Social Business Gets a Boost in Tunisia with Launch of Muhammad Yunus's New Holistic Movement

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March 13th was a day to remember in Tunisia this year.  That day, Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi Noble Prize winner and one of the most inspiring entrepreneurs in the world, visited to launch the Holistic Social Business Movement in Africa.

The program, which was launched by Yunus Social Business in collaboration with the African Development Bank, will be piloted in Tunisia, Uganda and Togo, beginning in the middle of 2014, to support entrepreneurship and build social business incubators. 

Why was it so critical? The conference occurred just a day after a young Tunisian set himself on fire in the city center. Reports stated that the late individual denounced his dire economic condition as a jobless Tunisian, echoing the sentiment of many frustrated young Tunisians, including, most famously, Mohamed Bouazizi, who sparked the revolution.

It’s clear that today, many Tunisians still yearn for concrete measures that will create job opportunities. While the state has failed to provide clear plans for development, Tunisian youth are now turning to other means of empowering themselves.

“Social Business is a revolution,” Donald Kaberuka, the president of the African Development in Tunisia, offered.

“I don’t accept the fact that profit is the only incentive for creating a business,”  Yunus emphasized.

He pointed to the idea we need to take societal needs into account when launching businesses, and need to solve social issues not just with charity but by generating revenue. He also highlighted the idea of creating a business “with joy,” by finding an idea that makes one passionate about making change.

Resolutions for moving Tunisia forward

As the dozens of enthusiastic entrepreneurs, students, bankers and NGO leaders present shared their various experiences and challenges that day, they discussed ways to boost a “responsible entrepreneurial spirit” as a solution to current hardships, agreeing that empowered Tunisians should enact solutions themselves instead of waiting for government.

Stakeholders also agreed that Tunisia should learn to be self-sustainable rather than rely on foreign aid, and they urged young Tunisians to seize the opportunity to apply for various grants geared towards promoting job creation in the country.

Challenges loom, including the lack of awareness about entrepreneurship among Tunisians, and the need for soft skills.  Being an entrepreneur requires a great deal of leadership, creativity and risk taking, qualities that the Tunisian educational system fails to instill. Universities create functionaries who are not very flexible or geared to stretch their limits.

NGOs, businesses and the government will also be essential ingredients for creating successful social businesses in Tunisia; while the three fields usually work separately, the hope is to engage them in collaboration.

Yet the hope is that Yunus Social Business incubators will move things in the right direction, working to identify good socially-focused ideas, raise awareness about social entrepreneurship, and train enthusiastic entrepreneurs to implement their ideas, while maintaining a synergy with local needs and culture.

With this support, it’s likely that, as Saskia Bruysten, the CEO of Yunus Social Business in Germany, said, “Anyone can be a Social Businessperson.” 

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