Looking for Women Role Models in Morocco? – Jean R. AbiNader

Check the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Arab Women

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
September 22, 2015

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

On September 16, Forbes Middle East unveiled its 2015 annual ranking of the Arab World’s Most Powerful Women during an exclusive gala dinner and awards ceremony in Dubai. A compelling sidebar to each of their profiles is that these women are both exemplary professionals and deeply involved in their communities and country.  Forbes ranked them according to the impact they have on their profession, as well as their commitment to social development in their countries.

Six women from Morocco made the list. Rita Maria Zniber, who has led Diana Holdings since April 2014, has built her reputation as a keen business person who sees her mission as making her company a global player in producing wines and spirits. The Zniber brand is well known as the top vintner in Morocco, with more than 6,500 employees. In addition to her business achievements, Mrs. Zniber is known for her foundation, which specializes in care for abandoned children. Over a 20 year period, starting in Meknes, she has established a growing group of services for abandoned babies and orphaned children, now reaching 350 charges a year.

Laila Mamou is chairperson of the Management Board of Wafasalaf, a leading credit card and financing company in Morocco and the region. She began her career with the Moroccan affiliate of Deloitte and quickly rose through the ranks of Wafasalaf, first in risk management and then director of commercial sales, where she oversaw the launch of its very successful “one hour credit” product. Mrs. Mamou has led Wafasalaf to become a leading consumer credit company.

Salwa Akhannouch is the president of Akwa Group, a distributor of petroleum products, and heads the franchise group Aksal. Her most visible project to date is the Morocco Mall, the largest shopping center in Africa and the Middle East, often included in the top 5 worldwide.Mrs. Akhannouch and her husband, Aziz, the Minister of Agriculture, and members of their family, are deeply committed to promoting Moroccan handicrafts and artisans. Their artisanal center in Sale is a must-see on any visit to the Rabat area.

Hund Bouhia is a star in the financial sector. She is the CEO of Global Nexus, having previously served as the Head of Investment Strategy of CDG, Morocco’s Public Pension Fund, and as Director General of the Casablanca Stock Exchange.

An engineer by training, she worked for a number of years at the World Bank, where she was involved with financing policies and projects. Ms. Bouhia then returned to Morocco and became the Economic Advisor of Morocco’s Prime Minister, Driss Jettou. Ms. Bouhia played an instrumental role in Morocco’s first MCC compact and attended both Johns Hopkins University and Harvard.

Meriem Bensalah-Chaqroun is one of the most powerful businesswomen in the country, and one of the most consistently noted leaders in the Middle East and Africa.  She holds an MBA in International Management and Finance from the University of Dallas and heads the conglomerate Holmarcom, known for its regional beverage and water bottling and distribution. She is a board member of Bank Al Maghrib, the National Central and Reserve Bank of Morocco, and Chairperson of the Euro-Mediterranean Center of Mediation and Arbitration. Mrs. Bensalah–Chaqroun is deeply involved in humanitarian private and public agencies as well as in numerous charitable associations. Not content to be one of the most influential women in the Arab World, she is also an airplane pilot, a HD bike rider, a first-series golf player, and she won the famous car rally Le Trophée des Gazelles in 1993.

Saida Karim Lamrani is the Associate Vice President of Holdings Group Safari-Sofipar Cofimar. She is responsible for day-to-day management and the overall expansion of the company, started by her father.

A lawyer by training, she is a member of the Board of Directors of the Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity chaired by King Mohammed VI; vice-president of the Lepers Assistance Association; and part of the senior leadership of the Moroccan Association of agricultural application and training.

This is quite a stellar and formidable lineup for a country that has only recently been able to provide universal education for its boys and girls. At the Gala this weekend, I also had the privilege of interviewing two of the next generation of Moroccan women leaders—Manal Elattir, founder of Anarouz, and Hayat Essakkati, who started an advisory firm promoting empowerment of SMEs–both of whom are deeply committed to succeeding as businesswomen and entrepreneurs, and to spreading social entrepreneurship into remote areas of Morocco. It is this combination of hard-nosed business savvy and passionate concern for their society that augers well for Morocco’s future.



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