Programme promises start-up funds for Tunisian entrepreneurs
By Mona Yahia for Magharebia in Tunis – 15/04/10
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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