Maha Ech-Chefaa: “Know why you want something, and you’ll reach it”
Empowerment is all that Maha Ech-Chefaa is about. This woman, who was nominated for a Booking.com Tech Playmaker Award, grew up in Morocco and is now CEO at Enactus, while also having her own organization called Leeha, that helps encourage Moroccons to chase their tech dreams.
What is it exactly you do at Enactus and Leeha?
For Enactus, I’m the Country Leader (CEO) for Morocco, supervising the operations of the NGO within the country and overseeing the various partnership programs.
Enactus is a community of student, academic, and business leaders collaborating on entrepreneurial action to impacts lives. In Morocco, our network represents 5500 university students from different backgrounds, implementing an average of 200 projects yearly.
Regarding Leeha, I founded this venture back in 2014 with the sole purpose of initiating a platform for underserved women in Morocco to empower them and improve their livelihoods. Currently, we’re producing ergonomic and affordable baby carriers in partnership with Happy Baby Foundation.
When did you know you wanted to be working in IT?
Being a curious person since childhood, I’ve always been eager to learn and know more about the power of technology. This curiosity turned into a passion during University studies when I started to learn by myself about coding, websites design and development as well as databases management. My final studies project was directly linked to IT and my first job was a web content manager.
What steps did you take to actually get where you are now? Did you do an IT study, and did you just apply for a job?
After finishing high school, I wasn’t sure about the field or future career that would be a perfect fit for me. That’s when I applied to almost all kind of schools and universities…YES, that was a first challenge! I ended up enrolling at ESI (Information Science School) where I enjoyed learning various subjects and especially languages (English and Spanish).
2 years later, I decided to learn by myself programming and web technologies because I felt inspired and highly interested by IT field. This affected my “first job” choice which was “Web Content Manager” for which I applied through an online platform.
Although this first experience was satisfying, I had a strong will to challenge myself more and discover other perspectives. That’s where I decided to go abroad and continue my studies in 2007.
2 years later, a new challenge comes up. 2009 was a crisis year, job offers decreased in a significant way. I went through 6 months of interviews between France and Morocco. With all these difficulties, I got a job proposal to work as a Web Consultant/Project Manager in Morocco with one of the most known IT services companies. I was extremely excited to take on this new adventure and start a new chapter!
In 2012, I was looking for new professionals challenges and ways I can merge my personal vision of being helpful to my community, with my career. I started learning new skills, opening up more to challenging opportunities, traveling more and connecting with people with various backgrounds. End of 2014, I got into a new turning point: launching my first venture Leeha aiming to empower underserved women in Morocco.
I was blessed having the support from my mother and sisters. A few months later I got “the perfect job offer”, joining Enactus Morocco as a Program Manager. The decision to quit a classical job and do something I’m really passionate about was not easy.
It looked like a completely crazy decision for my relatives since it was DIFFERENT from what they were expecting me to do. From that day, I had the chance to open-up to completely different career perspectives leading to a major role change in January 2018 where I was recommended to be the new upcoming Director of Enactus Morocco. Currently in Enactus Morocco, we are a team of 13 people amongst which 7 are women. 4 of which have leadership roles.
In general: do you think IT is still a field with a lot of men?
I believe the overall scene has changed compared to few years ago with larger opportunities for girls and women to learn, connect and grow. Thus, more women visible and active in IT and STEM fields. However, there is still a way for improvements and encouragements. I believe that men are an important ally for women to get empowered.
What do you like most about your job?
The huge potential to impact youth everyday through entrepreneurship and technology!
And what is the most tricky part?
It’s a very challenging job where each day bring new challenges to face and overcome 🙂
Moreover, finding a balance between our double targets: youth/university students & academics and business leaders as partners and funders.
Was it difficult for you, as a woman growing up in Morocco, to be taken seriously and to follow your dreams?
I believe every person faces challenges whether they are a man or a woman. What really makes a difference is our ability to embrace the obstacles and challenge ourselves to overcome and learn from them. This is a very important yet difficult capability to achieve but it’s possible if we are self-aware and are willing to empower ourselves.
I was blessed growing up in a loving family where I had a special place for my parents and siblings. This allowed me having my own space to discover who I am. One of my first inspiration was my elder sister who studied IT and pursued a career in it.
What tip would you give a girl that wants to be in IT too?
It is possible to achieve a dream or career goal! We just need to know why we want it, define our life purpose and get a support system (people encouraging you pursuing your “crazy” dreams and get inspired and learn from actual role models).