Organizers, sponsors, partners and beneficiaries of the Souk At-Tanmia (Market for Development) pilot initiative came together on Thursday, January 10 in the Cité des Sciences in Tunis to celebrate the 71 new Tunisian entrepreneurs who have been selected to receive angel financing, technical assistance, coaching and mentoring throughout 2013.
Jacob Kolster, Director of the North Africa Department of the AfDB, delivered the keynote speech to open the ceremony in which the 71 grant recipients representing all regions of Tunisia were formally recognized and their projects were presented to the media and the public. And the message was clear: the Souk At-Tanmia initiative, launched in July 2012 and spearheaded by the African Development Bank along with 20 partners from the private and public sectors, civil society, and the international development community, was a resounding success.
Prior to the ceremony, Kolster expressed his satisfaction with the initiative as he surveyed the smiling faces in the candidates' tent, where winning projects were displayed according to the zone in which they are located. "I walked in here this morning and I was impressed," said Kolster. "I saw laureates, winners of 71 awards with projects from different regions of Tunisia, dynamic, enthusiastic, with hope and aspiration. And that is exactly what we had in mind a year and a half ago when we, with [AfDB] President Donald Kaberuka left El Kef, his first visit to the field in Tunisia, with the observation that there was an enormous need to reach dynamic, entrepreneurial, particularly young people in the regions of Tunisia with angel financing, with coaching, with technical support and with hand-holding."
The 71 winning projects were chosen following a highly competitive process involving a committee made up of the Souk At-Tanmia partners, in which bonuses were given for number of jobs created, whether the project was located in a rural, disadvantaged region where unemployment was high, by the number of jobs offered to marginalized groups such as women, youth and the disabled.
The winners represented 54 per cent youth (aged 18-34 years), 32 per cent women, 31 per cent unemployed and 61 per cent from disadvantaged areas. The selected projects represent agriculture, manufacturing, handicrafts, tourism, ICT, renewable energy, services, health and education. Each beneficiary receives up to 30,000 dinars (approximately 15, 000 euros) in seed financing to enable them to set up their project, along with coaching, mentoring and technical assistance.
The timing of the celebration for the pilot initiative couldn't have been better, as the messages of hope and job creation for youth and marginalized communities came on the eve of the 2nd anniversary of the Jasmine Revolution on January 14.
Tarek Marzouk, Secretary General of the civil society association Touensa, described the importance of Souk At-Tanmia in this way: "Souk At-Tanmia is very important, because a big problem in Tunisia, and the reason we had a Revolution, is unemployment. Souk At-Tanmia offers young people the opportunity to launch a project and create jobs through those projects. And those jobs will be created in the regions that are in need of development."
As one of the project partners, Touensa played a crucial role in raising awareness about the initiative among young people throughout Tunisia. The association worked tirelessly to help prospective applicants by offering telephone help lines and in-person assistance with the online application process, even over the summer holidays and throughout the holy month of Ramadan.
"Souk At-Tanmia won't only create jobs, but it will create jobs in the neglected regions. And it will benefit those who are disadvantaged: women, young university graduates, the unemployed," said Marzouk. "As representatives of civil society, it is very important for us to contribute to this national effort, by participating in this initiative, and we also offer hope to the youth, who in turn will gain confidence by launching their own project in the private sector."
Beneficiaries such as Najeh Rabaoui, 28, from Sidi Bouzid, and Khaoula Jelessi, 27, from Siliana, represent regions that have extremely high unemployment.
Rabaoui's project in the village of Regueb in the Region of Sidi Bouzid, the region where the Tunisian Revolution began, aims to produce preserves and traditional sun-dried tomatoes and figs, harissa, lemons, green and red peppers, olives, capers and mechouia salad. Not only will the project create 70 jobs (for 56 women, 30 people under the age of 35 and 10 disabled people), it will also respond to food shortages in the region, she says.
Jelessi's project, meanwhile, will create six jobs for agricultural engineers in a lab for soil analysis in Siliana. A member of the Tunisian Association for Agricultural Engineers (ATIA), Jelessi says her sector has been hit particularly hard by unemployment. Her project also aims to help female agricultural engineers find work in a male-dominated industry.
Another beneficiary, university professor Fathi Zbidi, 33, aims to create an organic oasis in Tozeur, where he will raise 2,000 hens for the production of organic eggs.
Looking ahead, Kolster says the future is bright for the Souk At-Tanmia initiative: "The Bank has been approached to launch similar projects in Egypt, Malawi, Libya, Morocco and other countries. The Bank will focus on those launches and on scaling up the project in Tunisia, in terms of financing, partnerships, outreach and capacity support. We've had a number of private investors have come forward to say they're very interested in joining this initiative with financing.
"I look forward to a second year and beyond that is going to see the Souk At-Tanmia being an ever-evolving and growing idea that concretely reaches people."