Sharing a Passion for Empowering Women in STEM: A WES Trainer’s Perspective

TW Breakout

Guest post by Dalel Krichen, Director of WES Optima Syphax Center in Sfax. This post was written in response to a World Cafe breakout session she attended as a part of the TechWomen Delegation Trip to Tunisia in March 2015. Delegation members met with WES trainers during the Social Media for Women Entrepreneurs Training of Trainers (TOT).

Since my tender age, I was fascinated by bridges, highways and skyscrapers. My dream was to design, construct and operate infrastructures and buildings. As I grew up, this dream became a goal. My favorite subjects were mathematics and physics and I wanted to use what I learned to solve real world problems. Therefore, I decided to become a civil engineer. No need to say that construction in Tunisia was a male-dominated industry and I did not get much support from my friends who tried to dissuade me away from the field and talked about the barriers tech women faced!

But, I worked hard, got a scholarship and went to the U.S. to study civil engineering. When I got my first job in Tunisia, I was the only woman engineer and I had to work on sites. It was very challenging not only trying to gain acceptance by the group but mainly to make the rules, innovate and secure a leading place in the company. As I was climbing the ladder to top positions, I felt the need to support women to enroll in scientific and technical fields. Indeed, female students in Tunisia account for 60% of the overall number of students, graduate at a much higher rate and with a much higher score than their fellow male students. But, the rate of female students in STEM fields remains very low. That’s why I decided to conduct an awareness campaign among girls in high schools to urge them to choose technical fields and I organized summer camps for the outstanding students on the theme “women and technology: learn to love it.”

When I was asked to join the WES team I was thrilled. The program puts a great emphasis on specialties related to new technologies needed in the job market. As we were urged to make a special effort to involve women in technology, I was very excited to fulfill a dear dream –increase the visibility of tech women by helping them create their own enterprises and thus promote female role models in the country.

We had the pleasure to host the delegation of TechWomen. They arrived as we were undertaking a TOT about social media which unveiled to us the power of networking which allows women entrepreneurs to create more opportunities and boost their talents in a way sometimes never expected. So all of us were in the mood to really acknowledge technology and we were looking forward to the breakout discussions with the members of the guest group.

As Samia introduced the exchange program and its objectives, I was very impressed by the goals and the opportunities offered to women. I found the professional mentorship, which is part of the program,very inspiring because it offers a valuable opportunity to support women in STEM fields. In many countries, talents are not encouraged and the lack of women mentors in technical fields makes it difficult for emerging tech women to promote themselves.

The breakout discussion about e-commerce, social media, innovation and risk taking for the developing of businesses using technology and marketing engaged us in an open discussion where we shared experiences, best practices and view points.We loved having the perspective and input of the mentors and we thank them for their guidance and advice.

It is heartening to notice that even though women in the delegation are from different parts of the world with different backgrounds and walks of life, they all share the same passion for technology and for the need to empower women in STEM fields. I couldn’t help noticing the spark in their eyes when they spoke about their careers which made me relate to them on a personal level.

To conclude, I would like to say that Tunisia is in need of more scientists and engineers. The TechWomen visit was memorable because it raised our awareness, as a WES team, for the need to empower tech women start-ups. It was also a good opportunity for brainstorming to find new ways and initiatives to get more women involved in successful tech projects.

Dalel KrichenDalel Krichen is a civil engineer and graduated from Washington University in Saint Louis. She worked as a head of the Department of Civil Building in the Ministry of Equipment and Habitat in Sfax before being the general manager of a construction company. She is also a former Member of Parliament, former general secretary of the Board of Tunisian Engineers in Sfax and Deputy Mayor in charge of the Commission of Infrastructure, Management and Construction in the city of Sfax.

Dalel has championed the cause of women’s empowerment and political participation. She works to integrate gender equality in institutions, programs and laws. She set various programs to encourage female students to choose technical fields and help young women engineers to get jobs and succeed in their careers.

Dalel is also the Director of WES Optima Syphax Center, where she provides trainings in leadership, home-based business, entrepreneurship and e-commerce . She works closely with women to help them achieve economic self-sufficiency.

Dalel is married and the mother of two daughters.


