(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
Here is our interview with Zineb Chekraoui, CEO & Founder of Moroccan Heritage Exchange (MHE). She is a social entrepreneur who has been involved extensively in leadership training, social entrepreneurship and community service in Morocco.
What makes you do what you do?
I see in women a huge potential and an energetic self full of hard-work that can when properly channeled, help them achieve a spectacular success. I started MHE in order to spread entrepreneurship throughout the ranks of women in rural areas by providing them with micro-credits as well as a platform through which they can sell their goods. I have a keen interest in entrepreneurship and seeing ideas grow, and that’s what keeps me going every day. One of my favorite pass-times with my friends is when we meet to discuss new business plans or the latest entrepreneurial venture in Silicon Valley.
What I do deeply interests me, and allows me to empower women in my own way: the entrepreneurial way.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
One thing I realized in this environment is that you don’t need to be exceptionally smart to start a business. Everyone can do it as long as they are motivated and perseverant. My company has helped start dozens of small women businesses, and I did it slowly but surely. It is really all about taking that first step.
Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
For two main reasons: my passion for entrepreneurship, and my desire to empower women in rural areas.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have several people on which I rely on, and several more which have helped me throughout my journey. I will be forever grateful for their help. I currently don’t have one specific person that I could call a mentor, which I think is quite unfortunate. I hope to one day meet someone who can mentor me to challenge me and push me to do better.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I am learning every day how to evolve and become a better leader. I try to learn from others around me and I read a lot of leadership books. HBS Review has several publications about case studies and articles about emotional intelligence that are interesting. I highly recommend reading those. There are certain values that one has to keep to oneself, and ambitious goals that one always has to set in order to keep moving forward.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
Of course, diversity is the pillar on which this world stands. We work with all sorts of women from all over Morocco, and it is their diversity and rich backgrounds that contribute the most towards their success.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Leadership goes with responsibilities, and mine as a business owner are to never stop learning and trying hard with the co-ops and women. I am responsible for the business development of the co-ops as well as of MHE; I have to acquire the right skills and take the educated risks to take the businesses to the next level. Fight for the women and teach them how to fight for themselves and empower themselves by themselves. As a general rule of thumb, leadership is directly linked to involvement with a clear vision.
Advice for others?
The advice that I have for people is, go out there, believe in themselves, and start those ideas that have been trotting in their minds. It’s really not hard to start a business, just go ahead and do the first step! In the next chapter of my adventure, I plan to do a funding round to raise some seed capital investment.
To learn more about Moroccan Heritage Exchange (MHE), please see http://moroccanheritageexchange.com/.
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This article was co-written with Mariem Khemir.