This article was developed by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and published here with the approval of UNIDO.

Located in the central west area of Tunisia, Sidi Bouzid is a region with a productive agricultural sector. But despite its wealth, employment opportunities for young people in industry and services remain very limited, especially for women.

It is against that background that Raja Hamdi became the managing director of the Sidi Bouzid Business Center, which focuses on entrepreneurship development and sustainability through assistance and support to Tunisia’s young entrepreneurs, in 2014.

With a Master’s Degree in IT from the Faculty of Sciences of Gafsa, Hamdi previously worked as a consultant in the private sector and was headhunted by the president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry to work on a public-private partnership project for the valorization of organic waste in Sidi Bouzid.

Born and raised in Sidi Bouzid, the 30-year-old is dynamic and passionate about promoting entrepreneurship and opportunities for youth in the region. As a regional partner of the Mashrou3i program, the Sidi Bouzid Business Center is working to better connect young entrepreneurs with UNIDO experts to receive coaching and technical support.

The Mashrou3i program — organized by UNIDO in partnership with USAID, the Italian Cooperation, and the HP Foundation — is designed to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship and offer tools that support fledgling business owners. Its mission is to create some 6,000 jobs and reach more than 25,000 aspiring and existing entrepreneurs in Tunisia over the next five years. In addition to mentoring and technical skills training, participants have access to HP LIFE, a free, online program of the HP Foundation, which features 27 interactive modules
covering business and IT skills training in seven languages.

“We began our partnership with UNIDO and its Mashrou3i program the same year I became the director of the Business Centre,” said Hamdi. “We worked together on the Business Plan Competition, which provided support to 10 start-ups. These 10 companies benefited from coaching from UNIDO experts in order to diagnose their needs and to carry out financial studies and market research.”

As a result, nine of these companies are now in operation, creating 25 jobs. The systematic follow-up of these 10 start-ups by the Business Center has also enabled them to gain further assistance from various administrative and financial structures, helping them to realize their projects.

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“This partnership is also valued for the entrepreneurial training and support provided by the Mashrou3i program to young entrepreneurs in the launch phase of their company,” said Hamdi. “Several young entrepreneurs from the Business Center received the HP LIFE training and others attended HP LIFE regional group coaching workshops to help them finalize their business plans.”

The partnership has also benefited existing companies, providing them with technical assistance to grow and generate much needed jobs in the region.

“We identified 10 companies with high employment potential, of which three have been selected to receive technical assistance from UNIDO experts in financing, marketing strategy, and market access,” said Hamdi. “Thanks to the Mashrou3i program, these companies will create 42 jobs.”

For Hamdi, the future of the partnership with Mashrou3i remains promising. “We are in a pioneering region where many niches are still to be developed, in areas such as agro-industry and services.” she said. “Today we can develop better support for entrepreneurs and generate jobs by harnessing the wealth of the region.”


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