In its continuing effort to build bridges between Tunisia and the United States through a strengthening of economic and cultural ties, Tunisian American Young Professionals has been involved in promoting Tunisia2020, the Tunisian government’s International Investors’ Conference, held on November 29th and 30th, to US based investors.
TAYP’s activities complemented the work of the Tunisian Embassy in Washington DC and, more directly, that of Tunisia’s Special Economic Envoy (French version) and TAYP Board Chairman, Mohamed Malouche where they focused their efforts on US-based investors of different profiles with individuals (both from TAYP members of the Tunisian diaspora and other residents of the United States) on the one hand, and major companies and investment groups on the other.
Introducing the conference to a Washington, DC, readership, TAYP Chairman Malouche and Lead Editor Ouiem Chettaoui published an article for the Atlantic Council on Tunisia’s new government and the steps required to turn the conference into a palpable success. The article highlighted the importance of follow up and effective communication that does not lose sight of the importance of involving multiple relevant stakeholders, not least of which is the Tunisian diaspora that can supplement embassies’ efforts.
The communication strategy went beyond articles and outreach to Think Tanks; TAYP’s team equally (1) tailored the conference promotion materials such as powerpoint presentations and pitches for its US audience, (2) provided a point of contact based in the US and capable of taking calls and emails at a closer time zone and (3) developed a punchy, concise flyer that was immediately adopted by the conference organizer as a key promotion vehicle. The material was sent to over 95 state-level economic institutions who then relayed the information to their members through their websites and newsletters. It was also disseminated widely to TAYP’s ‘Friends of Tunisia’ to whom the association has had the pleasure of introducing the country through its entrepreneurship, export and exchange project components.
TAYP team for the conference gathered its most precious resource: its members of the US-based Tunisian diaspora, mobilizing them through media and personal communication to connect with their employers and professional contacts. Multiple teleconference calls with the TAYP member network enriched the conversation on how to best leverage support for Tunisia, its economy and the conference. TAYP’s incredible talent brought experts from world class companies such as Apple, Bechtel, eBay, google, JP Morgan, Deloitte and Columbia University among others. TAYP members brought visibility to the conference on different media platforms such as radio , press, and social media in preparation for the event.
Over and above outreach, a refreshing step for building an understanding of the importance of diaspora engagement was taken through a unique initiative where the Tunisian Minister of Development, Investment and International Cooperation, Fadhel Abdelkefi and Ambassador Faycal Gouia were invited by TAYP for a frank discussion over a conference call with diaspora members who work in diverse sectors where the two provided further encouragement to join and promote the conference.
The call came at the conclusion of the Tunisian delegation’s United States’ roadshow. Minister Fadhel Abdelkefi and a delegation of ministerial staff had arrived to Washington DC in October to promote investment in Tunisia, in addition to attending the IMF and World Bank meetings. During that stay, Mohamed Malouche moderated a conference that was attended by over 80 high caliber potential investors, partners and members of the media. The conference was followed by two dinners organized by TAYP and Malouche where Minister Abdelkefi met with a number of US-based investors and investment influencers.
TAYP has actively tried to stay true to the concept of appropriate accompaniment and follow-up. Responses to invitations, and requests for assistance were met with a concern for individualized responses. A conscious effort was made to keep track of where investors’ and participants’ interests aligned and to put groups with an overlap in touch with each other in order to facilitate meetings before, during or after the conference. TAYP continued to match-make and facilitate meetings during the conference as well. The association’s commitment to make sure that it continues to gain a deeper understanding of Tunisians’ concerns (both as members of the global diaspora and Tunisia-based citizens) has pushed its membership to develop innovative initiatives.
TAYP’s President Mondher Ben Hamida launched a survey before the Tunisia2020 conference that aimed to get a sense of how Tunisians perceive their country’s economy and their views on what is required to catalyze its activity, growth and development. The survey, which will be shared with more details, received 160 responses from Tunisians around the world (including North America, the Middle East, Asia and Western Europe.) The respondents also had a diversity of backgrounds including high tech, finance, medicine, consulting and academia and covered many age brackets (from 16 to75) with a majority falling in the 26-35 and 36-45 brackets. The sectors that were most seen as requiring particular attention and/or investment were venture capitalism and entrepreneurship, infrastructure and logistics as well as administrative processes. Top selections for issues hindering the Tunisian economy and limiting its competitiveness were labor force issues, excessive red tape and poor infrastructure. In terms of what should drive the new investment agenda, a supermajority of respondents chose “support the development and expansion of youth entrepreneurship”. Finally, when asked to describe how optimistic or pessimistic they feel about the Tunisian economy by choosing a number from 1-5 (with pessimism and optimism being at 1 and 5 respectively), most respondents chose 3, expressing either neutrality or uncertainty in further comments.
