Major regional inequalities, the lack of opportunities and a high rate of youth unemployment are among the main factors that triggered the revolution in Tunisia. In this delicate context, the I-SEMER project aims to promote a more balanced form of regional development by supporting economic activity and job creation in the disadvantaged governorates of the central-western and south-western regions of the country (Kasserine, Kef, Sidi Bouzid and Medenine) and in the conurbations in the capital, Tunis.
The project can already be qualified as a success, having created almost 15,000 jobs in a variety of sectors, ranging from catering and tourism to IT services and handicrafts.
The SDC-funded project prioritises activities on three main levels:
- establishment of round-table discussion groups on improving the business climate at the local level;
- support for the creation of micro-businesses by young people;
- creation of small and medium-sized enterprises in rural areas.
A constructive dialogue thanks to the round-tables
The round-table discussions offer platforms for tripartite discussions between local authorities, representatives of the private sector and civil society. The aim is to stimulate debate between actors interested in the economic development of the region with a view to achieving a constructive dialogue. This process is expected to identify factors that block regional development and the implementation of activities that improve the business climate. As a result, the round-table discussion groups act as "laboratories" in the process of democratic decision-making and decentralisation of power.
Promoting micro enterprises through support and micro-credits
This module aims to reach unemployed young people of both sexes and to accompany the creation of micro enterprises by offering them specific follow-up and a financial product tailored to their needs. The task is carried out by an experienced partner, ENDA, an NGO with a wide network of agents and a long list of clients in the most remote regions of Tunisia. This approach ensures optimal coverage of the territory.
A business incubator has been established in a disadvantaged area of Tunis since 2016. It provides step-by-step training, support and coaching services to young people under the age of 35 setting up their own micro-enterprises. These advisory services are also available throughout the country.
Support for entrepreneurship and the creation of rural SMEs
Specially tailored workshops have been set up in the peripheral regions in order to support young project developers. The workshops help these future entrepreneurs become familiar with different aspects of setting up a business (establishing a business plan, for example).
To kick-start their businesses, the I-SEMER project also stages competitions to attract talented business people in partnership with the Banque tunisienne de Financement des Petites et Moyennes Entreprises (BFPME) [Tunisian Bank for Financing Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises].Emphasis is placed on young people, women and graduates. A jury evaluates the number of jobs individual projects create and their innovative aspects.
The winners of the competition are provided with specific follow-up to ensure the viability of their project and they can benefit from financial participation by a Swiss-Tunisian fund affiliated with the BFPME.
The experience has shown that the technical support offered to the entrepreneurs combined with funding for the projects meets a real need. Convinced on the importance of the project, the Tunisian government decided, in 2015, to grant 60 million Tunisian dinars (CHF 30 million) to the Swiss-Tunisian fund affiliated with the BFPME in order to prolong and enlarge the support being provided to setting up small and medium-sized enterprises.