Protecting the environment is a global priority and is as urgent in Tunisia as it is anywhere else in the world. Economic growth has at times been detrimental to the fragile natural environment and there is a rising call for a new mindset to help mitigate climate change.
In 2014, Tunisia became one in a handful of nations to enshrine its commitment to climate stewardship in its constitution, recognizing the necessity of preserving the environment and protecting natural resources for future generations. Its Article 45 also obligates the state to “provide the necessary means to eradicate environmental pollution”. And while the government has paved the way for action, Tunisian businesses play a significant role in realizing the transformation to a greener economy.
This month, we shine a light on entrepreneurs supported by the Mashrou3i project who are proving the power and potential of green business. We explore how the private-public partnership between the Tunisian government, USAID, the Italian Cooperation, the HP Foundation and UNIDO is merging green skills with business know how to foster a new generation of eco-minded entrepreneurs in Tunisia’s interior regions.
Investing in Clean Energy
To expand the country’s renewable energy capacity, the Tunisian government is investing heavily in the sector. The country aims to increase the share of renewable energy in electricity consumption from the current 3% to 30% by 2030. Many farmers have already received subsidies to power their wells and irrigation systems with solar energy. The state-run energy agency also offers discounts for homes that heat water with solar panels. But what about entrepreneurs in this field?
Forward-thinking entrepreneurs like Nizar Thlijani from Kairouan are proving that cleaner energy is a sound investment. In 2018, Mashrou3i provided Nizar with a 10-day technical training on the maintenance of hydraulic pumps and the installation of photovoltaic panels for rural irrigation. The 33-year-old entrepreneur also took part in a HP LIFE workshop to strengthen his business and IT skills. Since then, Nizar has gained several clients, promoting clean energy use in the region’s agricultural sector.
“Through the e-learning platform, and face-to-face training sessions, the HP LIFE program helped me turn my abstract project idea into a solid business plan.”
Nizar Thlijani, Installation and maintenance of photovoltaic systems, Kairouan
When the Tunisian government introduced a ban on the sale of plastic bags, Nouha Issaoui saw an opportunity to launch a business that produces a sustainable alternative. With Mashrou3i support and training she launched Bio Bag, a firm producing recycled paper bags in Sidi Bouzid with an investment of 250,000 Tunisian Dinars. Actively promoting ecological practices in Tunisia, the young entrepreneur is also about to start exporting her products to other African countries and Europe.
“Mashrou3i has provided continuous support and follow-up. Thanks to the project, I was also able to complete several technical trainings, including a specific 20-day training course to improve my industrial machinery skills,”
Nouha Issaoui, Founder of Bio BAG in Sidi Bouzid
Supporting Local Development
A huge amount of plastic doesn’t get recycled. It ends up in landfill or littering our oceans, leading to the release of harmful toxins into the environment. Mohamed Fadhel identified an eco-friendly business idea to help solve this challenge. Launched in 2018, Plastic Recovery, specializes in the collection and recycling of household and industrial plastic waste. Once the plastic is sorted and cleaned it is transformed into plastic granules that are then sold to plastic injection companies for reuse.
Plastic Recovery also shows that green businesses can and do benefit local communities. The firm is not only successfully generating a profit. It’s also creating jobs and stimulating Sidi Bouzid’s social and solidarity economy.
“My business is not only driven by a specific environmental goal. It’s also part of the social and solidarity economy. The profits from our plastic granulation are not just going to the company. They also benefit actors along the entire value chain – from plastic collection networks and packaging companies to environmental associations.”
Mohamed Fadhel, Founder of Plastics Recovery, Sidi Bouzid
In addition to support from Mashrou3i’s regional expert, Mohamed received several trainings to improve his sales, communication skills and empower him to assess and enhance the environmental impact of his business activities.
Green Business can also be Low Tech
Green solutions are not all about photovoltaic panels and biofuels. Inspired by her passion for decoration and textiles, 28-year-old Olfa Romdhani launched a business that encourages people to breathe new life into their furniture, rather than simply throwing it away.
Combining traditional tapestry techniques with modern designs, Alpha Déco offers customers the possibility to upcycle their belongings. By prolonging the life cycle of objects and avoiding waste, the business ultimately challenges our throw-away society. Olfa is one of many entrepreneurs who received support from Mashrou3i as she started the journey of entrepreneurship.
“Thanks to the support of Mashrou3i, I learned a lot. Now I have more confidence in presenting my company to new customers and negotiating with my suppliers.”
Olfa Romdhani, Founder of Alpha Deco in Sidi Bouzid
Green Means Business
Contrary to popular criticism of environmentalism, green business practices and economic growth are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they often they go hand-in-hand.
Mashrou3i is promoting energy efficiency and its business benefits among students through the integration of the HP LIFE program into Tunisian higher education institutions. Samir Arfa, an Educator in Electrical Engineering at ISET Kairouan has played an active role in the adoption of the HP LIFE training into the higher education institution’s curricula, including the program’s ‘Energy Efficiency: Do More for Less’ course. Through the online training, students learn how to assess and conserve energy to save a business money and protect the environment.
“In this course we show students that energy efficiency is good for the bottom line. We teach them simple but very important actions they can take to immediately save up to 30% of energy needs – whether at home, the office, or the factory,”
Samir Arfa HP LIFE educator at ISET Kairouan.
So far, more than 100 students from the ISET Kairouan have enhanced their energy awareness through the HP LIFE e-Learning program.
A New Wave of ‘Green’ MSMEs
Green businesses, are by and large micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) -whether a renewable energy company, recycling firm or locally sourced handicraft business. And even if these MSMEs do not have a green mission at their core, they are deeply rooted in the needs of their community and local environment, and therefore often have an incentive to be good environmental stewards.
Mashrou3i is fostering a new cadre of green entrepreneurs through the HP LIFE e-learning program, deep dive business coaching and technical assistance. In the last two years, the private-public partnership between the Tunisian government, USAID, the Italian Cooperation, the HP Foundation and UNIDO has provided intensive training to over 104 people in environmental techniques to improve their waste management and enhance their environmental awareness.
By empowering future generations with the right tools and know-how, like the Mashrou3i supported entrepreneurs seen here, green entrepreneurship in Tunisia has a bright future.