The conference was deemed a success by organizers and attendees. It had 4,500 participants from 88 countries, with 141 submitted projects and 34 billion TND in commitments and was covered by over 400 journalists. 1500 economic partners were present and aside from the important sums in loans and grants offered to Tunisia, the conference was made a success by a series of signed agreements and partnerships such as that between Microsoft and the Ministry of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy for the creation of an e-platform for the upcoming National Investment Commission, or the agreement between Groupe PSA and STAFIM for the assembly and commercialisation of Peugeot pick-up vehicles, or the 1.43 billion TND touristic megaproject in Gammarth between the Ministry of Tourism and the Qatari group Al Majida, among others.
TAYP Chairman of the board, Mohamed Malouche moderated the plenary session on “Green Economy: for an integrated development model” with guest speakers Riadh Mouakhar, Minister of Local Affairs and Environment, Tunisia, Maria Åsenius, Head of Cabinet to Trade Commissioner for the European Union Cecilia Malmström, Boutheina Ben Yaghlane, General Manager, Caisse des dépôts et consignations, Tunisia, Luca Cosentino, Executive Vice President, Energy solutions, ENI, Italy, Carlo Pignoloni, Head of Europe and North Africa, ENEL Green Power, Italy, Assaad Razzouk, Group Chief Executive, Sindicatum Sustainable Resources. They discussed the key points of the national commitment to safeguarding the environment, water and energy management, potential for job creation, promotion of innovation and competitiveness; a summary of these discussions will be shared very soon.
TAYP member and contributor, Sami Ben Romdhane Vice President, Technical fellow, eBay Inc, was part of the distinguished speakers on Digital Economy to disucss Tunisia ICT growth strategy and investment opportunities (R&D, design engineering, e-Health, infrastructure, etc) moderated by Emna Kharouf, Partner, Deloitte, Tunisia.
TAYP members @Radio show
There is no doubt that there remains a great deal of work for the Tunisian government and civil society to do, particularly in the realms of accountability, transparency, establishing regional economic equilibrium and the simplification of administrative procedures for Tunisian and international investors and entrepreneurs. Follow up is going to be necessary to make sure pledges, MOUs and investments come to fruition. Both investors and the Tunisian government will equally have to follow through on promises in order for trust and credibility to be established not only for how the investors and the government view each other, but also for the Tunisian population which has been energized by the conference but is also expectant for its outcomes.
Looking forward, TAYP is intent on harnessing the incredible potential that lies in the hands of the Tunisian diaspora. With this in mind, it has been actively advocating for the Tunisian government to show the support required for TAYP to continue its work for the promotion of the Tunisian economy and culture by introducing US policy makers and influencers to Tunisia, making them, in turn, advocates for the country, and to continue its efforts to produce economic, cultural and academic partnerships. The support will particularly help TAYP in pursuing new and deeper relations with organisations that can further promote Tunisia’s economic, cultural and political regional importance.
The Tunisian government has agreed to support TAYP by sharing the list of American and US based investors who had taken part or expressed interest in the conference, to ensure the association’s ability to follow up. Such forms of support will be crucial to enhance long term advocacy, as the time-frame for joining this initiative has been short, with many highly interested US investors unable to make it to the November 29-30 event. TAYP continues to work with them since the association is convinced that bringing investment to Tunisia cannot be a one-time effort, but rather a continuous dialogue with the multiple stakeholders involved.
TAYP has had great pride in playing a role in the promotion Tunisia2020 in the US. The event has been a definite success as proof of Tunisians’ capacity to work together, bridging the private-public “divide” and creating a quality event that has updated the narrative about Tunisia and its economy. Investors can now see the enormous potential of the country’s economy and the commitment of its legislature to make it a business friendly, job-promoting environment.