Tunisia: Day 3 & 4

Today is Friday, which means that it is our last day of GIP Tunisia.  By this time tomorrow, many of us will already be heading back to snowy NYC to do battle with the weather, classes, job searches, and one last round of happy hours at Uris Deli.  But for now, I would just like to reflect on the past few days, and to capture a few “lessons learned”.

We have been fortunate enough to hear from leaders from a wide range of industries, functions and political/social views.  We got a window in to the Tunisian telecom industry on Wednesday morning, when we had the opportunity to meet with CEO Ken Campbell.  Over (delicious) croissants and strong coffee, he talked to us about the history of the company, and Tunisiana’s hope for the future.

We were interested to learn that smartphone penetration in Tunisia is currently sitting at 15%, a fact that Tunisiana hopes to change in the near future.  3G was launched in 2012, and since that, the 3G user base has tripled.  As the economic and political situation continues to improve, Tunisiana is hopeful that its customers will continue to adopt data-heavy usage patterns that are similar to those of CBS students.  Company leadership cited the following challenges to these growth aspirations: macro-economic conditions, weakening of the TSD, and wide-spread unemployment.

The afternoon of Day Three was devoted to group project time.  Groups traveled around (and outside of) Tunis to meet with company representatives, and to attempt to glean information and insights that would help them reconcile their previous research with their current experiences in Tunisia.  I would have to say that the group who emerged from their meeting at La’andor with giant bags of cheese was probably the most victorious.  It pays to pick companies who have food to give out!

Thursday was probably the most interesting mix of speakers/topics of the week.  In the morning, we met with the President of the Republican Party.  He candidly discussed the root causes of the revolution (unemployment, gap between coastal and inland areas), as well as the transition that is currently in progress.  Unlike many of the other officials that we have met on this trip, this man was willing to give us an honest (albeit a tad pessimistic) view of the uphill battle that Tunisia faces before being able to right itself in the eyes of its citizens, as well as the international community.  While holding hope for the future, and the establishment of a legitimate, stable government, he was not afraid to discuss the setbacks and challenges that Tunisia continues to experience.

In the afternoon, our class set off to visit enda inter-arabe, which is a microfinance company geared towards the empowerment of Tunisian women.  Michael Cracknell, co-founder, walked us through the history of the company, and gave us an overview of the impact that enda inter-arabe has had over the past 25 years.  The company currently has more than 235,000 active clients, with an average loan of 700 TSD.  Clients use this money to establish/run small businesses, which allows them to contribute to their family’s income each month, and to employ other members of the local community.

We were fortunate enough to meet 6 of the entrepreneurs sponsored by this inspiring company.  The woman who caught my attention was named Amel, and had been a client since 2002.  She began by borrowing 200 TSD to start a small tailoring service.  Since then, she has expanded her business to include jewelry and silk painting, and is able to employ up to 8 people in the “high season”.  After the meeting, she walked over to a table and pulled out dozens of samples of her jewelry, signaling to all of us that she was the most serious entrepreneur in the group!

Last, but not least, we visited Carrefour Tunis.  We were given an overview of the Tunisian shopping market by the Besma Kriaa (Chief Marketing Officer) and Lassaad Zribi (Chief Information Officer), who emphasized that the traditional distribution pattern (corner stores, convenient locations) still commands 77% of the market.  Carrefour Tunis is working to disrupt this pattern, with a push towards modern distribution patterns (which includes supermarkets, hypermarkets, etc).

Carrefour emphasized their focus on building a strong, emotional connection with shoppers, and described their store as “more than just a distribution point, it is a marketing medium”.  In Tunisia, Carrefour has a dimension of “leisure”, and the brand is meant to be a bit “aspirational”.  This was evident when we visited the floor of the Carrefour store, which seemed like a place where you really could find anything that you wanted.  Compared with the small shops that are characteristic of the towns that we have visited in Tunisia, so far, it is clear that Carrefour does stand for something more than just a place to buy bread and a lawn chair set!

Setting off on our fifth and final day!  Although I will be sad to see this trip end, I am looking forward to reflecting on the trip, as a whole, once it is concluded.

Katie Horgan ’14

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