As of 31 March, Tunisia had confirmed 362 cases of the coronavirus and nine deaths. The authorities have imposed a general lockdown, keeping people from leaving their homes except to buy necessities or to work in certain essential jobs.
In response to the threat posed by the pandemic, the country has witnessed a wave of solidarity, enabling citizens to get involved in a common cause. Many young entrepreneurs have launched an appeal for mutual aid for the good of their community and initiated several projects to offer their assistance to health staff and Tunisian citizens who daily face the risk of coronavirus in their work and lack the equipment to protect themselves.
Under the leadership of the Ministry of Industry's Director General of Innovation and Technological Development, a multidisciplinary team of volunteers from the public and private sectors and civil society have been working on the production of medical equipment. The efforts resulting from this synergy have led to the production of 5,000 medical face shields that will be delivered to the Ministry of Health.
Other initiatives have been launched, such as the production of a 3D printed model of medical visors, which will be distributed within 60 days in the northeastern city of Sousse, and intensive care equipment, currently being manufactured by students from the Faculty of Medicine and the Engineering Schools of Sousse and Gabes.
In the country's interior regions, entrepreneurs assisted by UNIDO's Mashrou3i project are also swinging into action. In Kef, Marwen Cherni, founder of the textile brand Prestige, is producing a thousand face masks for municipalities, administrations and citizens in his region. Likewise Hayfa Nakhli, a young entrepreneur and head of Tahfouna a textile firm, is producing masks for health staff in Kairouan.
In the region of Jendouba, Rim Sbai, founder of the cosmetic brand M'Liz, has developed a disinfectant gel at a minimal price. Further south, Houssem ben Hamed, a young entrepreneur from Kebili, renowned for his innovative wheelchair powered by a photovoltaic system (Technosolaire), is producing thermometers for hospitals.
In the southern city of Gabes, Montasser Bouaine, founder of the start-up Les délices de l'oasis, in collaboration with members of his association Oasis Science, has invented an automatic gel dispenser with an infrared sensor. Once validated, this device will equip many administrations in the southern regions of the country.
Mashrou3i (‘my project’ in Arabic) is a joint project by UNIDO, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) and the HP Foundation. Mashrou3i fosters youth entrepreneurship in Tunisia and supports the creation and growth of enterprises. By fostering entrepreneurial skills and attitudes among young women and men, the project enables youth entrepreneurs to use their own innovative approaches to generate jobs for themselves and 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.