How Tunisia is embracing digital technology

How Tunisia is embracing digital technology

15 Jun 2020

Extracted from the Mashrou3i project newsletter - June 2020

Quarantine and social distancing, reduced demand, disrupted supply chains and other challenges – the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can be felt across Tunisia's economy. With typically tight margins, small businesses are particularly vulnerable. Yet, these businesses also play a driving role in local economies – creating jobs and providing much-needed products and services. The Mashrou3i project is responding to the economic impact of COVID-19 by adapting and scaling its ongoing work, and embracing digital technology to help ensure the sustainability of small businesses, jobs and livelihoods in the country’s interior regions.

Mashrou3i (‘my project’ in Arabic) is a joint project of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS), the HP Foundation and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). The project fosters youth entrepreneurship in Tunisia and supports the creation and growth of enterprises. 

Antoine Bureau, Chief Technical Advisor for Mashrou3i, explains, "During these unprecedented times, Mashrou3i has quickly adapted its approach. Through our online entrepreneurship training, remote business coaching and technical assistance we are providing targeted support to entrepreneurs so they can identify their own solutions and get back on their feet. Entrepreneurship and the leading role and determination of entrepreneurs is more vital than ever. We encourage young people and small businesses to innovate, develop creative solutions and new ways of operating for the recovery phase ahead."

Online training helps entrepreneurs transform ideas into viable business models

Since April 2020, 72 student-entrepreneurs have been supported during a 15-day intensive online training to use HP LIFE to transform their business idea into a viable business model. The best business models will be selected to take part in Mashrou3i's Business Challenge this summer.

One of the student-entrepreneurs is Fadi Zaghden, currently in his second year at ISET Medenine, studying Business Administration. When the COVID-19 crisis hit Tunisia in March 2020, the government introduced a curfew and general lockdown. Courses at the university ground to a halt. When Fadi’s university professor, Amel Chaieb, asked if he would like to take part in an online entrepreneurship training organized by Mashrou3i, the 22-year-old jumped at the chance.

fadi

“I’d already heard about the HP LIFE e-Learning program for entrepreneurs and I was very happy to be chosen as one of 10 students from Medenine to take part in Mashrou3i’s remote learning,” explains Zaghden. “It was a successful experience, allowing me to start by identifying challenges in my immediate environment and then responding to them by developing an idea and even a business that could provide a solution.”

Passionate about social entrepreneurship, Zaghden came up with a technological solution to address a very real economic, social and environmental challenge in his region.

Every Sunday, hundreds of sellers and buyers of second-hand products meet at the open-air Souk of “Bab El Oued”. It’s an unhealthy space ravaged by sewage in winter and by mosquitoes in summer. Zaghden and his team mate came up with the idea for an online market place “Bi3 w echri” (“sell and buy” in Arabic), which will allow people in the region to buy and sell products from the comfort and safety of their home via a mobile phone application.

During the two-week intensive online training, Zaghden and his team created a business model for Bi3 w echri using the 32 HP LIFE e-learning courses.

“We really enjoyed the online courses and activities which enabled us to shape and sharpen our business ideas,” says Zaghden. “The last days of the workshop were dedicated to the presentation of our business model which was really rewarding.”

Proud to share his experience, Zaghden is waiting to find out if his business model has been selected to go through to compete in Mashrou3i’s Business Challenge this summer.  He is confident that Bi3 w echri has what it takes to win the contest.

Entrepreneurs benefit from remote business coaching

During April and May, Mashrou3i provided remote deep-dive business coaching to 100 entrepreneurs in business plan development, digital marketing, communications and access to finance. This included training in the financial and fiscal incentives of Tunisia’s investment law as well as explaining measures taken by the government related to COVID-19 investment premiums and support available to ensure the sustainability of small businesses during the pandemic.

During these coaching sessions, the procedures for the granting of investment premiums were explained, particularly those relating to aid for artisans and small businesses. Experts also raised awareness of the conditions for receiving new credits and rescheduling loans from banks and financial institutions. The workshops also provided support to entrepreneurs during the coronavirus crisis and an opportunity to strengthen their professional network.

“Many entrepreneurs are feeling lost during these unprecedented times. Discussing their challenges, learning more about opportunities and being supported by Mashrou3i, is helping them face the crisis with less fear,” explained Cheniti, Mashrou3i Finance Expert. “These workshops also strengthened their networking skills, helping them get to know other entrepreneurs with whom they could share their experiences, offering much needed comfort and solidarity.”

Workshops in virtual training rooms and live streaming sessions

As part of a new digital HP LIFE training approach, virtual training rooms have been established using Moodle, Zoom and Google Classrooms. Around 400 aspiring entrepreneurs from 14 target regions are taking part in the five-day workshops over three months. During the workshops, young people are learning how to use HP LIFE online tools to transform their idea into a viable business plan.

Live streaming has also proven a way for the project to remain engaged with young people across the country. Each week, opinion leaders, entrepreneurs, Mashrou3i project experts and stakeholders of the entrepreneurial ecosystem are invited to discuss relevant topics such as "Social Entrepreneurship", "Returning to the Workplace after COVID-19", "Student-Entrepreneurs" and "5 Levels of Leadership". Nine sessions have been held on Instagram since April, which have been viewed by more than 3,000 people and led to 800 new followers to the account.

See also: Tunisia's entrepreneurs swing into action against COVID-19