E-Commerce in Tunisia: Reflections from a TechWomen Mentor

TechWomen Mentor Marie Carter leaded group discussion on e-commerce

TechWomen Mentor, Marie Carter, leading a group discussion on e-commerce during the WES Social Media for Women Entrepreneurs TOT

“In Tunisia we can’t sell our products online.” This is what I learned when leading a discussion group on e-commerce in Tunisia during the Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) Social Media for Women Entrepreneurs Training of Trainers (TOT) meeting last week. I anticipated sitting down with a group of trainers to discuss best practices on setting up an online store, branding, configuring shipping, etc., but instead the topic turned to the current challenges Tunisian entrepreneurs face in selling online. Due to the closed currency in Tunisia*, entrepreneurs will be blocked from selling goods on the internet until the government restructures its banking system and removes restrictions on the dinar. This fact made our discussion of e-commerce take a different, yet fruitful turn. There are many best practices that can be applied to e-commerce as well as to marketing a brick and mortar store, which is what many of the WES entrepreneurs are currently doing. Here are some highlights from our discussion:

  • Tell a story: Every product has a story. Whether it’s the story of how the maker crafted the product, the product’s meaning in a local culture, or a historical reference, every object tells a tale. It’s these stories that help buyers connect with products and brands. Consumers often want to understand not only what the product is, but why it has meaning. Make sure to always tell the story of your products, through your website, catalog or in personal interactions with prospective customers.
  • Photography is key: Your products are beautiful in real life, so they should look great in photos! Photograph each item individually or perhaps together in a scene showing how it’s used. Photographs help connect your audience with the product and allow them to imagine how they would use it in their lives. Photographs are an essential part of selling products online, and can be used to advertise in local media or in your store catalog.
  • Help people find you: The internet is a big place with lots of stuff to buy. You want to make sure that people can find your products easily and quickly. It’s important to host your products using an online store or website that is searchable, and preferably has filtering options so buyers can narrow down what they are looking for. Also use words in your product descriptions that you think people may use in a search. If you’re selling out of a store, organize your products in a way that helps your customers easily find what they are looking for.
  • Connect your customers: Consumers want to hear from other customers before they buy. By publicly sharing reviews from other buyers, you can help new prospects see what others love about your products. Reviews give your brand credibility and effectively help people ‘try before they buy’ online.

It’s apparent that Tunisia has work to do before local entrepreneurs can reap the full benefits of e-commerce, but it must be done. In 2014, sellers using Etsy, a popular e-commerce platform, generated sales of $1.39 billion USD, up 43.3% from 2013. The demand for Tunisian products is out there and Tunisian entrepreneurs are ready to sell. In the meantime, local business owners should begin applying these and other best practices to their physical stores so they are ready when the barriers to e-commerce are removed.

About Marie:

prof (2)Marie is a Technical Support Engineer at Yahoo in San Francisco, CA. She served as a TechWomen Professional Mentor in 2014 and attended the 2015 TechWomen Delegation trip to Tunisia. Marie has a B.A. in International Studies and is thrilled to combine her passions for new technologies and inter-cultural communication to support women across the globe. LinkedIn:

*As a closed currency, the Tunisian Dinar (TND) is not allowed to be imported or exported from the country. Additionally, there are strict limitations to its convertibility. “Tunisian Activists Launch ‘Where is Paypal” Campaign” by Jeremy Fryd, January 13, 2015.

Empowering Women Entrepreneurs through Financial Management

Tarek Lamouchi, standing, during a Financial Education training

In preparation for the upcoming Financial Education Training of Trainers (TOT) next week in Tunis, the WES Financial Education Master Trainer, Tarek Lamouchi, reflects on what inspired him to enter this field and why financial education is important for women entrepreneurs.

For over six years I worked at Enda Inter-Arabe, a microfinance institution that is active throughout Tunisia, and much of my work focused on supporting women entrepreneurs. While working closely with entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed there is a general lack of knowledge about financial management. More specifically, I consistently see women entrepreneurs who do not set clear and realistic financial goals or set aside money for emergency situations. They have big dreams and high hopes for themselves and their children; however lack sufficient training to separate their household and business expenses or save adequately to make their dreams a reality.

