Young women and men in Tunisia, motivated by issues such as lack of opportunities for employment and low standards of living, took to the streets in 2011 in hopes of securing better futures for themselves. Since then, Tunisia has undergone a number of political and social changes. The labour market however has only worsened, further deteriorating chances of formal employment for youth in particular.

Employment rates remain low for young people in Tunisia, where, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the employment rate is 13 per cent for young women and 30 per cent for young men. University graduates furthermore face difficulties transitioning from education to work due to the low demand for young people with tertiary degrees, as well as a general lack of diversity in opportunities for employment. The lack of access to sustainable income-generating activities is underlined by the fact that roughly half of the youth in employment are in the informal sector.

In response to this, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), together with Hewlett-Packard (HP), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Government of Italy, has implemented the Mashrou3i programme, designed to foster youth entrepreneurship in Tunisia and support the creation and growth of enterprises. By fostering entrepreneurial skills and attitudes among young women and men, the project aims to enable young entrepreneurs to use their own innovative dispositions to generate jobs both for themselves and for others, as well as increase the competitiveness of smaller enterprises. 

The project combines UNIDO’s on-the-ground experience supporting beneficiaries in the creation and growth of smaller businesses, its working relationships with Tunisian partner organizations, and HP’s Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs (HP LIFE) programme, which consists of free online courses covering basic business, IT and entrepreneurship skills.

Launched in 2013, Mashrou3i has been implemented in four particularly disadvantaged Tunisian governorates, namely Kairouan, Kasserine, Le Kef and Sidi Bouzid. At the end of 2015, the project expanded to Gafsa, Kebili, Medenine and Tataouine. By December 2016, Mashrou3i services had led to the creation of more than 1,250 jobs.

Najet Maamouri, a young woman from Le Kef, who opened her own call centre selling services in renewable energy to companies abroad, participated in the HP LIFE courses in an effort to expand her professional network and further her skills in finance and accounting. “The training taught me the difference between variable costs and fixed costs, and how to calculate a break-even point. This is very useful for beginners who want to start a business,” she said. She currently employs over 20 people and wishes to expand her business and reach creditworthy and faithful partners in other countries through HP LIFE’s global online community.

Likewise, Anis Assali, recognizing the potential for employment in renewable energy, seized the opportunity to establish a business selling and installing solar panels in Le Kef. Anis faced some challenges initially and said, “Something that I thought would be a competitive advantage – the fact that there was no one else in the solar panel market – actually proved to be a challenge.” The services of the Mashrou3i programme however enabled him to learn the necessary marketing and communications skills. “By taking the course, I learned how to develop a new promotional message that focused on my strengths relative to the competition in the market,” he said.

The Mashrou3i programme helps young people to use their entrepreneurial inclinations to improve local facilities, and this was the case with Taoufik Segni from Kairouan. The Kairouan governorate is known for the quality of its olives but the processing of olives that are sold locally takes place outside the region. Taoufik established his own enterprise preparing olives in Kairouan, and it currently employs over 20 people. His products are being sold both in local shops and to some of Tunisia’s big suppliers. Taoufik’s confidence in his managerial decisions has increased following his participation in the Mashrou3i programme, which allowed him to recruit and manage new employees and expand his business. He said, “I also want to sell my products abroad. I am already in contact with some potential clients in Dubai and in Turkey.”

As well as generating employment opportunities for young women and men, youth entrepreneurship facilitates the economic development of local communities by encouraging innovative practices and generating diversity in both jobs and services available to the community. Youth entrepreneurship is an important component of ensuring that economic growth is both inclusive and sustainable.

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Source: UNIDO