Revolutionizing Entrepreneurship Education in Tunisia

Special Focus : Education for Peace and Development
World of Work May 23, 2016

Entrepreneurship is not a hype nor is it a trend; it’s been around for thousands of years. But today, it’s definitely trendy to become an entrepreneur. While telling people that you’re an entrepreneur, lets people look at you with that special wide-eyed admiration, the path from your first entrepreneurial idea, to a solid position in the market, is a tricky one.  

In Tunisia, when unemployment rates have dramatically increased, entrepreneurship has become a part of university curricula to educate youth to create their own jobs. We believe that by teaching entrepreneurship, we will push our graduates to start their business rather than asking the government for jobs. When we teach entrepreneurship, we want to first, inspire a generation of students and, second, teach them how to start a business. Unfortunately, we’re teaching more than we are inspiring.

Luckily, informal education is there to fill the gap – conferences, programs, online platforms…the resources are unlimited. 

Why aren’t we inspiring youth to become entrepreneurs? 

In Tunisia, we start to teach about entrepreneurship in universities and we rely on teachers to inspire university-aged students to become entrepreneurs. But we’re missing the entry point!  

Entrepreneurship education shouldn’t start in a university. Moreover, entrepreneurship is not about starting a business; this comes at a later stage. Entrepreneurship is about innovation, creating tools and services that change environments and experiences. An entrepreneur has to show a deep knowledge of the market and a clear dedication to the customers. And of course, entrepreneurship is about taking risks, measured risks backed by a mitigation plan. 

But you can’t learn all this in a university if you don’t have the basics. We need to redefine entrepreneurship, urgently. We have to begin with kids—they’re easy to inspire; they believe that anything is possible. And the older they get, the more difficult it is to make them believe that that magical entrepreneurial spark can happen. And whom better to make them believe that than an entrepreneur—one that’s failed or even one that’s succeeded, it doesn’t really matter. 

A major way to inspire youth (and kids) is to make entrepreneurs heroes of our time in our country. As Mandela and Ghandi were the heroes of yesterday, Zuckerberg and Gates are the heroes of today. But what about Tunisia? Who are the heroes of today? Our culture hasn’t yet produced this hero. Instead, we’re doing the opposite: we’re showing entrepreneurs to be thieves, and liars. We’ve got to change this; this is the next challenge. 

Defining responsibilities

We know that the curricula should change, that entrepreneurship should be redefined, and that entrepreneurs have a huge role to play in insuring that they are role models for the future innovators. 

But how much can we blame universities for the imperfect curricula? We have to let other ecosystem players intervene. For-profits and non-for profits have a responsibility to support universities in their quest to generate entrepreneurs. 

Look at American universities and their rich network of supporting organizations. How many universities in Tunisia can pretend to be satisfied with the support they receive from the public sector and the civil society? I, of course, focus here on public universities, private ones do not have the same problems. 

IHEC Carthage (Institut des Hautes Etudes Commerciales) is an exception, but it truly shows that it’s possible in Tunisia. It’s a public business school where entrepreneurship is taught by professionals or entrepreneurs. Students go and visit start-ups and shadow entrepreneurs. Companies support master classes and sponsor events. It’s living practice of what it means to be an entrepreneur. 

What’s next?

Revolutionizing entrepreneurship education in Tunisia does not require starting from scratch or demolishing the work that we’ve already done. But it does require creating synergies between existing players. The entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tunisia is rich and getting richer day after day, creating synergies between universities and these players is essential to triggering this revolution. 

Also, creating the same synergies with high schools would be a game changer. There are some sparks around: INJAZ is doing a great job going to high schools and vocational training centers to inspire students through their ideation camps. Young Tunisian Coders Academy is also very active with kids eager to know how to code, equipping them with tools required for future entrepreneurs. Another great spark is Youth For Science, an NGO specialized in spreading love for sciences among youth. Finally, M-Dev, a governmental program (supported by the German GIZ) that aims to create +1000 mobile applications by teaching mobile development to more than 8000 young people around the country. Finally, the upcoming SPARK event for high school students initiated by Fondation BIAT and IHEC Carthage. Local and international web platforms are open for all Tunisians: Udemy, Coursera, Tounes Ta3mal, WeCode and many others. Resources are abundant, channelling youth’s energy is the real challenge.