“I want to work, I’m willing to learn and work hard in order to have a decent life. We are in urgent need of any kind of job opportunity,” said 22-year-oldMonia Ghodbane from Bouabdallah, a rural village in Tunisia’s northwest region of Siliana.
Monia, who lives with eight other family members, is among the many, young rural Tunisians who have less than secondary school degrees, but are looking for opportunities to work and lift themselves out of poverty.
Economic frustration and widespread unemployment were driving forces behind the popular uprising that have inspired reform across the Arab region. As the National Institute of Statistics reports, the unemployment rate in Tunisia reached 16.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012. According to the same figures, the unemployment rate was higher among women, reaching 28.2 percent, compared to 15.4 percent for males – and the unemployment numbers are even higher for rural areas.
A critical first step for unemployed youth is actually entering the workforce, and gaining the invaluable experience that will prepare them for future prospects. Any support in crossing that initial threshold can pay immense dividends. Promoting opportunities for rural youth in disadvantaged areas of Tunisia to earn skills, along with an income, can significantly improve their chances for future employment and ultimately reduce poverty. A World Bank pilot program in Tunisia aims to help with both.
Approved in 2011, the World Bank’s "Emergency Grant to Support Young Tunisians” is beginning to deliver positive results. These results also indicate a strong potential for replicating the project in other areas of the country, especially in lagging regions where youth unemployment rates are very high.
The program, which is fully funded by a grant from the Japanese Fund for Social Development, promotes the entry of young people into the labor market by providing financial support and emergency short-term employment for about 3,000 young men and women. The program targets youth in rural communities in the governorates of Kasserine and Siliana, who are between the ages of 18 and 34 and who are both unemployed and out of school.
The project aims to engage youth in development sub-projects and services for cash, as well as provide training, learning and self-employment opportunities for rural youth in disadvantaged areas of Tunisia. It will be implemented over a period of three years, which began in 2012, with the support of the Tunisian National Youth Observatory, a part of the Ministry of Sport and Youth.
Divided in three components, the project aims to strengthen the role of civil society through financial support grants, provide training sessions and internships for around 600 young people to improve their skills, to facilitate their integration into the labor market, and finally to train around 400 young entrepreneurs, or those with ideas for projects, in project management. The training program includes financial management, human resources, and project monitoring and evaluation. Outstanding trainees will be eligible for a financial grant of a thousand dollars to help them either sustain their current businesses or launch a new one.
As of February, ten sub-projects led by local youth non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have already mobilized 451 young people. Most importantly, the focus on direct youth participation in the delivery of all its activities provides a good basis for scaling up the project, and reaching a much larger number of young Tunisians over time.
Monia, along with other 40 women, is learning how to make margoum (a traditional Tunisian type of carpet) as well as how to market and sell the final product. These women are working under the supervision of the Tunisian Foundation of Social Development, (FTDC, a local development NGO) supported by the project.
While uncertainty around Tunisia’s political process is still a major concern, employment opportunities remain the foremost preoccupation of most Tunisians according to recent polls. Learning the kinds of skills that can lead to future employment is one area for optimism.
“I remain very hopeful for the future,” said 26-year-old Rajaa Ben Othman. “This is a great opportunity for us and I know more will come.”
Unemployment remains the foremost challenge for Tunisia as it manages its political transition. Youth in rural and disadvantaged areas of Tunisia have been especially hard hit and the demand for change remains strong. The future of Tunisia depends on it. Investing in youth isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.