Moroccan food has a rich and diverse history, having been influenced by many different cultural exchanges over hundreds of years. This is reflected in the types of foods and spices that can be found in Moroccan dishes – spices such as cumin, saffron, cinnamon, ginger, pepper and turmeric; oils such as olive and argan oil; scented waters such as rosewater and orange water; tagines and cous cous; and green tea with mint.
Women in Morocco have traditionally been the mainstay in the kitchen behind these dishes. As a famous Moroccan saying goes, “the skills of a woman show up in her dish”. Up until the 1990’s, women in Morocco mostly enjoyed being housewives as a fulltime job. However this is now starting to change.
Enter Camélia Drissi. Camélia was also brought up learning from other females around her that a successful woman is a good cook. However she also worked to become an engineer, building up eight years of experience in infrastructure projects, with the aim of reducing poverty through economic growth. Camélia has long dreamed about creating ideas to alleviate poverty: an unhidden poverty in which she lived first hand, and an uglier one she sees in her everyday walk back and forth from home to work.
Camélia witnessed, throughout the 1990s and the 21st century, big changes in Moroccan kitchens. Women started making up at least half of the local workforce, and started to enjoy more rights and freedom now than in the past. Cooking had no choice but to start reflecting women’s conditions and lifestyle. Many emancipated women started seeing beyond the horizon: why not use these remarkable cooking skills to improve the economic situation of one’s own family? As a result, Moroccan dishes started to be put into nice packaged dishes ready to be sold.
Walking down Moroccan streets today, there are many of these small kitchen businesses being run, usually in close proximity to each other. However many of these small kitchen enterprises are run informally and illegally. While there are many advantages for small startups in Morocco, such as tax exemptions for startups, female entrepreneurs face a number of stumbling blocks.
One of the biggest issues is getting access to initial capital for the business. The huge costs of starting up an enterprise is also combined with a lack of financial support and knowledge. Consequently, many of these women run their businesses by producing their products at home, which is illegal and risky. Not only are many meals produced illegally, but they usually do not conform to hygiene standards and can create potential health risks. On a preparation and skills level, there is a lack of basic coaching and guidance training for women willing to start a new business enterprise. Understanding legal issues and having to do paperwork are also important requirements for a business. With high rates of illiteracy in Morocco, this creates a further barrier for females wanting to startup their own kitchen business.
During a visit to the USA, Camélia met with the managers of different kitchen incubators such us Union Kitchen in Washington DC, and LaCocina in San Francisco, and realized how this idea could work in Morocco and solve the issues facing many women. Using her passion as a social entrepreneur, the idea of Spatula was created.
Spatula aims to provide women with a shared-use kitchen space for rent at affordable prices and with flexible time schedules. The basic facilities proposed include rental kitchen spaces, freezers, storage spaces, equipment and a meeting room for meetings and training sessions. These women will also have access to a website that includes booking calendars, networking, and a link to crowd funding. Technical support is also provided to these women through marketing assistance, as well as mentoring and networking services, with the aim of increasing business opportunities in order to strike important business deals.
Spatula is the first kitchen incubator project in Morocco and was selected as one of the finalist business ideas in a Moroccan social entrepreneurship competition called the Forsa-Challenge.
By 2020, Camélia aims to have at least four women that have succeeded in owning their own kitchen, as well as be running a sustainable culinary business with potential business opportunities overseas. Camélia also hopes to create the first Moroccan Incubated Women Entrepreneur Network “I-WEN”. Finally, she hopes to create other incubators similar to Spatula but in other areas such as design and decoration, fashion and handcrafted products.