Rabia El Alama is, one could say, an unofficial ambassador of goodwill here in Morocco. She is also a household name and a role model to many Moroccans, particularly women, to whom she feels especially connected.
Officially, Rabia is the head of the AmCham, the American Chamber of Commerce of Morocco; whose goal is to promote bilateral relations between the United States and Morocco. We here at Mushmina gravitate towards Rabia because she is an incredible leader, inspirational teacher, and loyal friend to Moroccans, Americans, and all global citizens alike.
Rabia is particularly motivated to help empowering women within the small business sector. But as she explains, “Education is the key onset for women in this country, as well as any country globally. Once a woman is exposed to the joy of learning, a seed is planted inside her, and a whole new world of independence opens. Part of learning is working in a classroom with others. Most women in rural areas of Morocco do not have this experience. It’s rooted in our culture. They do not go to school. We have to change this. We have to alter this mindset.”
Rabia goes on to talk about how she encourages women to begin thinking about becoming entrepreneurs. “No matter how small her potential business is, there always is room for a woman to dream. Here in Morocco, whether it be opening up a simple vegetable stand or creating a handmade jewelry line, women are vastly talented and creative. They just need the leadership tools and the guidance to begin.”
Rabia’s advice for young women around the world?
Don’t ever stop learning. Pursue higher education. Seek scholarships. Learn from others. Continue to be inspired every day. Think outside the box. Don’t be intimidated by other successful women. Ask them what has helped them and what has driven them to succeed. And if you have the chance, encourage other women, particularly younger girls, to become leaders themselves.
The answer, Rabia is certain, is countering the culture of greed that we humans, have created. The key is in kindness. She tells me, “Women have been taught this. Humans have been taught this. Particularly in a poverty-ridden country like Morocco where there is often a fight to survive. Where there is such a difference between the have’s and the have-not’s. This culture can breed jealousy and envy. Women who should be working together to attain a goal of independence.” She continues, “Jealousy halts this progress. It’s toxic. And it’s counter-productive; particularly in the business world where it’s essential to learn from others.”
So how do women defy this counter-productivity? Rabia takes a simple, but effective approach to her business model. She explains her success theory, “Being an accomplished entrepreneur does mean that you have a competitive flair but this does not mean that you have to sacrifice your integrity and kindness as a human being. Sharing happiness is infectious. Training young people to be strong and driven in their businesses but also to be good people outside of their jobs is possible.”
She goes on, “I tell potential female business owners if there is something missing in your idea, business, or model, turn it into a positive instead of a negative. If someone else is doing better business than you, ask what has inspired them and what has been profitable. Again, learn from others. Turn that potentially destructive moment and make it positive.”
Rabia finds that showing success stories of women working together is an encouragement for female business owners. Soft skills, she says, are expertise easily taught, but not innate in many women who are not educated. And Rabia’s heart is truly invested in helping the youth and women who need her most; those who have little education and financial means. She goes all over Morocco working tirelessly with women’s groups, teaching basic entrepreneurial-skills, sustainability, and people skills. As part of this movement, Rabia also founded a unique non-profit for women called the ‘Women Advancement Network’, or WAN. It is her mission to promote women in the business world.
Rabia easily found her own inspiration in those whom she treasures most-her family. Growing up in the small port city of Safi, about three hours south of Casablanca, Rabia remembers her grandmother’s story-a young mother of three whose husband suddenly died when she was only 26 years old. “My grandmother was suddenly alone and dependent on others because she had nothing to offer society. Ironically, she worked harder than anyone I knew. I recall vividly the day she cut off her long, beautiful locks of hair because as she put it, she had no time to care for such a superficial thing. She chopped her hair very short. I won’t ever forget this and the immense sadness I felt for her.”
Rabia went on to say that as her grandmother did not have the means to send all of her three children to school. Only Rabia’s uncle profited from an education abroad. Rabia’s mother was married at the mere age 11 and her sister, Rabia’s aunt, at age 14. To this day, Rabia’s mother regrets her own lack of education. It was her mother’s dedicated mission to send all of her ten children to school and on to university. And she did.
Rabia earned both her Bachelor’s Degree and her Master’s at Casablanca’s prestigious business school, ISCAE, where she studied finance, marketing and international trade. Her close-knit family continues to be her support and inspiration. And now, her daughter is following in some big footsteps, studying business in New York.
This goodwill, this kindness, this mantra, is a lifestyle and more than a job for Rabia. Caring for her family, providing for others, encouraging homegrown entrepreneurs, and advancing the disadvantaged in her own country. This is what makes her tick. And this is why we here at Mushmina are in awe of her. Case in point, when she read over the draft of this blog to make sure I hadn’t made any glaring errors, her humble (and typical) response was, ‘This piece inspires me to do more.”
By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina blogger