Last month, the Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) program brought together representatives from each of the eight WES partner organizations and 24 women entrepreneurs for a two-day conference in Hammamet, Tunisia. The goal of the conference was to exchange best practices and lessons learned; showcase and celebrate WES achievements; and plan for the sustainability of WES centers and entrepreneurs’ network. We were very honored to be joined by distinguished guests from the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and Microsoft, as well as a panel of experts on entrepreneurship in Tunisia.
In opening remarks by U.S. Chargé Kathleen Hanson, she highlighted that WES is a model of U.S. and Tunisian partnership for expanding economic opportunities.
WES Country Director Chéma Gargouri shared program accomplishments after two years of programming including that, as a result of WES, 150 women have started or expanded businesses, while over 600 Tunisian women have developed business plans and are well positioned to launch new businesses once a new microfinance law is passed.
An excellent panel discussion on supporting women entrepreneurs in Tunisia was led by Leila Belkhiria Jaber, Vice-President, National Women Chamber of Commerce (CNFCE); Fares Mabrouk, Tunisia Country Director, Yunus Social Business; Dr. Soukaina Bouraoui, Executive Director, Center on Arab Women Research (CAWTAR); and Tahar Ben Lakhdar, Chairman of the Board and CEO Esprit -Ecole Supérieur Privée d’Ingénierie et de Technologie.
During a highly interactive World Café activity, participants on how to better support women entrepreneurs including to establish a WES Boutique to display and sell entrepreneurs’ products, expand partnerships with the private sector, encourage mentorship opportunities and develop nation-wide WES brand awareness.
A highlight of the conference was the entrepreneurs marketplace where WES Business Award winners displayed (and sold) their products and services and presented their business ideas to WES staff and partners. For example, Mouna Bouchaala presented her idea to develop green housing for college students in Sfax and Mouna Werchefani, an electromechanical engineer, shared her business ideas on rehabilitative robotics (she is creating a robotic finger that you can use on a keyboard using a sensor activated by head movement).
Participants left energized and even more committed to the work we are doing through WES to support women entrepreneurs in Tunisia.