Women entrepreneurs in southern Tunisia : Sana’s journey
Written by : Selma Cheikh Melainine – Chief Technical Adviser – Entrepreneurship for Development. Mehdi Boujemâa – Communication Officer - Entrepreneurship for Development
Sana is a craftswoman, carrying on her business next to a palm grove of her native region of Kébili, Tunisia. She's a young, ambitious, and hard-working micro-entrepreneur at the beginning of her professional career path.
Sana's activity consists of manufacturing decorative objects and furniture made of palm tree wood waste. She transforms the wood using painting and engraving techniques and creates wood sculptures, trinkets, mirrors, chairs, cupboards... She started with palm fibers and small pieces of wood waste. Her father, who worked in the palm grove, noticed her needs and began to bring her larger and better-quality wood.
Encouraged by her mother, Sana opened a small store in 2017, then a small workshop in 2020. Very soon, she will move to a new, larger workshop. Her new plan is to rent a warehouse in the industrial zone of the region to grow her business.
Her ambition and determination have allowed her to thrive, but her journey was not easy. She had to face many challenges related to her activity, such as access to financing opportunities and markets, as well as transportation and raw materials processing issues.
Indeed, one of the biggest challenges she encountered was related to transportation, since she had to call for transporters to move the wood from the palm grove to the workshop and the finished products from the workshop to the sales points. Cutting and processing the wood was also an important challenge for her as it had to be done by the carpenter. With the acquisition of her own machine, she can do it herself to save time and money.
“One of the reasons I'm moving to a new workshop is that I've found that there's a lot of lost revenue on transportation. Being in the industrial area will help me save some costs.”
Passionate, she has shown great resilience over the past few years, which has helped her maintain and expand her business in a hard economic context and a persistent health crisis.
In her journey, Sana has been accompanied by UNDP Tunisia, through its Entrepreneurship for Development project that supports women's access to entrepreneurship in the southern governorates with the aim to reduce gender inequalities and structural obstacles to women's economic empowerment.
Thus, UNDP has enabled her to strengthen her capacities through various training in management, digital marketing, e-commerce, communication, and financial inclusion. Thanks to this training, Sana is now able to distinguish opportunities and constraints for her activities’ expansion, develop her business plan for growth, manage the supply and demand flow, separate family and business expenses, develop a marketing strategy and conduct a lot more of business-related actions.
Sana has also benefited from direct and personalized coaching in handicrafts Design to improve her products in terms of conception, packaging, functionality, choice of colors and to facilitate their marketing.
This year, Sana contributed to implementing the Behavioral Insights for Entrepreneurship Initiative, led by UNDP Tunisia Entrepreneurship for Development project and Accelerator Lab teams, in collaboration with UNDP’s partner, Attijari bank.
Behavioral Insights for Entrepreneurship is an initiative launched by UNDP to study and comprehend the behavioral enablers and barriers to a robust, vibrant, and youth-inclusive and responsive environment that empowers young women and men to engage in entrepreneurship and become successful entrepreneurs. UNDP Tunisia defined the scope of work on conducting experimentation to understand the barriers to financial inclusion for women entrepreneurs in the Southern regions of Tunisia.
Once the behaviors of the entrepreneurs were identified, the intervention focused on changing their perception of the bank and their use of financial services and products.
The interviews conducted with Sana and other women micro-entrepreneurs form the South showed that the limited awareness and the fear of consequences are leading to a major lack of trust towards the banking system. Banking products and offers are perceived as unsuitable, difficult to understand and confusing. To most of these women, the bank is seen as a Blackbox!
During the interviews, Sana testified:
“I have never had a close relationship with the bank; just a current account to deposit and withdraw money. I thought that the most you can do as a banking service is to transfer money. I also thought that loans are given only to those who receive a fixed salary.”
To change this perception and behavior towards banks, Sana and her fellow entrepreneurs were invited by UNDP and its partner Attijari bank to participate to collective intelligence workshops to exchange ideas and start building trust with financial institutions.
On one hand, women got the chance to express their frustrations towards banks and ask questions about products and services. On the other hand, Attijari bank seized the opportunity to demystify the bank’s image and open discussions to integrate women entrepreneurs’ needs into their offer.
Interesting insights resulted from the workshop’s discussions that led to the proposition of new financial offers, based on the entrepreneurs' inputs and recommendations and adapted to their specific needs.
Thus, according to women entrepreneurs, the ideal bank pack should include (i) administrative support (specifically for business formalization), (ii) payment flexibility, (iii) training on business management, (iv) financial literacy (v) transparency and communication.
This UNDP lead initiative allowed Sana and the other women entrepreneurs to take a step ahead toward financial inclusion. It helped them overcome the "fear" of the bank and understand that the banks are also there for them and that they can use many of their services, besides savings and small transactions.
Sana was indeed very excited to know that there are (and there will be more) financial services adapted to her activity and that she could benefit from a loan and support to grow her business. Now she knows she can use two separate bank accounts, a personal and a business account, to better organize her financial management.
“Before, I thought that banking was only accessible to those who are wealthy and not for me, because I only do small transactions. The workshops allowed us to meet a delegation from the bank, who came to offer us service packages best suited to our activities. I was surprised by the offers; they will make my business more dynamic and agile.”
Thus, UNDP’s support to access financial services, combined with continued capacity building for Sana and hundreds of women entrepreneurs, will ensure the development, resilience, and sustainability of their businesses and the strengthening of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the South.
UNDP Tunisia, supported by its core donors, including the Kingdom of Norway, will continue to work with its partners, from the public sector, the private sector, and civil society, to efficiently implement strategies on entrepreneurship, support the development of the social and solidarity economy through social entrepreneurship and micro-enterprise projects, and strengthen the economic empowerment of women through entrepreneurship, with the aim of “Leaving No One Behind”.
"Thanks to my perseverance and the support I received, I believe that I am well-positioned as a woman entrepreneur in Kébili. For me it is a great achievement!"