I have found that training entrepreneurs requires concerted effort on the part of the trainer to break the ice and create a trusting environment. I believe that successful trainings are based on the following principles:

  1. Action Learning in which trainings are interactive and participants have the opportunity to apply the techniques and methods presented. This helps participants better understand and remember the tools and resources shared during the training.
  2. Building on the experience of the entrepreneur by creating an environment in which attendees have the opportunity to share their life experiences. My goal as a trainer is to build on the knowledge that already exists in the room. This creates a dynamic in which participants learn from one another, as well as the trainer, and are empowered by their knowledge and life experiences.

Certainly financial education alone cannot solve all of the challenges that women entrepreneurs face, however it is a great framework in which to begin to successfully organize finances and operate successful businesses.

Additional information about Tarek, and his professional experience and training can be found by visiting his LinkedIn page.

Pour des femmes entrepreneures qui savent gérer leur argent

En préparation pour la prochaine formation des formateurs (FDF) sur l’Education Financière qui pendra place à Tunis du 17 au 22 Janvier 2015, le formateur principal WES pour l’Education Financière, Tarek Lamouchi, partage ce qui l’a inspiré à entrer ce milieu et pourquoi il pense que l’éducation financière, particulièrement pour les femmes, est importante.

J’ai travaillé pendant plus de six ans à Enda Inter-Arabe, une institution de micro-finance active un peu partout en Tunisie, et pendant cette période je travaillais beaucoup avec des femmes entrepreneures.  Ce que j’ai remarqué en travaillant en étroite liaison avec les entrepreneures, c’est qu’elles ne savaient pas comment gérer leur argent. Ces femmes ont de grands rêves et de grands espoirs pour elles même et pour leurs enfants  mais elles ne savent pas comment séparer les dépenses du ménage de celle de l’entreprise ni comment épargner pour rendre ces rêves réels.

Former cette population cible nécessite un peu plus d’effort de la part du formateur pour briser la glace et créer une certaine confiance au sein du groupe. Pour moi, la meilleure technique en formation est basée sur deux grands principes:

  1. L’apprentissage par l’action, où les femmes micro-entrepreneures ne sont pas passives mais appliquent des techniques et des méthodes qu’elles voient au cours de la formation et donc apprennent et se rappellent exactement ce qu’elles ont appris. C’est une formation interactive pendant laquelle on ne s’ennuie pas.
  2. Se baser sur l’expérience des femmes entrepreneures: on oublie souvent que ces femmes, avec leurs expériences dans la vie ont énormément de connaissances et qu’elles ne sont pas conscientes de l’énorme savoir qu’elles ont. Un bon formateur est celui qui bâtit sur cette expérience pour offrir des nouvelles connaissances.

Certes, l’éducation financière à elle seule ne peut pas régler tous les problèmes des femmes entrepreneures, mais elle leur est d’une grande utilité et d’un grand appui pour commencer à organiser leur argent et leurs vies différemment.

Plus d’informations regardant Tarek et son expérience professionnelle peuvent être trouvées sur son profile LinkedIn.

WES: Leadership at the Service of Women’s Entrepreneurship

Rania El Ahmadi at the WES Leadership TOT

Last week, 26 trainers from 13 WES Centers gathered in Hammamet, Tunisia for a Leadership Training of Trainers (TOT) led by WES Master Trainer Ms. Ahlem Ghazouani.

The WES Leadership curriculum focuses on the following elements:

• Communication;
• Vision, purpose and strategy;
• Adaptation to the environment and creation of wealth and opportunities;
• Creativity and initiative; and
• Organizational and business management methodologies.

Rania El Ahmadi and Afaf Zaddem, two WES trainers who participated in the Leadership TOT, shared their individual reflections. Rania discusses the role of WES in helping her to become a leader, support women entrepreneurs and positively influence the development of Tunisia. Afaf focuses her reflection on the impact the training had on her personal and professional growth, as well as the importance of the WES Leaderships curriculum in supporting women entrepreneurs.

My WES Experience

In life, we always have the choice to become a leader, as no one is born a leader, but becomes one. Yes, we each become a leader; but the opportunity must be presented to become one. With WES, I had that chance. My adventure with this program began in June 2012 and, since then, I have seen my dreams come true, ambitions grow and professional status asserted.

