Interview with Ms. Riadh Zghal, Member of the World Entrepreneurship Forum, and Senator at the Tunisian Chamber of Councillors
At a time where historical events take place in Arabic countries, we have asked one of our pioneer members, Tunisian Senator Ms. Riadh Zghal to enlighten us on the situation in Tunisia. Here is her report.
What was the situation in terms of entrepreneurship before the revolution?
The situation was marked by a policy where the interest for the form prevailed at the expense of the content. The political system was worried by international benchmarking to attract overseas investments, in which it eventually succeeded.
The direct foreign investment was growing but the national one was declining. The development of companies was slowed down by fear of racket and even by the control by the president's family and his in-laws on prosperous companies. These families and their close ones control 182 companies in Tunisia. For the companies in place, the corruption and the patrimonialism slow down their development and investment in new projects, which eventually keeps the unemployment rate of higher education graduates down to an amazing 45,9%!
Additionally, the State has multiplied the number of institutions that finance and support entrepreneurship, the information on the financing mechanisms of projects intended particularly for students, and the periodical "mismatching" of financial backers and projects leaders through events dedicated to entrepreneurship. All those efforts did not have the desired outcomes because of administrative and corruption brakes, and the little implication of the civil society in the support of entrepreneurs.
What is the impact of the revolution on entrepreneurship in Tunisia?
The situation is not clear for the moment. There are many companies that suffered from the revolution and were victims of plundering, fire, strikes, sit in… It will all depend on the success of shifting from a dictatorial regime to a democratic one. But the democracy means behavior change and will require a very long transition. However, the solution to unemployment can only be entrepreneurship because the era of the paternalist state is finished. Unfortunately entrepreneurship is not the main preoccupation in today's in Tunisia. Instead, people focus more on the forms to give to the future political institutions and on the denunciation of the corruption and Ben Ali's crimes. Nevertheless, once the political situation is stabilized, the environment will undoubtedly be more favourable to the business creation and to the development of existent companies. Entrepreneurship remains dependent on the future good governance and democracy.
How to ensure that the entrepreneurship that creates wealth and social justice finds a more important place in the new political agenda of the country?
It is very difficult to answer this question at this moment because the political scene is boiling and new parties are created every day. Nevertheless there are premises which push to optimism. There are currently young entrepreneurs who are working for a change within the employers' union. Many of these young people were active in the Tunisian CJD (Chamber of Young Entrepreneurs) and contributed to the development of entrepreneurship spirit in Tunisian regions. Whatever their future activities, it seems to me that an entrepreneurship that creates wealth and social justice can only be possible thanks to a constant fight against corruption, a good local governance which gives confidence and stimulates the engagement of the civil society in the development of its community, the valorization of innovation and the investment in activities with strong added value, in coherence with the rise of the educational level of youth.
Ms. Zghal was Deputy Mayor of Sfax, President of the Regional Cultural Committee of Sfax, Dean of the Faculté des Sciences Economiques et de Gestion of Sfax and President and a member of many national boards of faculty's recruitment. Today she is actively involved in training, consulting and research on entrepreneurship and Human Resource Management, she is president of the Tunisian Association for Entrepreneurship and Spin Off (ATUPEE).
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