Supporting youth employment in Tunisia

woman works in greenhouse
Nesrine prepared the soil with her own hands, dug out trenches and installed greenhouses needed to launch her project. (Photo: UNDP Tunisia)

Nothing in Nesrine Berhouma’s destiny pointed to snail farming. Yet at just 27 years old, this young Tunisian has courageously taken on a relatively novel activity, setting up her farm in the small village of Boumeftah.

“It’s still hard to manage administrative problems or relationships with the banks. It’s a real obstacle course,” explains Nesrine. “Entrepreneurs like me must learn everything while they’re doing it.”

Highlights

  • This project, funded by US $1.5 million from the Government of Japan, promotes jobs for young people, particularly in the green sectors.
  • More than 20 percent of Tunisian graduates are unemployed, the majority of them women.
  • Since 2012, 700 young people have been trained in entrepreneurship in green sectors, and 328 eco-projects have been launched in Tunisia.

In recent years, jobs have been scarce in Tunisia: the unemployment rate for 18- to 29-year-olds has reached 30 percent. More than 20 percent of graduates are unemployed, and more than half are women. In response to the youth-led revolution in January 2011 and to support the democratic transition, UNDP in Tunisia developed a transition strategy focused on democratic governance, poverty reduction and recovery.

The “Employment Generation for Youth in Tunisia Project,” funded in large part by the Government of Japan, aims to promote and increase self-employment for youth, both men and women, through access to professional and entrepreneurial training, with emphasis on environmental sectors.

Nesrine received two months of training to hone her technical and practical skills and draw up a marketing plan to optimize negotiations with banks. The training was supported by a coach who monitors the young developer’s plans.

“Thanks to our trainers and the networks supporting us, we were introduced to management skills and a sound business sense,” she said.

Through great perseverance, Nesrine was able to successfully negotiate through several hurdles.

“At the start, no one believed it,” she recalls. “I really had to fight to convince my loved ones that I had the necessary skills and desire to move forward. Young developers must first fight prejudice.”

A graduate of Souk Ettanmia, an economic development initiative, Nesrine can now seek new loans and grants. This should help her increase production capacity, which currently barely covers her costs.

Faced with a difficult local market, Nesrine dreams of developing her business internationally and conquering new markets. With support from UN agencies, several young snail farmers were able to join to form a mutual company for heliciculture. Through this, they receive support from experts to define their strategies and consider partnerships with large retailers and foreign countries.

“It’s very important to feel like you have support around you,” emphasizes Nesrine. “This helps you get through the moments of doubt. Through our joint efforts, we learned how to create a new dynamic and even define new horizons for the sector. This clearly proves that there are pools of skills everywhere and that new initiatives just need support in order to emerge.”

Based on the lessons learned from this project, UNDP Tunisia continues to encourage entrepreneurship and job creation in the “green” sectors, with a new project offering training for young Tunisians. This project is part of a transition strategy focused on democratic governance, poverty reduction and recovery, in response to the youth-led revolution in January 2011.

As part of this new project, more than 700 young people have been trained in entrepreneurship in the areas of agroforestry, eco-tourism, waste management and renewable energies, and 328 eco-projects have already been launched. Among these projects, 21 were selected to receive in-depth coaching to help the young entrepreneurs finalize their business plans. These projects should eventually generate 250 jobs in Tunisia.