Helen Wey’16 – Tunisia

Top 5 Moments of the Trip

  1. Lunch at farm Dar Salima- We had delicious grilled meat in a rural cottage that functioned as a B&B. The home overlooked olive trees, vineyards and mountains. I would definitely consider making a trip back to this place- they even had a honeymoon suite (which we all visited as an awkward group of 30).

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  1. Land’or cheese factory tour- As a cheese lover, and consumer of similar products made by the Laughing Cow, I was particularly fond of the factory visit at Land’or. We visited the pasteurization process, the incorporation of bacteria, and the molding and aging process. It was also eye opening to learn how many additives there were in the cheese triangles that I have eaten my whole life. The greatest part though was probably seeing how silly we looked in all our outfits.

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  1. Celebrating Maria’s Birthday- Never in my life had I done a group rendition of “Happy Birthday” in the middle of a corporate presentation. While at Carrefour, one of our classmates let out that another classmate was celebrating her birthday that day. We continued the celebration later that night by surprising Maria with a birthday cake and bottle of champagne at dinner.

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  1. A night at Le Boeuf sur le Toit- Our TA, Olivier wanted a fun night for us since we were going to have a later start the next morning, and made a reservation at an entertainment-included restaurant. While we were going there for dinner, it was more of a nightclub. They had boisterous live music and the way to clap along or participate was to dance and use your flatware to clang on the metal tables and lampshades.

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  1. Curfew goodbye- For our last night in Tunisia, we had planned to have a grand bash. We made reservations for dinner and late-night belly dancing. Unfortunately, all those plans came to a halt when the government imposed a nationwide curfew from 8PM-5AM. There had been some civil unrest in other parts of Tunisia, but it reached Tunis on Friday. The hotel arranged a room for us to have dinner and we played board games long into the night.

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The best part of this trip was building bonds with my classmates. Even though everyone was a fall-term second-year, I did not most of them. We had countless meaningful conversations during our bus rides and sit-down meals. Many jokes were told. Many, many shenanigans occurred. We had an amazing time. Shukraan, Tunisia!

Helen Wey ’16-Tunisia

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DSC_0133A big focus of the second half of the trip has been on alternative financing of businesses. From the American Chamber of Commerce meeting, we were told that a lot of goals had been set in order to make Tunisia more attractive as a destination for foreign investments. The government institutions and entrepreneurs did not agree on much at the meeting, but they did reach consensus on a lack of capital.

We had meetings with a number of organizations outside of traditional banking that finance local businesses. The African Development Bank focuses on investing in projects in businesses that are intended to further development in Tunisia. Its financing is backed by its member countries and development finance institutions (DFIs). The Abraaj group, a private equity firm with $9B AUM, was the most traditional financial institution we met. Its LPs are focused on a single bottom line. The firm made its first wholly owned investment- a private hospital- in Tunisia in 2014. We had the opportunity to visit the clinic, and it was clear that along with changing management, they were drastically modernizing their labs and rooms. AfricInvest is one of the most experienced private equity firms, but nearly 85% of its funding comes from DFIs. The International Finance Corporation has a triple bottom line with only 0.3% of its total portfolio in Tunisia. IFC’s role in Tunisia is to source and aid investment to make it easier for investments to happen. The organization has connections through all industries and knows the major players. It also funds enda-inter-arabe, the largest microfinance institution in Tunisia. It provides financing to 270,000 businesses. When the local business owners were asked why they preferred enda-inter-arabe for funding as opposed to a traditional bank, their response was that enda provided a lot of advice in starting their businesses as well as emotional support.

The government does not have the capacity to stimulate all economic growth, and has relied on the help of these financial institutions to support entrepreneurs.

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Helen Wey ’16 – Tunisia

 

Brrr… it was a cold first couple of days in Tunis. Most of us were underprepared for the climate. Thankfully with each passing day, it has become a degree (Celsius!) warmer.

 

After kicking things off at a beautiful restaurant the night before, we had an early start to visit SAH Lilas, a diaper and sanitary napkin manufacturing company. We saw the napkin/toilet paper/paper towel production process from raw materials to finished product, as if it were a live operations class. We sat for a formal presentation, where we learned about the start of the business. The founder is a woman, which is something the firm is particularly proud of since she is a self-made CEO of a publicly traded company. The pride of feminine liberalism is a continuing theme throughout our company visits and conversations with locals. During numerous meetings people have made a point to stress Tunisia’s support for women’s rights, especially in comparison to its neighboring countries and other Muslim nations. There is plenty of action to back up these words- every meeting we have attended thus far has had a female presenter or CEO.
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While at Lilas, a classmate raised the question of how the company functions in other parts of the world with regards to the Tunisian Dinar. Tunisia has an unusual practice with its currency that prohibits its existence outside of Tunisia. Tourists need to exchange dinars back to their native currency prior to leaving the country. Companies that purchase equipment abroad need to make transactions through the central bank and the central bank pays the foreign company. Tunisia-based multinational companies have reserves held at the central bank, but do not partake in the practice of currency hedging. I imagine this only adds to the more apparent hurdles international firms consider when investing in Tunisia.

 

We have had great conversations with the other organizations we have met thus far, and are looking forward to learning more. And a lot more dancing
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Helen Wey ’16 – Tunisia

What to expect from a land I know so little about? It has been a long time since I have been to a country where I have little knowledge of the main sights and attractions, let alone seen photos of what to expect. I had a short visit to Morocco years ago, and can imagine what is to come in Tunisia, but otherwise have stayed blissfully unaware. What will we eat? What will it smell like? Will it be chaos or an oasis of calm?

What is certain is that we will be visiting a number of companies and NGOs: African Development Bank, AfricInvest Group, Carrefour, Land’or SA, enda inter-arabe, SAH Lilas, Tunisiana SA and the Tunisian American Chamber of Commerce. Having just come from Chazen India, I was extremely surprised at how much I enjoyed the company visits and learning about the different business customs and consumer preferences. I originally feared they would be long, drawn-out and generic, but they were some of my strongest impressions from the trip. It was also inspiring to see the natural curiosity of my classmates come out through insightful questions for each speaker. I have high hopes for our meetings in Tunisia and cannot wait to see what my peers bring to the discussion.

It will also be a great opportunity to meet with Kaymu, an online retailer that is a mix of Amazon and EBay. My team is assigned to do a consulting project for the firm on improving delivery ease and efficiency. Without anyone knowing much about the country or general city planning and logistical operations, the project has been a bit challenging thus far. Even so, I have had a lot of fun getting to know the team better. I am sure that during our long bus rides and shared meals, I will also get to bond with everyone else on the trip. We will get into some funny shenanigans and make memories for a lifetime.

Traveling with Chazen, I have the benefit of leaving all logistics and planning to the school. The only trick was figuring out what to pack. Like many of my classmates, I have been traveling the world for the past few weeks. I packed for Tunisia hoping the Weather Channel’s monthly forecasts were relatively accurate. Things are looking good!

For now, I will practice my French from Paris. J’ai hâte d’aller en Tunisie!