By Jamal Laoudi
By Jamal Laoudi
Morocco World News
Washington, February 11, 2012
According to the US Census Bureau, the rate of individuals living in the States and who claim Moroccan ancestry has increased by 103.9% between 1990 and 2000, from 19.089 to 38.923 individuals. For the year 2010, some estimates put the total number of members of the Moroccan-American community at about 200.000. With the increased number of population, comes increased demand by the community for more means to continuously communicate with the motherland. Reporting on the community’s activities for consumption in Morocco is relatively scares.
There is occasional coverage by few Moroccan print-media and news agency Agence Maghreb Arabe Presse. As for TV coverage, there appears to be one source and one source only; a Moroccan-owned, Virginia-based company called AVActions.
AVActions has been the sole occasional provider of reporting on community’s news and events. This same company has just opened its first Moroccan offices in the city of Mohammedia with goals including to provide more community reporting for Morocco.
To shed some more light on AVActions and its activities as they relate to the community, we interviewed Mohamed ElHajjam, the company’s founder and president.
Jamal Laoudi (JL): Thank you, Mr. Hajjam, for taking the time to entertain these questions. Let me first ask you to say a bit about your background:
Mohamed ElHajjam (ME): I have two degrees; one in Broadcast Journalism and the other in Information Technology from Montgomery College and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), respectively. I still enroll in courses at both NOVA and George Mason University as time permits. In this field, class is always in session.
JL: What were the first few years like for you in the States?
ME: In the 80s, I sold hotdogs in NY. In the 90s I was a promoter, organizing social events such as concerts. I very much enjoyed that experience, which proved to be quite a useful learning experience later on.
JL: What prompted you to get into the media business? Was it a specific event or has this been with you since an early age?
ME: I loved the theater and the movies as a kid. Superman was my hero. I had this notion I could fly just like him. That being said, I never thought I would be involved in any aspect of the media. It seemed like a long shot. Being from the modest neighborhoods of Mdina Kdima and Houbous in Casablanca back in the 80s, the only thing we dreamt of was leaving the country. I understand that the situation is much better for today’s generation with all the positive changes taking place.
JL: How did AVActions come about? How did it start and grow overtime?
ME: Many things in life happen by accident and AVActions is an example of that. After getting my Broadcast Journalism degree from Montgomery College, I developed a passion for being around cameras. That led me to opening my first company at the age of 24 which I called American Video Production.
I covered anything where a video camera was needed, including weddings, thanks in part to people like Mr. Dou Rachad and Mr. Mouadine from Radio Television du Maroc (RTM), who provided the inspiration partly by interviewing me back then. It was a big deal for me and my family. I got hooked on the process as result.
To elaborate more, during my time as a promoter, I would tape performances and interview performers in Neghma Watay format before that format had even been used in Morocco. Most of that work was aired on local public TV stations in Alexandria, VA. After September 11th, I added the audio-visual dimension to my undertakings. I used that and my freelance work to RTM to survive that era.
With respect to company name, I had seen a company advertised with the name Action Plumbing and I thought to myself, why not call my company Audio Visual Actions since I am always in action? That is where AVActions comes from. It is our trademark name today.
With respect to growth, I attribute that to the team I am lucky enough to have. There is the man behind the scenes, Amine Lounes from Algeria, who is referred to as the architect, Abdul from Ethiopia who does tremendous work for us, and Amy Lopez who attends to our accounting matters. I am also fortunate that they believe in my crazy ideas and they are able to easily and comfortably roll with them.
We have grown and continue to do so partly because of that and partly because we have a simple straightforward message and we provide great service. Be professional and people will notice. Our customers clearly see that.
JL: What kind of risks did you have to take?
ME: I did not pay attention to risks! My dreams and my imagination were good enough to overcome many obstacles. The wellbeing of my family was also a driving force especially when I had my first child Sarah. I wanted to make sure I always provide for them.
It is also worth mentioning that I had developed relationships overtime with individuals in the field which proved quite useful. That is very important to the extent that many steps in the process would be taken rather quickly.
