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FIKRA in Tunisia: what works when it comes to boosting dynamic entrepreneurship and development?

[06.05.2019] Thousands of people in an isolated region who have become involved, new forms of collaboration, socially engaged people who turn out to be motivational leaders… FIKRA’s 60 projects in North-west Tunisia have produced some excellent results, as well as generating useful experiences for anyone wishing to set up projects in a disadvantaged region.

Soon after the Tunisian revolution, the King Baudouin Foundation and Fondation de France joined a collaborative network of European foundations wishing to provide assistance to the Tunisians. The programme, called Fikra (which means ‘idea’), was coordinated by the Network of European Foundations. It has launched four calls inviting people wishing to set up initiatives to develop their ideas further.

The development projects were located in the relatively isolated Jendouba, Kef, Béja and Siliana regions. How have the FIKRA projects been doing in the past six years, and what lessons can be learned from them? One of the strengths of philanthropists and foundations is that they are sometimes bolder than other actors when it comes to trying out projects that are associated with a degree of risk, thereby creating opportunities for innovation and learning from it.

FIKRA’s aim was to give a strong boost to local people wishing to set up initiatives. More than 70 percent of the projects were led by young people – almost half of them women – from the region, who in many cases were unable to find jobs despite holding degrees. They reached about 5,500 people in their region, mostly women and families living in rural areas. The projects involved areas such as production and distribution of local agricultural products or artisanal products, eco-tourism, culture, infrastructure (a sports field, sanitary facilities, a computer class), the environment (composting, restoration of wells) etc. Three quarters of them are still in progress or have already achieved the intended results, while a little more than one in five have been stopped ahead of schedule – a satisfactory result.

The FIKRA programme encompassed not only financial support but also coaching to progress from an idea to a project that was running well operationally: the evaluation shows that this aspect was clearly viewed as valuable by the projects supported, even though it was sometimes challenging to find the best match with a coach for such a diverse range of projects.

Another strong point that was mentioned was that the foundations also had the confidence to provide funding for projects that were at a very early stage. Quite often the support received from FIKRA acted as a lever to access additional funding, and the involvement resulted in collaboration with new partners in the region. In some cases, just as had been hoped, unexpected talents and strong natural leaders emerged who were able to inspire all those around them, even though that sometimes requires determination: in some cases the projects encountered a fear of change, a lack of confidence or less well developed entrepreneurial attitudes.

In conclusion, it is clear that the FIKRA projects have improved living conditions for a large number of people living in the region (jobs, access to water, education, leisure facilities etc.) and that they have opened up opportunities to make use of the area’s natural resources in ways that will benefit the people who live there.


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