Being a trainer has always attracted me. Even though I am an engineer, WES has allowed me to explore this skill and open new horizons with other organizations and institutions. I will always remember the day I had my interview to become a trainer/consultant with ANETI (National Agency for Employment and Independent Labor). I talked about my WES experience and all the important work we do as a part of the program. Personally, I consider the WES team like a family that has always given me the energy to move forward and give the best of myself for the betterment of women, society and Tunisia. And even if the training are limited in time, I have no doubt of the sustainability of the program’s goals and vision.

Thriving by helping others thrive, being fulfilled through the fulfillment of others, being a leader of one’s own life and career – that’s what I’ve experienced with WES. This program has allowed me to discover how one can grow with the help of, and through helping, others.

-Rania El Ahmadi

To what extent may we grow through a training program?

Ms. Ahlem Ghazouani’s talent as a coach, her personality and, particularly, her positive attitude during the WES Leadership training made it an unforgettable experience for me and one, “without which, I would not have taken the leap to carry out my personal mission of joy and pleasure while also inspiring women in my community to do the same.”

I have gained a lot from the training, especially in aligning my emotional and technical skills to advance my role as the director of, and a trainer at, the UNFT WES Center in Kairouan. The content and activities during the training imparted different methodological, strategic and communication skills and were transmitted in a fluid and dynamic manner.

The WES program model of planning a learning process and reinforcing the trainers’ capacities is a real strategic choice for the support of women entrepreneurs.

Finally, a nod to all the participants from the WES Centers in the 11 regions with whom I’ve shared moments of compassion and positive energy.

-Afaf Zaddem

WES: Le Leadership au Service de l’Entreprenariat Féminin

L’équipe et les organisations partenaires du programme WES se sont réunies pour une formation de formateurs (FDF) de Leadership à Hammamet, du 6-8 Décembre, 2014. La FDF présentait un contenu intensif et a pour but de développer le leadership des femmes entrepreneurs qui seront prochainement formées par les formateurs des centres WES dans les 11 régions de la Tunisie. En effet, développer le leadership de l’entrepreneur est la clé de base pour la réussite d’une entreprise et la création de richesses d’une manière générale.

Ce programme de formation aborde le leadership en mettant l’accent sur cinq habilités principales:

  • Communication
  • Fixation de vision, d’objectif et de stratégie
  • Adaptation à l’environnement et création de richesses et d’opportunités
  • Créativité et initiative
  • Méthodologies d’organisation et de gestion d’activité

La formation était assurée par la formatrice principale: Mme. Ahlem Ghazouani la directrice du bureau de « Développement d’Entreprises par la Force de l’Intégration et de l’Innovation » (DEFI), Bureau de Coaching et Accompagnement aux PME.

Rania El Ahmadi et Afaf Zaddem, deux formatrices des centres WES qui ont participé à la formation Leadership, parlent de leurs expériences. Rania se concentre sur le rôle que WES joue dans sa démarche pour devenir un leader et comment WES lui permet de soutenir les femmes entrepreneurs ainsi que de positivement influencer le développement de son pays. Tandis qu’Afaf se concentre sur l’effet que cette formation a eu sur son développement personnel et professionnel, et le rôle que la formation WES joue dans le soutien des femmes entrepreneurs.

Mon Parcours WES

Dans la vie on a toujours le choix d’être un leader, car on ne nait pas leader, mais on le devient… oui on le devient, mais encore faut-il avoir l’opportunité pour le devenir. Avec WES j’ai eu cette chance. Mon aventure avec ce programme a débuté en Juin 2012, et depuis j’observe mon rêve se réaliser, mes ambitions grandir et mon statut professionnel s’affirmer.

J’ai toujours eu une attirance envers le métier de formateur, et même si je suis ingénieur, WES m’a permis d’intégrer ce domaine et m’a même ouvert d’autres horizons avec d’autres organismes et institutions ; je me rappellerai toujours du jour où j’ai passé mon entretien pour devenir formatrice/ consultante avec l’ANETI (Agence Nationale de l’Emploi et du Travail Indépendant), ce jour-là j’ai parlé de mon expérience WES et de tout ce beau travail qu’on fait dans le cadre de ce programme, mon émotion et mon enthousiasme étaient si palpables que la commission de jurés s’est mise à me questionner sur ce projet et ses résultats réalisés. Personnellement, je considère l’équipe WES comme une famille qui m’a toujours donné l’énergie nécessaire pour avancer et donner le meilleur de moi-même pour le bien des femmes, de la société et de la Tunisie. Et même si ce programme a une durée limitée, je suis confiante par rapport à la durabilité de ses objectifs et de sa vision.

