The Athens Democracy Forum 2021 was held this past year from the 29th of September to the 1st of October in Athens, Greece. The Forum is organized by the Democracy and Culture Foundation and the New York Times and, as part of the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (an education partner of Deree-The American College of Greece for the fifth year), Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane was represented by International Studies student Ibtissame Bourhnane in the Forum.
Through a rigorous selection process, 24 students were selected to participate in the Forum, and 17 of them were able to attend in person last year. The students prepared for the Forum over the summer by meeting virtually to discuss the state of democracy and issues affecting youth in their countries.
Another product of the students' work were videos and essays on topics discussed during the five panels at the Forum. Nine of these videos were shown during the Forum and three of the essays were used for social media promotion. AUI student Ibtissame Bourhnane co-authored, in conjunction with four other student delegates, a summary on the panel discussion titled "From the Ground Up: New Economic Models." The action points proposed by the Global Liberal Arts Alliance students are to: "use technology as a tool that can benefit all stakeholders of a new economy"; "provide quality education and access to a diverse labor market to people from rural areas, minimizing the socio-economic gap between urban and rural areas"; and to "use technology to create more sustainable means of production."
In her reflection essay, Ibtissame Bourhnane stresses the "need for effective, efficient, and environment friendly development programs and inclusive development agendas." She also notes that "Another important element for development is putting the concept in its global and international context, without alienation of developing countries, which eventually leads to the widening of the gap between different nations, and the exclusion of some from important decision-making."
The action plan that Ibtissame proposes to work on in her hometown is in the area of cooperatives. She says that, "In my hometown specifically, the natural raw materials (mainly rose for rose-based cosmetics and Argan oil), are being used by foreign investors to produce products that are being sold for relatively higher prices using low financial capital due to the cheap labor in the region. As was mentioned in the report co-authored with my team, technology can be profitable in terms of creating sustainable economic models and including rural areas’ industries in national and international markets. The incorporation of advanced technological means in the context of Boumalen Dades’ – my home village - development will also allow the transformation of the small and secluded cooperatives to big and efficient factories. The creation of a new industrial movement will allow the minimization of the gap between the countryside and the urban areas in Morocco and will induce development in the region. Another element that can be of added value in this habilitation project is the financial empowerment of women in the region, which will promote more gender equality and hence, get us closer to the better future portrayed in the panels."
AUI is proud of student delegate Ibtissame Bourhnane and her participation in the Athens Democracy Forum this past year, and is excited to see her next steps in this project!