Gafsa, Tunisia — In the northwest and southeast regions of Tunisia, finding work can be a real challenge. A lack of job opportunities, combined with limited financial capital and support to establish new businesses, has hindered economic growth and contributed to a rise in irregular migration within impoverished communities.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) helps governments and the international community to harness the development potential of migration for both migrants and societies. In Tunisia, one of the ways IOM supports the country’s socio-economic development is through diaspora engagement.

Diaspora members are migrants, ex‐migrants or migrants’ descendants, and they are often workers who contribute to the society in which they live in a variety of ways — for example through transfers of human, social, economic and cultural capital. Remittances and diaspora investment can help create local livelihood opportunities, contributing to economic growth while also providing concrete alternatives to irregular migration. Their remittances often make it possible to combat poverty and reduce inequalities in their country of origin.

IOM’s recent diaspora investment project, “Migration as a Resource: Mobilizing the Tunisian Diaspora and Stabilizing Disadvantaged Communities in Tunisia (Mobi-TRE),” aimed to leverage investments by Tunisian diaspora residing in Italy to foster development in northwest and southeast Tunisia.

In total, over half a million euros were invested by members of the Tunisian diaspora based in Italy in businesses through Mobi-TRE. Nearly 370 jobs were created in the target regions, including 151 jobs with regular employment contracts, with 60 per cent of the workers between the ages of 18 and 30, the majority of whom (76 per cent) are women.

Rawya, a young entrepreneur supported through the project, has set an example for women, especially in her age group, to take on leadership roles. Thanks to the financial support she received from the Tunisian diaspora to start her own business, she was able to open a pastry shop to serve her local community.

Rawya created her own pastry shop thanks to support from the Tunisian diaspora. Photos: IOM 2022

Rawya is one of 56 young entrepreneurs, including 29 women, who received training and resources to pursue entrepreneurial initiatives within their communities. The project helped to improve daily business management, increased the local market attraction of products and services, and in some cases, created opportunities for international exports.

“Mentoring and coaching programmes within the initiative have been an invaluable asset in improving my soft skills and strengthening my technical capacities, in addition to the diaspora’s financial support,” says Samiha, a young entrepreneur who benefited from the project.

IOM provided Samiha with tools to grow her snail reproduction enterprise. Photo: IOM 2022

In Tunisia, there are several public institutions including the Office of Tunisians Abroad (OTE) that offer various services for the Tunisian diaspora including administrative services, social and intercultural mediation, educational and cultural activities, and support in status change. However, Tunisia does not currently have core policies that leverage the Tunisian diaspora for national development efforts. Mobi-TRE, as IOM’s pilot initiative on diaspora engagement in the country, has significantly strengthened the national capacity, particularly in partnership with the Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment, to engage diaspora for sustainable development. It also created a successful precedent to expand diaspora reach, investment, and strengthen ties with Tunisia.

By drawing on the skills and diverse contributions of the diaspora, the project resulted in the creation of a total of 56 micro, small and medium-sized enterprises located in low-income zones.

Some of the key Mobi-TRE achievements include the production of an investment guide for Tunisian diaspora that is available on national platforms, and the organization of several high-level exhibitions for entrepreneurs to showcase their products and services, including the 18th Francophonie Summit in Djerba, Tunisia and the 25th International Handicraft Fair “Artigiano In Fiera” in Milan, Italy.

The project also organized four editions of the Entrepreneurship and Investment Forum for Tunisian diaspora in four target regions,1 in collaboration with the Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment, to promote entrepreneurship and diaspora investments. Further, the programme provided intensive support and guidance to the 56 enterprises through cross-disciplinary training, one-to-one coaching sessions, and providing necessary administrative, logistical, technical, and financial support and capacity-building for the duration of the project.

With the support of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) and the Government of Tunisia, particularly the Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment, IOM is continuing to strengthen vulnerable communities throughout the country and build their resilience to challenging and evolving socio-economic conditions.

SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities