Hynd Bouhia

“I was very happy to be able to put my country on the list,” remarked Hynd Bouhia ’98, Ph.D. in Engineering Sciences, upon being ranked 29th among Forbes magazine’s “100 Most Powerful Women.” To put that ranking in perspective, the Morocco native was just one step behind Senator Hillary Clinton.

Bouhia, 35, currently serves as director general at the Casablanca Stock Exchange in Morocco, the third largest exchange in Africa. After earning her degree at Harvard, she worked at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., focusing on economic development and water and environmental policies in emerging economies. In 2004, the then Prime Minister of Morocco, Driss Jettou, tapped her as his economic advisor.

She is quick to credit Harvard’s part in her success. “I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to study at Harvard,” she said, giving particular credit to her mentor Peter Rogers, Gordon McKay Professor of Environmental Engineering. “I believe that my degree was surely instrumental to any international recognition.” Bouhia’s success in helping to bring a $700 million U.S. development grant to Morocco in 2007—something she lists among her proudest achievements—likely swayed the Forbes editors as well.

Upon becoming Exchange Director in 2007, you said that you wanted to “position the exchange internationally.”

So far, Morocco’s financial system has been disconnected from the international financial crisis. The level of international investors in the floating capital does not exceed 2%, and Moroccan Banks have around 4% of their assets invested abroad. We did, however, see some psychological effect on local investors that resulted in small falls of the main indicators.

In light of recent economic turmoil, is raising visibility still key for Morocco?

Raising the visibility of the stock exchange at the international level remains extremely important to attract funds that are dedicated to global emerging markets. In fact, the geo-strategic position of Morocco and all the efforts undertaken by the government in terms of infrastructure and regulation set the groundwork for creating an international trade crossing point.

In some sense, emerging economies may be better off.

For countries where foreign exchange is still controlled, the financial crisis will probably slow down their plan for freeing financial fluxes. That said, as a response to the financial crisis, emerging economies will be leading the world’s growth, as they can rely on locally stimulated demand. These countries may even help advanced economies to get their rhythm back.

While you manage an abstract process, your work has tangible results for a country like Morocco.

Even within the stock exchange, there is a way to assess an abstract process on the real economy. For emerging countries, the stock exchange can play a central role in stimulating growth. Moreover, capitalism adapts itself to the context of the country. For example, with privatization in Africa, some of it was done through the stock exchange and some by direct cessions. Changes and progress have to be gradual in order to ensure its sustainability.

In fact, you began your career focusing on a related form of sustainability: resource planning for water.

Water is an economic good and needs to be considered as such by integrating it into the national planning. When water is considered as a commodity, consumers should pay for its real value. This is how a golf course in the desert can make sense as long as the water is priced for its real value. When planning for water allocation, governments should take into consideration the optimization of the resources and set priorities with long-term vision.

Peter Rogers has suggested that without conservation or appropriate technologies, the world will face a “freshwater crisis.”     

Governments are aware of the crucial role of water. This is particularly true for water-scarce countries like Morocco. The question is how best to optimize the use of the existing resources. In that regard, an integrated strategy was defined to shift from heavy water crops (like cereals and corn) to higher-value water use in olive trees and for other tree products. 

Is it fair to ask nations such as India not to “act American” in terms of using natural resources?

Renewable energy is at the center of all debates on energy in both advanced and emerging economies. Yet what seems easy to apply in the U.S. and Europe might not be on the top of the list in India. In the case of Morocco, the government is working on the creation of social security for low-income households to ease the weight on the government budget from subsidizing oil directly. In parallel, campaigns to raise awareness among large energy consumers are getting more and more positive feedback.

Each day, you are up against powerful odds. How do you find balance?

I have always been an optimistic and positive person. I guess what keeps me going is to believe in myself, in my country, and in the world. I also believe in the importance of balancing professional and personal life. I am taking a sabbatical year to prepare for my upcoming baby and to spend some time with my family. I would like to write a book on emerging markets’ finance and economic development—and hope to visit Harvard and my professors.