S’épanouir en aidant l’autre à s’épanouir, s’accomplir à travers l’accomplissement de l’autre, être leader de sa propre vie et de son propre parcours, c’est ce que j’ai trouvé avec WES, ce programme qui m’a fait découvrir à quel point on peut grandir en s’aidant et en aidant les autres.

-Rania El Ahmadi

 Jusqu’où une formation nous transforme?

La femme que je suis, doit beaucoup à ma rencontre avec Mme Ahleme Ghazouani, notre coach pour la formation Leadership Novateur tenu à Hammamet du 6 au8 décembre 2014, et particulièrement à la bienveillance de notre chère équipe WES Tunisie.

Son talent de coach, ses qualités humaines, et surtout ses sourires, ont fait de cet atelier de Leadership Novateur un séminaire inoubliable « sans lequel je n’aurai pas sauté le pas pour transformer ma mission en un jardin fleuri cultivé dans le plaisir et inspirant des femmes de ma communauté à explorer les leurs ».

J’ai gagné en harmonie avec moi-même et en technicité envers ma mission de responsable du centre et formatrice à WES-UNFT Kairouan. La pertinence du contenu, les activités des différentes habilités méthodologiques, stratégiques et de communication se passaient dans un enchainement fluide, dynamique et dans la co-construction.

Planifier un processus d’apprentissage et de renforcement des capacités des formateurs au programme WES est un véritable choix stratégique pour former dans l’excellence et accompagner des femmes entrepreneurs. 

Enfin, un clin d’œil pour tous les participants des différents centres dans les 11 régions avec qui on a partagé des moments dans l’empathie, l’énergie positive et l’échange.

-Afaf Zaddem

WES Country Director’s Reflections from Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2014

WES Country Director, Chema Gargouri (third from left), with businesswomen from MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa during a meeting with Catherine Russell, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, U.S. Department of State (middle) at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Marrakech, Morocco.

Guest post by Chema Gargouri, Country Director, WES Tunisia

It was an honor to be invited by the U.S. government to participate in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in Marrakech, Morocco, November 19-21, during Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). Three thousand participants from 50 countries attended more than 30 workshops to discuss and learn about all aspects of entrepreneurship such as regional connectivity; social entrepreneurship; smart cities; creating cultures and conditions for entrepreneurship; and innovative solutions to integrate the informal sector into the formal economy, from crowdsourcing to social investing. In addition to learning, sharing and networking, I, along with 14 other women from the Middle East North Africa (MENA) and Sub-Saharan Africa regions, had the privilege to meet three of the most amazing and powerful women in the world – Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Commerce, U.S. Department of Commerce; Catherine Russell, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, U.S. Department of State; and Maria Contreras-Sweet, Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration.

During that meeting, I had the opportunity to speak about the Institute of International Education’s Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) program and its unique approach to women’s entrepreneurship. Despite the many challenges that all women face in making their entrepreneurial journey successful, programs such as WES support women in overcoming the various barriers present. It is obvious that any trip holds good and bad surprises. The WES Centers in the 11 regions of Tunisia exist to equip our women entrepreneurs and make them ready for their own “business trips.”

WES is a program that is meant to celebrate women’s entrepreneurship. Secretary Pritzker stated, “In the U.S., we celebrate our entrepreneurs…the story of America has been shaped by people who take initiative.” We, here in Tunisia, want our present and future to be shaped by men and women who create wealth and jobs. As Secretary Pritzker added, “When women thrive, economies grow.” When WES participates in building the infrastructure of opportunities for women, we are also building a stable society. WES exists to allow women to dream and, as George Bernard Shaw said, “Some look at things that are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?” This was the quote also used by Administrator Contreras-Sweet to end her speech.

“Women to Women” Empowerment: WES and CNFCE Partnership

Discussion on connecting mentees and entrepreneurs during WES-CNFC meeting

Discussion on connecting mentees and entrepreneurs during WES-CNFC meeting

Guest post by Chema Gargouri, Country Director, WES-Tunisia.

