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Programme promises start-up funds for Tunisian entrepreneurs

By Mona Yahia for Magharebia in Tunis – 15/04/10

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A newly unveiled savings-and-loan programme may help Tunisians who have recently secured a university degree cope with the 14.7% unemployment rate for new graduates.

Securing start-up funds is the single most pressing obstacle for budding entrepreneurs in Tunisia's difficult economic climate. Bank loans are difficult to find, as private lending institutions require a 20% deposit.

"I graduated three years ago, but couldn't find a job," said Abdel Wahed, who has a degree from the Languages Preparatory Sciences Institute. "When I thought of starting my own business, I was faced with the problem of funding. How can I find funding when I haven't started working yet?"

Mathematics graduate Hoda Ben Ammar also told Magharebia that he was frustrated by his lack of post-graduate choices.

"When I ask the officials for a solution, they say: 'Start your own project.' How can I? First, I don't have enough money. Besides, I want to pursue my studies in mathematics. It's all a game of favourites."

To offer students an opportunity to start their own businesses, the Tunisian Bank of Solidarity (BTS) launched the Toumouh (Ambitious Savings) programme in late March, with the Sfax Business Centre following suit on Tuesday (April 6th). Students enrolled in the programme can deposit money into a savings account and can apply after graduation for a low-interest start-up loan.

BTS chairman Amin Hafsaoui said that Tunisian youth need a helping hand to get started.

"We noticed that when young people come up with ideas for projects, which happen to be good ones, they stumble into the problem of self-funding," he told Magharebia.

"Therefore, we came up with a product that would enable young people to plan their future while they're still in school or training," Hafsaoui said, adding that the Toumouh programme will help new companies open more quickly.

The micro-loans are intended to finance small- to medium-size enterprises, and lucky applicants can receive up to 100,000 dinars to get their projects up off the ground. Tunisia has adopted micro-financing as a means of economic development since 1997, when the Bank of Solidarity was created to assist new business owners with capital.

The Sfax Business Centre declared April "Microfinance Projects Month" as a gesture to support this new employment-generating project.

Tunisian students are cautiously optimistic that the new programme can improve their employment prospects.

Amal Moawaya said she was determined to find out more information about the programme, since it concerns her future.

Reda Dakhlaoui still had concerns over how he would save enough money to secure a loan. "As long as a student has no job, how would he or she be able to save up, except with the help of a school grant or his or her family?" he asked.

"I read about [the programme] in the newspapers," Ali Maghoubi told Magharebia. "It's a good idea. At least, one can plan his own project even before school is over."

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    rida 2011-11-30

    We thank you for your good site!


  2. Anonymous thumb

    LAHMADI TALEL 2011-11-9

    Hello- I just got my undergraduate degree in English. I would like to know what criteria there are for graduates to take advantage of this programme. –Thank you


  3. Anonymous thumb

    Anonymous 2010-4-15

    I wonder what interest there is in trying to reinvent the wheel, since it already exists. Tunisia boasts of having the 26-26 Fund, which is automatically fed by withholdings from income and salaries. These withholdings are called ‘voluntary contributions’, but don't go thinking that ‘voluntary’ means the contributor wants it. You will have trouble doing so. One characteristic of the 26-26 Fund is that the Tunisian parliamentarians who voted it in also, at the same time, legislated that they have no control over it because it is within the exclusive purview of Comrade President. The aim of it is to finance development projects. Can't Tunisia’s young, unemployed university students contribute to the development of the country? Couldn't their projects be financed through this fund? This would be a way to shut up the craziest rumours about the use of this fund every time the first lady charters a private Boeing to go shopping in Malta, Rome, Paris, etc. Other rumours are circulating about the origin of enormous sums the president has invested with the crook Madoff, which disappeared into thin air. In order to cut short these rumours and demonstrate that nothing has been diverted from the 26-26 Fund for development, we can use cash from that fund to finance young entrepreneurs’ projects, instead of decorating them with new bank loans. Another way to help the young people in question would be to repatriate the $12 billion that, according to an assessment by the organisation Global Financial Integrity, was illegally transferred out of Tunisia over the last 10 years.