5 Questions I Have Before Arriving in Tunisia

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It’s hard to believe that it’s finally time to visit the country we began studying the first week of the fall semester. The anticipation has mounted over the past four months, as we’ve listened to lectures on the country’s history and business opportunities, and worked on projects examining different industries.

Writing from the Istanbul Airport, about to board my final flight leg to Tunis, there are a handful of questions on my mind. I wanted to share the five most burning questions I have heading into the week.

1.  How different is Tunisia from its regional neighbors?

One of the first things Professor Jededi told us about his home country was that it was the most “European” of Middle Eastern and North African nations. Women had far more rights, it now has a liberal constitution following the Arab Spring, and education has long been a national priority. I’m curious if this is a difference that will be palpable to me, having visited a handful of Tunisia’s neighbors.

2. How has the Arab Spring changed the country?

As the birthplace of the Arab Spring, the revolutionary movement that spread across the Middle East six years ago, Tunisia saw unique success. The movement — at least as has been reported in the media — brought real changes to the country, such as the peaceful transition of power away from the long-time dictator Ben Ali, democratic elections, and the passing of a liberal constitution. I’d like to ask this question of Tunisians, to gain a deeper understanding of how the average person’s life is different now than before December 2010.

3. Is there truly a significant business opportunity in Tunisia for foreign investors?

The focus of our course is doing business in North Africa, and I’m eager to access whether Tunisia’s relative political advantage over its neighbors is enough to make it a competitive threat. Tunisia is much smaller in size and population than Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria. What is its government doing to ensure that good jobs for educated young people — the issue which sparked the Arab Spring — will come to the country now?

4. What industries present the greatest opportunities for economic growth?

After grasping the extent to which there’s a competitive opportunity in Tunisia, I’d next like to understand which industries the country is best poised to compete. The country’s long-time reliance on tourism has proven to be an unsustainable driver of growth, as terrorism has prevented the country’s image from complete repair post-Arab Spring. Student teams in our class are looking at opportunities in agricultural exports, olive oil and wine, venture capital, and real estate. But have we missed something? Is there an entrepreneurial scene budding in Tunis?

5. What North African business trends will be most relevant to my classmates after we leave?

Finally, the goal of this class is for us as MBA students to gain a better understanding of the global business climate. Which trends in North Africa will prove the most relevant to our future careers, assuming many of us will not have careers directly focused on the region? Are general themes of emerging economies most relevant? Or will they be those related to global security uncertainty?

-Zoe Fox ’17

Tunisia Final Thoughts

Writing from New York, one week after returning from Tunisia, we have had some time to reflect on our whirlwind experience of meeting some of the country’s top business and political leadership.

Tunisia is a country in transition.  It is a country whose constituents were never allowed to have an opinion until January 2011 and who are now asking questions of national and individual identity:  What does it mean to be Tunisian?  What does it mean to be the spark that ignited the Arab Spring?  How do we fit into the broader context of North Africa?  Of the Arab world?  Of the area south of Southern Europe?  What has democracy changed?  What changes must we still demand?

The world watches Tunisia, awaiting these answers with proverbial baited breath.  These answers will determine how the world “does business in North Africa,” how North Africa interacts with the West, and how this next potential market will emerge.

We had an unparalleled opportunity to visit Tunisia at this moment in time and to bear witness to a country and a region as it forges its future.

CBS outside the Presidential Palace
CBS outside the Presidential Palace

Here are a few final thoughts from the CBSers:

“Going to Tunisia was one of the most interesting academic and cultural experiences I’ve ever had.  We had opportunities to meet with leaders in business and politics, but also interact with locals.  My favorite company visit was to COFAT, maker of electric wires for the automobile industry.  The conversation with the CEO was really enlightening, but the real highlight was taking a tour of their facilities and viewing the all-female assembly lines.  I loved walking around and making small connections with the women.  This trip far surpassed my expectations and I definitely plan on visiting again!” –Shardee Cesar ‘13

“In listening to the CEO of Tunisiana, a telecommunications company, I was very surprised to learn that the media company was leading mobile banking – in the US it has been the banks. Customers are using devices to send money or transfer calling credit between accounts. I can definitely see the opportunities for mobile banking in the future in Tunisia.” –Tara Kurian ‘13

“Our group project focused on creating a solution for mobile banking in Tunisia that will drive adoption of mobile solution for a largely unbanked population.  While in Tunis, we had the opportunity to meet with Mobiflouss, a start-up inside Tunisiana dedicated to creating a mobile payment solution.  Prior to the meeting, we knew that a black market of mobile payment existed but were surprised to learn how pervasive the use of airtime (P2P tranfers of airtime as payment) were for the Tunisian mobile consumer.  Following our experience on the ground, we are developing a business plan which will try to improve on current mobile solutions and create an ecosystem to drive higher adoption of both Mobiflouss and mobile payments on other carriers.” –Randall Rainosek ’13

We want to express our tremendous gratitude to: Professor Jedidi for organizing the class and for showing us his home country, Jennifer Tromba and the entire Chazen staff for making the logistics possible, and to all of the companies and individuals with whom we had the opportunity to meet.  It was truly a trip to remember.

Many thanks,

Yael Silverstein ’13 (follow my travels at http://abroadabroadtravel.com)