Morocco’s diaspora can help strengthen its innovation landscape*

October 2015

By Nour-Eddine Boukharouaa, Moroccan Industrial and Commercial Property Office (OMPIC), chapter coordinator; Marwan Berrada, Ministry in Charge of Moroccans Living Abroad and Migration Affairs; Abdelhak Chaibi, Association R&D Morocco; Salma Dinia, National Centre for Scientific and Technical Research (CNRST); Abdesselam El Ftouh, Hassan II Foundation for Moroccans Living Abroad; Adil El Maliki, Karima Farah, and Ilham Bennani, Moroccan Industrial and Commercial Property Office (OMPIC); Omar Elyoussoufi Attou, Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Executive Training; and Yassine Ouardirhi, Ministry of Industry, Trade, Investment and the Digital Economy

* This article is a summary of Chapter 8 of the 2014 Global Innovation Index entitled The Moroccan Diaspora and its Contribution to the Development of Innovation in Morocco.

Morocco’s location on the borders of three distinctive worlds – the Arab world, North Africa and Europe – and its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea have meant its people are open to international cultural, economic and scientific exchange.

Today, the shortage of qualified human resources in a globalized and competitive marketplace that requires knowledge and know-how are new reasons for Morocco’s population to be mobile. But could the talents and the expertise of Moroccans living abroad (MLAs) contribute to the development of the nation’s emerging sectors? The Moroccan government thinks they can and for a number of years has been actively courting its expatriate community for that very purpose.

Moroccans across the world

As at 2012, some 4.5 million Moroccans – 15 percent of its total population – were living abroad, many of them young and of working age. Some 400,000 of them were highly educated with either a bachelor’s or graduate degree and over 32,000 were senior executives or professionals in the private sector or occupying research, research and development management or academic positions. 

The trans-generational socioeconomic ascent of the immigrant population is poised to create a concentration of highly skilled workers living abroad. The Moroccan Diaspora is made up both of those who received their bachelor’s degree in Morocco before emigrating as well as their children who are educated in their new country of residence. The share of university graduates among MLAs is, in fact, twice as high as the domestic graduate population.

The Moroccan Diaspora is mainly located in France (32 percent), Spain (20 percent), Italy (12 percent) and other European countries, Arab countries (6 percent), the United States of America and Canada (together 3 percent) and some African and Asian countries.

The Moroccan Diaspora’s innovative output

Identifying expatriates who contribute actively to innovation is difficult because the data are often not available. However, analysis of patent applications filed under WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which specify the place of residence and the nationality of applicants, reveals an increasing level of patenting activity among MLAs. During the period 1995 to 2011 some 876 patent applications were filed by MLAs under the PCT.

The analysis further reveals a correlation between the number of Moroccan students concentrated in France, Spain and the USA and the number of patent applications they file. A breakdown of PCT patent applications submitted by MLAs by technical field shows that 20 percent relate to medical sciences, 10 percent to organic chemistry and 8 percent to biochemistry.

Recent research on return migration by WIPO shows that few Moroccan emigrant inventors – just 2.39 percent – return to their home country to file their patent applications. These findings suggest that Moroccan talent abroad is contributing to global innovation and that there is significant scope to harness the scientific, creative and innovation potential of MLAs to boost Morocco’s innovation goals.

Mobilizing the Moroccan Diaspora

Since the 1990s, the government of Morocco has actively sought to encourage the direct involvement of MLAs in contributing to Morocco’s development strategy. Various MLA mobilization initiatives have been rolled out to this end. These include, the very successful “Mobilization Skills Program”, which calls upon Moroccan professionals who are ready to contribute their expertise, experience and know-how to Morocco’s development. The program keeps these professionals informed about opportunities to develop partnerships with Moroccan public and private actors and supports those who establish projects in Morocco. Other programs include the “MDM Invest”, program which seeks to encourage investment into Moroccan enterprises and the United Nations’ Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTEN) program, which again seeks to encourage the engagement of MLAs in Morocco’s development.

Launched in June 2009, “Innovation Morocco”, the country’s national innovation strategy, has galvanized efforts to strengthen Morocco’s innovation ecosystem. The strategy covers four main areas, including mobilizing talent at home and abroad in support of the country’s development goals (the other three are governance and regulatory framework, infrastructure and clusters, and funding and support).

A wide range of initiatives have been launched to strengthen Morocco’s innovation landscape. For example, in 2011 the Moroccan Office for Industrial and Commercial Property, in partnership with the Ministry of Industry, established the Moroccan Innovation Club – a virtual platform dedicated to innovation – to create a network of Moroccan innovation actors both in Morocco and abroad. Similarly the Maghribcom web platform offers Moroccan professionals information about business, investment and employment opportunities, serving as a springboard to establish win-win partnerships between economic operators, universities and research institutions in Morocco as well as the Moroccan Diaspora.

Recognizing the largely untapped scientific, innovative and creative potential of Moroccans living abroad, the government has fostered a rapprochement with its expat community with highly qualified individuals actively encouraged to create projects in Morocco. A 2012 study by the European Training Foundation shows that 81 percent of migrants that have returned to Morocco in the past decade were under the age of 54. Two-thirds of them owned their own businesses, many of which were highly innovative and built on experience acquired abroad.

In order to compete successfully in the global market for highly qualified professionals, policymakers need to ensure that the home country is attractive to those contributing from abroad. This means considering specific return campaigns centered around major technology projects; mobilizing targeted human resources for earmarked projects and creating attractive and favorable conditions to attract professionals who are abroad to engage in the development of innovation in Morocco.

While Morocco’s efforts to promote return migration have enjoyed some success, a great deal remains to be done to realize the innovative potential of its highly educated professional workers. Morocco’s experience highlights the importance of ensuring that the home country becomes more attractive to these migrants. This is an important early step. While return migration policies hold great promise, more and better data are required in this area. 

The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.