After one year and a half of training and coaching to empower women entrepreneurs in six regions across Tunisia, the WES centers are shifting towards becoming “multi-sectoral” associations that not only promote the access of women to professional training, teach them entrepreneurial principles, facilitate their access to credit and professional training but also enhance their role as a social power with a greater interest to become more active in politics. Thanks to the regional networks that each WES partner organization has developed, the WES centers are also providing unique spaces where women can discover the force of feminine solidarity.

As a way to reinforce the “women to women” support, WES established a partnership with the Tunisian business association, the Tunisian National Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs (CNFCE), to liaise successful entrepreneurs from CNFCE chapters with WES graduates in the six regions where the WES centers are located. This “marriage” of experienced, successful businesswomen with younger women entrepreneurs who have just started in business is very important. Providing the right “mentor” and “mentorship” is one of the ways to help women entrepreneurs deal with challenges- technical and psychological, that women in a country like Tunisia could face. Solitude, social pressure, discouragement, and negative critics are among the few challenges that woman entrepreneurs commonly face before launching a project. In addition to accessing funding as well as the required training to prepare for her carear as a businesswoman, our young women entrepreneurs need to develop a strong personality to succeed in a male-dominated sector men. The presence of a successful businesswoman as a guide, advisor, a reference, and expert in any of the younger women entrepreneurs business lives is crucial for the development of the required skills and confidence needed to take the risk to develop a business and keep it running.

This partnership between CNFCE and WES is thus aimed at making the feminine solidarity shift from being a slogan to an action. There will never be any changes in our social patterns if women do not support women. Matching mentors from CNFCE with our mentees from the WES centers is also creating a social and economic dynamic in each region with the message that promoting women in business in also an integral part of promoting women’s rights.

Women leading post-revolution Tunisia

Guest post (English and French versions) by Dalel Krichen, Honorary President of the Association of Majida Boulila for Modernity (AMBM) and WES trainer. Dalel is a civil engineer and graduated from Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri. She is actively involved with civil society organizations and has championed the cause of women’s empowerment and political participation. She is married and the mother of two daughters.

Dalel Krichen facilitating WES training at AMBM

Dalel Krichen facilitating WES training at AMBM

The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia was not only a revolution against dictatorship, corruption and disparities between regions, but it was also fundamentally a yearning to build a society based upon the values of modernity and citizenship.

Thus, we witnessed a blossoming of non-governmental organizations and citizen initiatives aiming to build a country where everyone has the responsibility to participate in the rooting of the universal values of justice and freedom in society without any form of discrimination or exclusion.

In this context, and regarding women’s rights, I would like to highlight the fact that although Tunisian women have enjoyed a privileged legal status since 1956 (leader in the Arab world), their presence in the political and public sphere has been quite shy and falls short of our expectations.

Indeed, in 2012, only one in four women were active in the national labor market, and the unemployment rate for women was 26.9% in 2012, one of the highest in the world. Paradoxically, girls represent 60% of all university students and graduate at much higher rates with a much higher number of laureates.

Seeing that the economic independence of women is vital to the full control of their lives, the Association of Majida Boulila for Modernity (AMBM) has set on top of its priorities the economic empowerment of women and their integration into the labor market.

For AMBM, the Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) program was more than an opportunity, it was a dream. The dream of enhancing women’s initiatives, boosting women who dare to be entrepreneurs, reinforcing their capacities to manage their businesses through targeted training on administrative, financial and marketing techniques, as well as personalized assistance to help them set up sustainable businesses. This has opened new horizons and opportunities for women.

Creating your own business is often a lonely journey strewn with pitfalls. Feeling secure, supported, comforted, and encouraged to brave the difficulties, equipped with the appropriate tools and accompanied in this process makes the difference.

Today, seven months after the launching of WES, it is glorifying to see many WES AMBM graduates managing their own businesses and seizing every opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills to increase their chances of success.

The WES Network, established to create a platform for connecting WES graduates, continues to play a major role in building relationships and facilitating mutual assistance. It is encouraging to witness the beneficial partnerships created among the WES graduates at AMBM.

