Boosting the green economy in Tunisia (SWITCH-MED)

Tunisia, a country I’ve felt a strong sense of connection with ever since the first time I visited it, back in December 2011, for a workshop on “Perspectives and employment opportunities for a Green Economy in Tunisia”, organised by UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) and the CITET (Tunis International Center for Environmental Technologies). In the hands-on session on eco-entrepreneurship we facilitated, I clearly remember feeling the vibes of the youth eager to shape their own future by undertaking green & social ventures.

That feeling was gladly confirmed two years later as we came back to the country, this time for a capacity building of local experts, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP/MAP – SCP/RAC) put together with the GIZ (German Agency of International Cooperation for Development). Over the course of that program, I was able to witness first hand the rich ecosystem under development toward a solid Green Economy. Key actors, both at the local and international level, were being involved and sufficient resources mobilized for a fast-paced transition to sustainability to take place. As a personal anecdote, let me revive the morning of November 7th 2012, right in the midst of the program, when Barack Obama got reelected as President of the United States after a close race. Waking up to those great news, we came to the training as motivated as ever, filled with hope that a better future is possible. And it all indeed may start in Tunisia 🙂

IMG_8237Family picture from the capacity building program implemented in Hammamet in November 2012, under the guidance of UNEP and the GIZ.

Back to the present, on May 25th 2015, right after Algeria‘s trip, we embarked on our 3rd mission in Tunisa, this time within the context of a more ambitious, long-term project: SWITCH-MEDaimed at empowering eco-entrepreneurs in the southern part of the Mediterranean basin. Aided by UNEP’s Green Business Development Methodology, a team of international consultants in the Green Economy (including Luis Morales and Jesus Iglesias from Greenbiz) we engaged local experts in a one-week, intensive training of trainers program, organized jointly by UNEP/MAP – SCP/RAC, CITET, and CONECT (Confederation of Tunisian Citizen Enterprises). Both CITET and CONECT, the local partners, played a fundamental role in the program, as well as, generally speaking, in the development of green business ecosystems in Tunisia. While CITET is internationally recognized as a leading center in environmental innovation; CONECT draws strength from its large network of business men and women, its core values of sustainability and responsibility, and its highly demanded peer-to-peer mentoring of aspiring entrepreneurs.
Day by day, as we applied the different modules of the methodology (from mission setting, to business model testing, passing by stakeholder engagement) to realistic (green) business cases, we are also able to improve it and adapt it to the peculiarities of the local context. Understanding and properly addressing the needs of Tunisian eco-entrepreneurs will ensure not only the success of the program, but most importantly, its real impact on the ground as it enters the next phase in the autumn: the actual training of the end beneficiaries. Skilled and experienced colleagues, coming from the four corners of the country as well as a variety of backgrounds, did not hesitate in sharing with us their best practices and approaches, contributing to a nurturing, mutual learning experience. On top of it, we assessed the state of green business in Tunisia, and envisioned a path forward, forged around multi-lateral partnerships and international networks, with SWITCH-MED constituting an ideal launch pad. The anecdote this time had to do with a coincidence, or maybe not: two of the trainees from the 2012 program were present again this year, somehow fulfilling the old french saying “great spirits always meet each other again”.  

Training the trainers in Tunisia (May 25-29, 2015. SWITCH-MED), with Jesus Iglesias from Greenbiz facilitating a hands-on session on green business development.

To conclude, I’ll go back to the human side of things, and there I can only be grateful for the hospitality shown by all participants that truly made us feel at home away from home. From giving us a lift on the way back to the hotel, to taking us for dinner at a lively restaurant by Tunis’ lake, or simply sharing with us culinary recipes, or the current socio-political situation of the country. All much-appreciated gestures, which we hope to return one day. But let me spare a moment for two special people: Sallouha Bouzgarrou and the whole CITET team, for their efforts and warmth, and, of course, to my working partner and great buddy: Guy-Franck Merlo from GreenStart, a phenomenal human being alongside whom I know great adventures lie ahead 🙂

All in all, I just can’t wait for our next visit to happen. To cross paths again with all these changemakers and now friends. To continue to build a green Mediterranean together, shoulder to shoulder. In the meantime, let me just wish you all a wonderful Ramadan, and a great summer holidays. We will be back in the autumn for more: follow-ups in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, as well as trainings in the remaining countries: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel.

Photos courtesy of CITET.