Aim: join forces to support women entrepreneurs in Tunisia
“Promoting female empowerment for inclusive and sustainable industrial development in Tunisia” is the aim of a tripartite declaration recently signed by Monaco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM).
The initiative seeks to contribute to the overall effort to facilitate access to financing, markets, technology and business networks for micro, small and medium-sized companies run by women.
This pilot project in Tunisia supports female entrepreneurs who are investing in the market for health and beauty products using natural ingredients. Technical assistance, training and study trips are being organised for ten female-run businesses.
This is a promising sector that has seen growing demand over the last decade and Tunisia has some significant advantages: easily available ingredients, organic crops and an organic certification scheme that has been approved by the European Union and Switzerland, to name just a few.
This project also shines a spotlight on companies, including start-ups, created by qualified young women in areas as diverse as biology, industrial chemistry and pharmacy. Their experience is helping to gradually transform a sector where the female workforce is still too often confined to low-skilled roles.
As we mark International Women’s Day, we are paying tribute to the determination, commitment and courage of these female entrepreneurs, one of whom – Hajer Derouiche – was kind enough to share her story, below.
Personal story: Hajer Derouiche, founder of an innovative start-up
On her first day at engineering school in Tunis, Hajer Derouiche took in the message from the school’s director: “In the absence of sufficient opportunities, become entrepreneurs not jobseekers.”
Having earned her degree and drawing inspiration from her mother’s experience as an entrepreneur before her, Hajer Derouiche founded ACTIFS PRECIEUX, an innovative start-up that produces plant extracts using natural ingredients from the Mediterranean. Her company now employs around 20 people – two thirds are women and most of these women hold qualifications.
It’s not always been a smooth journey. Hajer admits that she “spent an awful lot of time trying to obtain financing... three years all in all!” Assertive and driven by a love of learning, Hajer trained herself in many areas, making “huge personal efforts” to ensure that her business would be viable: “I have a degree of expertise in extraction, but there are other aspects to the business, and so there is always something to be learned. Having plenty of love and patience, and asking lots of questions... that takes a lot of endurance.”
Above all, what is needed is to support these innovative companies by providing technical assistance to build their capacities to access both national and international markets. The latter also means providing support with digital marketing and to help the companies comply with standards. Hajer hopes that “with our brand, we will reach consumers’ hearts and we will be recognised for our expertise in botanicals and natural extracts. That’s how we will achieve our targets for sales and international recognition.”
Monaco and Tunisia: a long-standing commitment
The Principality of Monaco and the Republic of Tunisia have both signed up to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Keen to align their bilateral cooperation strategy with this international agenda, Monaco and Tunisia have signed a framework agreement that prioritises actions with a social, economic and human focus.
Through its Department of International Cooperation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation has maintained a strong relationship with Tunisia since the early 1990s. With the most vulnerable groups representing its core target, Monaco’s Official Development Assistance will be following with interest this fantastic company in a country where the employment rate for women is 26.5%.
 This initiative to promote female entrepreneurship is part of a wider regional programme covering the Middle East and North Africa. It is run by UNIDO, the Food and Agriculture Organization and UN Women, with financial support from the Italian Government.