It was also a moment of pure pleasure for us to see our WES graduates present themselves as budding entrepreneurs during the Fair of Creators recently held in Sfax. The success of these entrepreneurs is for us a source of pride and motivation to move forward and expand the initiatives to meet the challenges and to fulfill the objectives of this project.

I warmly thank the Tunisian Association for Management and Social Stability (TAMSS), the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) for partnering with us to implement the WES program. I thank them even more for providing new opportunities for Tunisian women at a time when women are expected to play a key role in strengthening the economy and actively participating in the process of democratic transition.

To conclude, I would like to share, with all of you, a big moment of the program. This was after a training that I facilitated for young graduates in a disadvantaged, remote region of Sfax. I received a message on my Facebook Page which said, “please help me create my own enterprise.” That day I realized the impact that this program could have on these young people who are struggling every day to fulfill their dreams. That day, I realized that WES was more than a program, it is for many the only prospect for a better life.

French Version

La révolution du 14 Janvier qu’a connu la Tunisie est certes une révolution contre la dictature, la corruption et l’inégalité régionale, mais elle est aussi fondamentalement une aspiration à construire une société fondée sur les valeurs de la modernité et de la citoyenneté.

C’est ainsi qu’on a assisté à une floraison d’associations non gouvernementales et d’initiatives citoyennes pour participer à l’édifice d’une Tunisie où tout un chacun aura la responsabilité d’enraciner dans la société les valeurs universelles de la justice et de la liberté dans la dignité sans aucune discrimination ou marginalisation.

Dans ce contexte, force est de constater que la femme tunisienne qui est réputée pour avoir bénéficié d’un statut juridique privilégié depuis 1956 ( leader dans le monde arabe), est sous-représentée dans la sphère politique et publique.

En effet, en 2012, seulement une femme sur quatre était active sur le marché du travail. Par ailleurs, le taux de chômage des femmes a atteint en cette même année, 26.9%, un des taux les plus élevés au monde. Paradoxalement, les filles représentent 60% du total des étudiants à l’université et le nombre des lauréates dépasse largement celui des lauréats.

L’association MajidaBoulila Pour La Modernité, consciente que l’indépendance économique de la femme est vitale pour qu’elle puisse avoir le contrôle total de sa vie ,s’est fixée comme priorité l’insertion de la femme dans le marché de travail. Continue reading

The WES Story on Valentine’s Day!

Guest post by Chéma Gargouri, Country Director, WES, Tunisia

Sunrise in Tunis, Tunisia

Sunrise in Tunis, Tunisia

I have never been an active blogger. Expressing my “intimate” thoughts about any subject with people that I don’t know is not what I prefer the most. While my role as Institute of International Education’s Country Director of the Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) program in Tunisia might look at first glance simply as a professional role which involves supporting centers for women’s entrepreneurship and leadership in partnership with eight local partner NGOs in six regions of Tunisia, I do consider that this exceptional experience is as intimate as a love story.

This story started almost a year ago when IIE announced the good news that the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) decided to fund Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES). At that time, I was ready and happy to start another new challenge since I am a person whose life has always been nourished by challenges. Over the months I have been discovering the other human and, also, at some moments, romantic side of the program. Often during the face-to-face meetings with the women who participated in WES training I was either sharing their untold, unrevealed dreams, or I realized that I was participating in fulfilling their vision, assuming some responsibility in making their hopes for a success in life come through. We did not know each other. But a few minutes after introducing myself and learning about why each one of them chose WES centers to accompany her through her path towards accomplishment we immediately start talking about our problems and challenges as women in a post revolution era. Whether graduated from university, or never been to school, or has a business, we all shared one common goal: making sure that we are providing a better life for our children in a country that is fighting for an equal society where boys and girls, men and women will enjoy the same rights and duties.

