Philanthropists Othman & Leila Benjelloun received the 2019 Middle East Institute Visionary Award at MEI's 73rd Annual Awards Gala on November 12 in Washington, DC.


Leila Benjelloun 

Chairman Clarke, President Salem, Excellence, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Benjelloun and I, we are deeply honored to receive this award from the Middle East Institute. We are as possibility as well as been extremely fortunate to have overseen for almost 20 years a program to build and manage rural community schools in every region of Morocco and in five African countries: Senegal, Mali, Congo, Savill, Rwanda, and soon, Djibouti. It's a day when we look into the eyes of our contented school children. What is tangible is the fundamental good that comes from being able to provide them with a high quality education is buried by a strong set of principles that are rooted in a sense of local community, as well as an openness of the world beyond.  This service of openness is achieved through teaching our country's office a languages, Berber and Arabic, as well as foreign languages like French, Mandarin, Chinese and so on, Spanish and English. It is also achieved through the use of technology, interactive whiteboards and computers and classroom in delivery of the curriculum. It also means familiarizing our children with robots. The impact of our endeavors is clearly perceptible in the highly successful academic results achieved by children extending from days in school when they make the transition from primary to the secondary school. The impact is a equally perceptible in the number of former pupils who go on to higher education despite the fact that they come from remote and poor villages. 

That in itself, ladies and gentlemen, is a source of immeasurable reward for us. We also take satisfaction from the mutually beneficial relation, and the productive partnership that we have fostered for nearly 20 years with the Moroccan Ministry of National Education. We are fortunate to have the support of a large Pan-African group BMCE Bank of Africa, Europe and of its chairman, my husband, as well as their committment behind the chairman of the group [...] who regularly express their pride in the impact made by the foundation initiative. And that is the case today in the recognition given the decision of BMCE Bank of Africa board of directors ratified by their annual general meeting of shareholders to annualy commit up to 4 percent of the group's pretax profit to these corporate social responsibility initiative is absolutely invaluable. 

We would like to thank Chairman Clarke, President Salem and members of the Middle East Institute for having chosen us for these visionary award. Thank you. 

Brian Henderson

And now, Mr. Chairman, Othman Benjelloun would say a few words. I will reinforce something that Leila mentioned, and that is that the Bank contributes up to 4 percent of its revenue every year to help fund the foundation. So when you think of new and potential ways in which we can learn from how others are doing things to help fund through social public private partnerships for other endeavors, not only just education, it's really quite a special arrangement from a for-profit and listed bank in a country like Morocco. So please, Mr. Chairman. 

Othman Benjelloun

Merci. Chairman Clarke, President Salem, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we are deeply honored to receive the Visionary Award from the most prestigious think tank specializing in Middle Eastern affairs. We are all the more touched since the title of this award bears a qualifier that is dear to us: "visionary." Pan-African multi-national institutions like ours have a responsibility to carry out philanthropic initiatives as an integral part of their corporate social responsibility and their strategic vision. They must lead by example, show us a way in what needs to be done to tackle the key issues of our country. It is our belief that education forms the bedrock of every culture and every civilization. We also believe that education should take root at its very source in early childhood. And that is why BMCE Bank Foundation has established a program of reading and managing rural schools in Morocco and in Africa. 

The other cause to which we have been committed for more than a quarter of a century is the environment because our biodiversity is threatened. Climate change has become a global reality with potentially devastating effects for the planet. We are proud that one of the seven Pan-African banking group has now earned the recognition of some of the top names in philanthropy and social conscience, including this think tank, as well as the Rockefeller Foundation, which three years ago awarded us the Bridging Leadership Award. We were awarded not because of our group's commercial or financial strategy and performance, but rather as a tribute to the sense it has given to finance. 

Ladies and gentlemen, we are also proud that this award puts our country of Morocco under the spotlight. We spoke about this with President Salem when he visited us in Casblanca. Morocco deserves to be better known by the members of the Middle East Institute and by the wider Washington community. They need to know the history of a country which is thousands years of age. The history of the first country to acknowledge the United States as an independent nation in 1777. The history of a country imbued with a spirit of tolerance, whose civilization and people are constituted from a melting pot of cultures: African, Andalusian, Arab and Berber. A country whose sovereign is one of the most enlightened leaders among emerging countries, and for over two decades has significantly transformed his country's economy and reputation, its appeal, and its influence on the international stage. 

It is for all the above reasons, Chairman Clark, President Salem, ladies and gentlemen, that we dedicate the Visionary Award to His Majesty King Mohammed VI, who is a great visionary. We dedicate also to our immediate family, our daughter Dounia, who is here today, our son Kamal, and to our professional family, the tens of thousands of employees of BMCE Bank of Africa Group. We also dedicate this Visionary Award to the citizens of Morocco, a country that we invite you to visit and get to know a little better. A country that for almost 250 years has been a faithful and reliable ally of the United States. Thank you.