JL: Who are your biggest clients today?
ME: We have many clients from both the public and the private sectors, and from whom we have many testimonials. Although we are a small business in DC, our logo has a well-established reputation. We are very reliable, accommodating, and trustworthy not only among friends but various businesses also, especially DC hotels.
JL: Recently, you have inaugurated AVActions Morocco in the city of Mohammedia. In other words, this is going international. What do you attribute that success to? Did you foresee that in the past? What kind of new specific challenges does this present?
ME: I wanted to do something in the motherland Morocco. We had been ready for a while but it took us two years two years to open a physical office. With some luck, we found an ideal location in the city of Mohammedia. The goal is to turn that into a headquarters in Morocco by next year.
I am persistent and very determined to grow this and make it a success. It is crucial for me that this takes place in Morocco. It is partly a way to give back. We have developed much expertise in the States and it would be nice to utilize it back there. Furthermore, this will also take a dimension of building bridges between the two countries.
Not only that, but the idea is to also use our offices in Morocco to assist US companies doing business back home, to exchange expertise on the field between the two countries through my team, to assist in organizing seminars, and provide for a platform for journalists to interact. It is an important undertaking and I hope it succeeds because many appreciate this endeavor as it will prove quite beneficial.
JL: From the entrepreneurial standpoint, what vision do you have for the next 5, 10, and 20 years?
ME: In five years I foresee our offices in Morocco matching our business in the US in terms of volumes. In 10-years time, I would very much like to have offices in at least 4 other US states. In 20 years, ideally a well-established franchise.
JL: What general and specific advice would you have for new start-ups and entrepreneurial endeavors?
ME: My advice would be to be professional, decent, and just dream. When you think you are done dreaming, dream again and be persistent. Wonders can happen!
JL: You also serve as the window through which Morocco peeks at the Moroccan-American community here, especially in Ramadan? Talk a little bit about that, when did it start?
ME: It started out back in 1996 after I had just graduated from Montgomery College. I spent quite some time volunteering for RTM which was fun. I remember covering the African Cup of Nation from here before RTM was broadcast in the US.
I have always been fascinated with Ramadan and what it brings with it so I get very active covering events during that month. Furthermore, there are many individuals who have inspirational stories to a certain extent so I try and profile some of them.
The ongoing challenge for me is to cover Moroccans in other states since we do not know much about the various communities in other states. Much of what I cover takes place in Washington, DC by virtue of my residing there. I have some specials lined up from 17th the 26th of August which will be broadcast on Moroccan TV. I should be covering Boston and New York in addition to Washington, but I am also looking into adding other states.
JL: What were the biggest events you have covered?
ME: Every event is big for me. The Washington Moroccan Club’s 20/20 celebrations event is the most recent. That one kept me busy for 30 days and I had to do daily reports. I try and cover as much of the community as possible as there are many successful stories to report. My role essentially is a means to transmit these stories.
I have also traveled to other cities such as Orlando, Texas, Dallas, NY where we were privileged to meet many Moroccans.
I should also express my appreciation to SNRT for broadcasting these programs and to MAP’s director Mr. Ali Bouzerda who, in retrospect, has played an important role as he has always believed in me and supported my efforts.
JL: Many thanks and we wish you continuous success. Last words:
ME: It is nice sharing my story with you Mr. Jamal and I hope it is not boring. Hopefully your readers will enjoy reading it.
I am just an average Joe from Mdina Kdima & Houbous. My point is you need not have a PhD or average A+ on your grades to succeed and achieve your dreams. My mom does not have a PhD and she is the most successful woman in the world as far as I am concerned. I leave you and your readers with this, follow your instinct. We are lucky to be both Americans and Moroccans so do not take that for granted and never give up!
Jamal Laoudi is a Moroccan national. He received a Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Science and a Bachelor’s of Art in Economics. He is employed with the Adelphi Research Laboratory and serves as an independent consultant in Computational Linguistics. He contributes to various news and community portals including Aljazeeratalk.net, Moroccoworldnews.com, and wafin.com.
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