In business we are often advised to avoid emotions. To a certain extent this is true. However adding some feelings to what we try to do on the ground with our centers and their women entrepreneurs is something that could not be avoided. There were moments when I was hopeful for Tunisia working with young potential business leaders whose project ideas are fascinating and with a clear vision about where they want to stand in the future. However, I was also worried about other women, whose state of mind is expressed through a list of undermining adjectives, reflecting a complete absence of self esteem and a lot of doubts about whether or not they have the capacities to do what they want to do and live a life of their choice. While the WES centers are also there to sustain the transition from family- made to self-made women it is still difficult to inculcate the culture of “yes I can”. Thus the WES program is powerful in terms of its objectives which will lift the position of our women from serving to leading. This concept of women’s leadership has often been looked at as a “western concept”, accusing the western countries of trying to change women’s status in our countries from obedient individuals to simply human beings that make decisions for themselves. At a certain point this is culturally dangerous….and it is simply not true. Often we, women in our countries, forget that Khadija, the first wife of our Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), was a very influential rich woman who successfully managed her father’s business’ interests and preserved the family’s fortune after her father’s death. Thus leadership for women is a concept that also belongs to our culture, something that we easily tend to forget.

The WES program is then not only a trip between realities and hopes, dreams and accomplishments, a difficult present and a possible future but also a process that is being put in place and already helping women take the lead in making their personal and professional journeys in life. The WES program became my personal love story.

Happy Saint Valentine’s Day.

Build Your Enterprise, Build Your Community

Guest post by Rym Baouendi, WES Trainer and Tunisian consultant in sustainable development.

Rym Baouendi leading the Home-Based Business and E-Commerce TOT for WES Trainers

Rym Baouendi leading the Home-Based Business and E-Commerce TOT for WES Trainers

2013 is upon us, bringing new dreams and new commitments for years to come.
One of my dreams for the new year is to witness the rise of successful social enterprises across Tunisia led by bright women -and men- who are committed to social development and environmental protection.

Social Entrepreneurship is a topic that we briefly touched on during the TOT session on “home-based business and e-commerce” that I delivered in October 2012 as part of the WES program. During this session, I had the immense pleasure and privilege to work with a group of dedicated and passionate fellow Tunisians from Gafsa, Kairouan, Sfax, Sousse, Tunis and Zarsis that share a sincere commitment for the development of their regions. We discussed the potential for social entrepreneurship and how such enterprise models can go beyond income generation or “value capture” for women entrepreneurs to also create positive change and “shared value” for the wider community.

Today, only a few months after the first kick-off TOT session, it’s with immense pride that I hear about the successes of the WES trainers delivering a variety of training sessions in their regional centers to support women entrepreneurs in the process of setting up and running successful businesses. I hope that through these training sessions, the women entrepreneurs are inspired and encouraged to become change makers in their communities and create through their businesses a positive and wider impact.
Social entrepreneurship is indeed the new trend in enterprise development. We are witnessing today around the world a new wave of entrepreneurs who are attempting to resolve a range of complex challenges. These social entrepreneurs are involved in renewable energy development, waste management, organic agriculture, education, social housing, healthcare and many other fields that are creating positive change for people and the environment. The business activities that these entrepreneurs are developing go beyond financial value capture. Their businesses also try to maximize social and/or environmental benefits; and often address issues that governments, the civil society or traditional businesses have failed to address or where they haven’t been very effective.

In a developing country such as post-revolution Tunisia, the need for quick and meaningful social and economic development is pressing. It goes without saying thatenvironmental degradation is another vital issue that needs to be addressed in the process. With the government grappling with the multitude of development and environmental challenges, social entrepreneurs can identify exciting opportunities for social enterprise development to “fill in the gaps”. After two years of demanding “Work”, “Freedom” and “Dignity”, Tunisian youth and citizens in general must move beyond “demanding” to “creating their own destiny”. Enterprise development -with impact- is the way forward and problems must increasingly be viewed as opportunities if we want to create quick positive changes.

With new programs such as WES in place, more and more women are realizing their potential to be entrepreneurs and help build their communities. This is a golden opportunity for hopeful entrepreneurs to actively contribute to Tunisia’s development and achieve positive, lasting change.

Happy New Year!

Rym is a Tunisian consultant and trainer in sustainable development with more than 10 years of experience. She is married, the mother two sons and chose to work from home to balance her professional and personal responsibilities. Rym is interested in different solutions that contribute to sustainable development especially those related to the urban environment and sustainable business buildings. She is the founder and managing director of Medina Works a strategic sustainability consulting firm based in the United Arab Emirates and Founding Member of the Tunisia Green Building Council. In 2012, Rym joined the WES team to design and deliver a training of trainers on home-based business and e-commerce. Rym is based between UAE and Tunisia.