Like graduates all over the world, Tunisians leave university and want to find a job. Unlike many others, they can’t. The country’s unemployment rate hovers at around 40%, with one third being university graduates. Traditional jobs are few and far between. This situation has been leading many young people to turn to entrepreneurship as a solution. As a consequence, a small, but influential start-up community has sprung up in Tunisia, and the rest of the world is beginning to take notice.
Start-up incubators like Founder Institute and Boost have already made an impact on fledgling companies, offering the capital and training needed for launch. Flat6Labs, a successful incubator that has supported a number of start-ups in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is soon to launch an office in Tunisia, providing entrepreneurs with seed funding, strategic mentorship, office space and development workshops.
This upward rise is partly due to foreign investment and much to do with the newly launched youth employment project branded “Mashrou3i” (meaning “My Project” in Arabic). A joint initiative between the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the government of Italy and HP Foundation, it aims to address youth unemployment through entrepreneurship and enterprise development in Tunisia. Impact investment, where social or environmental impact is sought by investors along with a financial return, could follow, as evidenced in USAID’s global PACE initiative.
Slush Global Impact Accelerator, a global programme supporting sustainable startups, launched its hub in Tunisia last year, giving local social entrepreneurs a chance to receive strategic mentorship and impact investment – where their social mission along with their financial performance is important to the investor.
Bilel Sboui always knew that he wanted to be self-employed. After graduating as a technician in automation and industrial computing in 2010, he was ready to strike out on his own after a series of internships, taking over his sister’s prickly pear seed oil business, Cactus Kairouanais.
Millennials in this developing democracy now have options. Ten years ago, the infrastructure and support for entrepreneurs simply didn’t exist. Now there are venture capitalists, incubators and targeted initiatives that are offering non-traditional routes to employment.
Zaineb Ben Belgacem is optimistic about her country’s future. At only 24 years of age, she launched her first company, Carbotech Industry, in early 2017. Already employing ten people in Gafsa, it’s a specialized business based on the innovative design and manufacture of four types of coal. She credits the programme for supporting her through the early stages of business development: “I joined UnidoUNIDO’s Mashrou3i program to receive business coaching and support and also took part in the HP LIFE training session on market research, finance, marketing and product marketing. My true objective is to enter the international market.”
Mashrou3i aims to create more than 6,000 jobs and have more than 5,000 aspiring entrepreneurs take part in business development workshops by 2021. It’s already helped establish 161 startup businesses, with 42% of them run by women. It’s helping young people like 25-year old Wahib Hafnaoui launch his own business, 3D Impressa. Inspired by watching a television show about new technologies and 3D printing, it specializes in the design and printing of models, prostheses, mechanical parts and prototypes in 3D.
He employs two computer scientists and a graphic designer. His business plan won a National Contest in Tunisia in January 2017, along with a financial prize that he parlayed into a bank loan to fund his project. After taking part in a four-day HP LIFE workshop organized by UNIDOUnido, he says, “I left with confidence about the future of my business. Advertising and marketing are no longer abstract things for me but are concrete tools.”
The will of the young people of Tunisia to find solutions and innovate is clear. UnidoUNIDO’s Mashrou3i is empowering this generation to overcome the education and employment gap.
This article first appeared on https://www.unido.org/ and is reproduced with permission of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (Unido).