Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES): Supporting Women’s Entrepreneurship in Tunisia

Chadleya Idriss began making toys for her children using recycled wood, which was “safer, more environmentally friendly, and more affordable than store-bought toys,” she explains. Chadleya went to the WES Center for Women’s Business Development in Kairouan, Tunisia, with a dream of starting a toy business. She participated in the WES entrepreneurship training and worked closely with the WES Center staff to conduct market research on the local toy industry. Last November, Chadleya launched her new business, Toy Story.

Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) program was designed by IIE’s Center for Women’s Leadership Initiatives and launched in 2012. IIE partners with 12 local civil society organizations to create WES Centers for Women’s Business Development across Tunisia. The Centers operate on a cost-recovery social enterprise model, charging small fees for training and services and reinvesting this income to support their long-term sustainability. The Centers provide a range of business development services for women, including training, coaching, and peer networks. Chadleya is one of over 250 women WES has supported to launch or grow a business.

Tunisia is in a period of dramatic transition. The Economist named it “country of the year” in 2014 for demonstrating “political maturity that, like most great achievements, involved both leaders and their people.” Still, many challenges remain.

The 2011 revolution that led to the peaceful removal of President Ben Ali’s authoritative regime was largely fueled by frustration over high unemployment and demand for political, economic, and social reform. As Tunisians celebrate their democratic political transition, many are focused on building better lives for themselves and their communities—finding suitable jobs, putting food on the table, providing a good education for their children, and securing a peaceful society.

Girls represent 60 percent of all university students in Tunisia and graduate at higher rates than their male counterparts. Yet in 2012, only one in four women was active in the national labor market.

Increasing economic opportunities for men and women across Tunisia is critical to the country’s continued progress and stability. As President Obama stated last month in a message broadcast at the U.S.-Maghreb Investment and Entrepreneurship Conference in Tunis, “Like you, we know democracy requires strong democratic institutions, but also economic growth and opportunity, so citizens see that democracy can deliver a better life.”

IIE is honored to partner with the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) of the U.S. Department of State and Tunisian civil society organizations to support women entrepreneurs as they start and grow businesses at this critical time in Tunisia’s history.

To learn more about WES, check out the WES video and follow our blog and Facebook page. Look for the e-medina of WES entrepreneurs’ products and services on our new website to be launched in May 2015.