Mounia Tagma, AHI Advisor for the Middle East and Africa, was recently profiled by the Moroccan Women's site Visage du Maroc. The interview by Par Hind Chaout from May 10, 2021 is translated from French to English below.
"EVEN AS A CHILD WE UNDERSTAND, WITHOUT CALLING THEM THAT, THAT THE TRANSPORT, COMMUNICATION, HEALTH INFRASTRUCTURES ARE NOT THE SAME."
What has marked your childhood?
Many things! First of all, the very different origins of my paternal and maternal families. Although they are both Moroccan, my parents come from very different backgrounds in terms of language and lifestyle. My father is from the Azrou region in the Middle Atlas, and my mother is from Ouazzane and Rabat. For me, this was an early learning experience of diversity but it also imposed a gymnastics on me: each one had to respect rules and codes that were not always the same.
Then, my father being a career diplomat, my childhood was shaped by the different countries in which we lived in Africa and Europe.
What was your educational background?
I started elementary school in Gabon, in a French school. I spent the most time in Ferney-Voltaire, a small French town bordering Switzerland. For seven years, from CM2 to Première, I attended public school. At the Lycée International de Ferney-Voltaire, the students came from about 50 different countries. They also came from all walks of life, their parents being international civil servants, workers, diplomats, engineers at CERN (European Council for Nuclear Research) or even small shopkeepers.
My family returned to Morocco just before my senior year, which I did at the Lycée Descartes in Rabat. After graduation, I entered Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane to study business administration and international relations.
When and how did you realize your vocation?
Growing up in very different environments, I asked myself many questions. Even as a child, we understand, without calling them that, that the infrastructures of transport, communication, health are not the same. Rains do not have the same effect on the state of the roads, small accidents do not lead us to the same hospitals, and if we have to stay at home to play in some countries, in others children have access to huge green spaces and recreation areas where every child can go.
By exchanging with my father, I understood that there was no fatality and that it was possible to improve people's living conditions. After Al Akhawayn, I was given the opportunity to work on the Fiftieth Anniversary Report, which took stock of Morocco's human development over the fifty years since independence. This report also proposed a twenty-five year perspective. This experience confirmed my vocation. I wanted to work in public policy and development.
Tell us about your postgraduate studies at Harvard
I dreamed of this postgraduate program. It was a carefully thought-out project. I chose to go back to school to study in line with my professional project. After Al Akhawayn and a few years of professional experience, I knew what I wanted to do, but I needed to complete my education and acquire more tools to succeed.
The Master's in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School was a unique experience, academically of course, but also and above all on a human level. You meet people from all over the world who also want to change the world, or at least contribute to improving it. We confront our ideas and discover those of others. It's a permanent learning process that doesn't just take place in the classroom.
Where do children and family fit into all this?
My daughter was born shortly before I left for Boston. Going back to school abroad with a young child sounds adventurous, and it is to some extent, but with organization and help from friends and family, it is possible. There is never a perfect time for a woman: you are too young and you need to focus on your career, or you are caught up in your career and not available for motherhood. It is never easy and the right moment is the one you choose.
And your return to Morocco...
In the United States, as part of an end-of-studies project, I discovered housing, a subject that I had not, until then, considered as a development issue. I then understood the essential role that housing plays in the living conditions of populations, its impact on health, education, on the social fabric and even on the environment. Back in Morocco, I joined a large public company whose mission is to improve housing conditions by fighting against substandard housing and developing access to affordable housing.
Can you tell us exactly what your current job is, both within and outside of the Affordable Housing Institute?
My mission as a housing policy consultant is to support all actors wishing to improve access to affordable housing, whether they are an international organization, a government, a property developer or an NGO. Before proposing action levers, adapted to the client's room for maneuver and its place in the housing ecosystem, it is essential to identify the weak links, everything that makes the production of affordable housing insufficient.
Client demands vary enormously and range from a national housing strategy to the development of a social rental housing program, from housing finance tools to improving the conditions for self-build to setting up public-private partnerships.
Would you say that you are a feminist?
Absolutely! And I became one because of and thanks to my father. Thanks to him, because he always encouraged me to work and to be autonomous, above all because I was a girl. It was explicit in his speech, I should not depend on a man. If I say that it is also "because of him", it is because my feminism was first expressed as a rejection of the inequalities of treatment based on gender, in society in general but also within my own family where boys and girls did not have the same rights.
What is the latest book you have read and how does it impact you?
I have just finished "Le pays des autres" by Leïla Slimani. In a way, the characters who live in other people's countries while being, for some, at home, echo my own story.
What has changed for you since 2020?
A lot has changed. Concretely, travel, time spent at home, social interactions. More fundamentally, it's the way I see the future. The health crisis is an upheaval for everyone. It is also an opportunity to be seized, to do better, to produce better, to consume better. In short, to live better.