Hamida Ben-Gacem was one of the first children from his village to go to school. After attending university in Morocco, he returned home to Tunisia to work at the Ministry of Finance, before a scholarship from the Ford Foundation took him to the United States. In 1972, he became the first Tunisian graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).
Two decades later, his son, Hazem, graduated from Harvard College, the first step in a career that has seen him become co-CEO of Bahrain’s Investcorp, a global investment firm with assets worth $35bn.
Now, in recognition of the doors that opened up for him during his career due to his degree, 50-year-old Ben-Gacem has gifted some $10m of his own money into a variety of scholarships and programmes to help create opportunities for others.
Ben-Gacem, who spent part of his childhood in Abu Dhabi, first created a fund to pay for the tuition and living costs of Tunisians accepted at Harvard College, the university’s undergraduate school, in 2016.
“I could see how many Emiratis, Saudis and Kuwaitis, etc, were getting funding to study abroad and the benefits that gave them, so I wanted to do something for the next generation of Tunisians,” he explained.
Then, in 2019, the businessman launched a second scholarship to pay for two Tunisians a year – one male, one female – to do either a Master of Public Administration or a Master in Public Policy Programs at the HKS.
The HKS scholarship, which is named after Ben-Gacem senior, is open to mid-career professionals with at least six years’ experience of working in the public sector.
The idea, Ben-Gacem, said, was to target people with “a certain professional mindset” who were passionate about working in the public sector and contributing to society.
A third scholarship programme to support medical students in Tunisia is due to launch later this year.