alleys, of being wrapped in scarfs and touching the artistry of wooden bowls and ironwork and the rapid intensity of bartering for goods.
It was into this world, in exotic Marrakech, that The University of Alabama’s Executive MBA Class of 2016 began their international trip. As part of their Global Business course in their final semester, the EMBA students are required to spend a week abroad meeting with senior officials of local and international corporations, as well as experiencing and understanding the culture first-hand. Sixty students, faculty, staff and spouses journeyed to Marrakech and Casablanca, Morocco and then to Madrid, Spain. An optional post trip to Barcelona, Spain allowed students to further their cultural adventure.
The global experience began February 27, with a welcome orientation and lunch followed by a tour of Marrakech with shopping in the Medina and a dinner that included a Moroccan Show. We dined on traditional food that began with a course of small dishes of olives, nuts, vegetables, a sweet fruit jam and bread. Next came a mound of couscous with roasted vegetables and chicken, then a Pigeon Pie (complete with a Pigeon’s skull) and then orange slices for dessert.
The next day combined film with adventure as everyone learned more about Morocco’s booming movie industry from James Cutting, owner of Cutting Loose Productions, who has been in the business for 40 years and cooperated on such Hollywood films as Alexander, Kingdom of Heaven, Babel and Mission Impossible V.
The afternoon included an opportunity to explore the beautiful views of the Atlas Mountains either by quad bike or camel, or experience a Hamman (traditional Steam Room and Bath) at the Beldi Country Club. For most it was a first time to experience fishtailing a four-wheeler, navigating a camel, or being scrubbed head to toe until you are red and shiny.
On Monday, February 29, the EMBA students arrived at the ABURY Foundation, a charity with two main goals: to support development co-operations and community education. The ABURY Foundation is supported heavily by the ABURY Collection, which connects emerging designers with artisans in remote places of the world (in this case in Marrakech where women create exquisite handcrafted bags and carpets). For every product sold from the Collection ABURY gives back to the local community education for women and children.
As part of a consulting project, the Tuscaloosa and Huntsville EMBA classes were tasked with developing a set of recommendations for the best strategy for ABURY to enter the U.S. Market. Student teams presented to ABURY’s Founder and CEO Andrea Kolb their general analysis of the U.S. Market, customer analysis and segmentation, initial target city markets, logistics, marketing and communication strategy, and online sales recommendations. The students received high praise from Kolb, “[The EMBA teams] presented amazing work and a valuable framework for us to follow in order to expand our business.”
After the presentation the students, faculty and staff visited the small village of Douar Anzal, in the Atlas mountains, where the women live and create their handbags. Upon arrival students filled the school that ABURY built. Inside the women proudly showed off their writing skills in English and Arabic while outside an impromptu football (soccer) game ensued between the children and some of the EMBAs. Then the students experienced the overwhelming generosity and warmth of a Moroccan welcome. We climbed the hillside to enter their homes. Women, some holding babies on their hips filled the small kitchen to prepare our meal of couscous, vegetables and chicken. It was agreed this was our best meal. A meal with friends, with those that welcome you into their homes and hearts, are always the most remembered. We said our goodbyes and as the sun set on the small village we made our way to Casablanca.
Check out other articles in the four-part series