WES Entrepreneur Highlight: Hana Chaari

Meet Hana Chaari, WES Business Award winner, from the Optima Syphax WES Center in Sfax.

Watch the video to learn more about Hana and how she plans to use her WES Business Award. 


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.

Impact of the WES Business Awards

We are excited to share a new Voice video that highlights the impact of the WES Business Awards, a competitive award given to 24 WES graduates in February 2014 to provide seed funding and raise their visibility. The awards were funded by the Middle East Partnership Initiative of the U.S. Department of State with support from Craig Newmark, founder of craigconnects and craigslist.

Watch the stories of several of the award winners and hear about their development since winning the award here!


WES trains 100 women working in local fisheries in Sfax

Women in Graiba farming clams in local fisheries.

Women in Graiba farming clams in local fisheries.Biodiversity, clams, fisheries, women

WES partner, The Association of Continuity of Generations (ACG), is committed to raising awareness of environmental issues in Tunisia. Currently, ACG is involved in a project focused on protecting the biodiversity of the Kneiss nature preserve in the Graiba delegation of Tunisia. Through this project, ACG works closely with a large group of women who are farming clams in local fisheries.

These women wake up at 4 a.m. to leave at dawn for Kneiss Island. Typically, they work through the winter months in cold water for more than 12 hours at a time. When the women return to the mainland to sell the clams they have collected they are met by buyers who set their own price which is not up for negotiation.

After meeting these women, ACG became committed to helping them improve their businesses practices, revenue, and negotiating power through WES. In May and June of 2013 WES trainers from ACG traveled to Graiba to train 100 women in leadership, entrepreneurship and home-based business. During the trainings, the women expressed an interest in working as a group to enhance their bargaining potential. ACG worked with them to create an Association for Women of the Clam Fishery and Development.

In this post below, Sana Taktak discusses the challenges faced by these women and ACG’s involvement in addressing their concerns. Dr. Taktak Keskes is a doctor by profession and President of The Association of Continuity of Generations.

La femme pêcheurs de palourdes 

La femme Tunisienne est militante, elle participe activement au développement du pays, elle a bien accomplie son rôle dans la société depuis l’indépendance 1956, et elle continue à batailler pour conserver ses droits acquis et à jouer son rôle comme femme indépendante ,égale à l’homme et capable de donner au mieux à son pays en particulier après la révolution.

La femme rurale Tunisienne travaille dans les champs comme agriculteur, dans la mer comme pêcheur, elle surmonte toutes les difficultés du travail, en plus de son rôle d’épouse et de mère. ACG a eu la chance de vivre une belle expérience avec les femmes rurales pêcheuses des palourdes de la délégation de Graiba à Sfax.

ACG a travaillé sur un projet financé par le SGP FEM concernant La protection de l’environnement et en particulier de la biodiversité dans la région de la réserve naturelle Kneiss, délégation de Graiba ,au cours des séances de sensibilisation données au profil de la communauté locale, sur la protection de la réserve naturelle Kneiss, on a découvert une activité féminine de pêches des palourdes assez importante (environ 300 femmes /5000 femmes en Tunisie). Continue reading

Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability: Supporting Innovators and Leaders

“I have big ambitions. I want to start a factory that specializes in making traditional Tunisian clothes for children.” Amira Maiza, WES graduate, Sousse, Tunisia.

May has been an inspiring month for the WES team as we’ve been gathering stories from our partner organizations and the women entrepreneurs they support. In just 6 months, WES graduates are taking on new challenges to launch or expand businesses. Watch several of them share their personal journeys in our first WES movie.

Boudour Khthiri’s Mobile Restaurant

Boudour Khthiri at her Food Truck

Boudour Khthiri at her Food Truck

“This project changed my life and made me a different person. I now feel like a fighter who wakes up every day to change my life for the better. I am more confident and stronger and I am sure that I can make it!”

When the WES center opened its doors at TAMSS in November 2012, Boudour Khthiri arrived with an idea she had been dreaming about for a long time and the commitment to make it happen. In just under six months, Boudour completed WES entrepreneurship and leadership trainings, and developed a business plan. She also worked on refining her pastry skills at a specialized training center in Borj Louzir.

Committed to supporting her business idea, Boudour’s husband Radhouane Cherif sold his taxi to finance the project. Together they transformed a large van into their own food truck.

This month, Boudour and Radhouane launched their “caravane”, selling fast food to families and workers living in the Ennasser neighborhood in Tunis.

What’s on the menu? Boudour intends to have a rotating menu with seasonal offerings. In the fall and winter they will sell sandwiches and homemade pizza and then ice cream and crepes in summer.

Congratulations to Boudour Khthiri and Radhouane Cherife!

Turkia Saiidi’s Determination to be a Successful Entrepreneur

Samples from Turkia Saiidi's Margoum Factory

Samples from Turkia Saiidi’s Margoum Factory

Turkia Saiidi launched her Margoum weaving business in 1999, during Ben Ali’s autocratic rule over Tunisia. Despite Ali’s policies to foster economic development, small and rural businesses suffered while the rest of the country prospered. This is the climate in which Turkia started her business.

In the first four years, Turkia’s business grew and she gained national recognition for her weaving. In 2003, she won the Golden Khomsa award from the National Office of Artisans for the most innovative product.

Unfortunately, with increased visibility came increased scrutiny for Turkia. In 2008, a TV station approached her to produce a documentary to showcase her success as a businesswoman. The government opposed the film; “they were concerned the film would expose the realities of poverty in my village,” she explains. Turkia took a stand and insisted on moving forward with the documentary. More than 270 women from her region stood with her as they watched the government destroy her Margoum factory in retaliation.

Turkia embodies the tenacity often linked to successful entrepreneurs. After her factory was destroyed, she worked as a maid to save money to re-launch her business. Today, Turkia’s persistence has paid off and she is exporting her products to Jordan and UAE, and has showcased her products at numerous international fairs. Recently, Turkia participated in Entrepreneurship and Innovative Leadership workshops at the WES Center in Gafsa and was able to make key contacts with businesswomen networks like the Chambre Nationale des Femmes Chefs d’Entreprises (CNFCE). She is now working with the center to identify new potential funders to expand her business.

Today Turkia is a successful businesswoman, employing 600 people. Turkia has always advocated for women in business and sees WES as a great opportunity for women in her community. She has committed to bringing 40 women to WES trainings in Gafsa to help them launch new businesses and contribute to the WES network.

Fathia Jouabria’s Journey to Becoming a WES Trainer

Fathia Jouabria (left) with WES participant at TAMSS

Fathia Jouabria (left) with WES participant at TAMSS

Almost two years after riots fueled by economic frustration and unemployment led to the toppling of the Tunisian government and started the Arab Spring, unemployment remains a challenge and a catalyst for unrest. Since the revolution, unemployment has risen to 18% from 13%. Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES), IIESF’s Center for Women’s Leadership Initiatives newest program, focuses on building the entrepreneurialism and sustainability of local civil society organizations in Tunisia and training a network of women entrepreneurs with leadership and practical skills to actively contribute to shaping the future of their country. WES trainers such as Fathia Jouabria are critical to making this happen.

Borj Louzir is one of the poorer neighborhoods in Tunisia’s capital city, Tunis. For four years, Fathia Jouabria managed a micro-credit program in Borj Louzir run by the Tunisian Association for Management and Social Stability (TAMSS). She successfully helped low-income women secure micro-loans to start small businesses and support their families. Continue reading