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Middle East and North Africa

Tunisia: Looking ahead or back to the future?

Antonius Verheijen's picture

I had the privilege recently to spend an unscheduled hour of discussion with a group of young Tunisians who were visiting our offices. As often, on these occasions it is hard not to get captured by the energy and impatience of the young people in this region. It gives hope that entrepreneurial spirit is really alive and well in a country where reliable private sector services remain otherwise hard to come by, let alone public ones. If one combines the energy of youth with the message in a recent (equally energetic) speech by the Minister of Development to a large group of investors, one gets a sense that Tunisia is, indeed, looking ahead and not to the past.

Yet, as always, reality is far more complex, and often we are confronted with a much gloomier picture of a country that is perceived as, economically, turning inward. This is the case even more so now, as Tunisia is coming under immense pressure to get its public finances in order. This has generated some decisions that go right against the message of openness and dynamism that one gets when meeting with young Tunisians. It all begs the question, for a newcomer like myself, which of the parallel universes is the real one, and, as in a movie, which one ultimately will prevail.

Syrian refugee children’s smiles shine again in Istanbul

Qiyang Xu's picture
© World Bank


Nothing is more satisfying than putting a smile on a child’s face. It is especially true when the child has been a victim of war.
 
The viral image of the three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, whose dead body was quietly lying on the beach captivated us. Kurdi’s loss of the chance to flee to a safer life invigorated us to act. We decided to help refugee children adapt to their new lives when arriving in a new country.
 
And so, our team from the World Bank Youth Innovation Fund (YIF) partnered with Small Projects Istanbul (SPI), a Turkish non-profit organization, to help 20 Syrian children find some happiness and joy in Turkey after fleeing their war-torn country.
 
YIF provides an opportunity for young employees of the World Bank Group to design, implement and evaluate development projects in client countries focusing on innovation, efficiency and impact on development.
 
After submitting a proposal to the YIF Proposal Competition, and winning, our journey began. Our project, Turkish Language, Mentorship and Psychological Counseling Program, aimed to  support these children to effectively integrate with the local society, develop self-confidence, and have access to education while living in Turkey.

Satellite factories create more jobs for women in rural Jordan

Michelle Davis's picture
In Jordan, only 14% of women are in the labor market, and job opportunities for them are scarce. (Photo: Mohamed Essa / IFC)


Many countries struggle with creating more and better jobs, especially when they try to increase the number of women in the labor market. Integrating women from more traditional, rural communities is especially difficult. And, if we are talking about a country with the second lowest female labor participation in the world, it might seem like an impossible task. This is exactly the situation that Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan faced a few years ago, and today they provide an interesting example of how innovative policies can address this challenge.

Three ways Tunisia can strengthen economic and social inclusion

Carine Clert's picture


Despite a difficult context of political transition and acute economic crisis, post-2011 Tunisia boldly laid the foundations for social dialogue. It allowed the government and key social actors to achieve a consensus on the country’s strategic direction. The 2013 Social Contract addressed the crucial challenge of social inclusion, with the need to target subsidies more effectively to make room in the budget for social investments. This included improving the targeting and coverage of the social safety net program – the Program for Needy Families-PNAFEN. In addition, for the first time, the government’s 2016-20 Five-Year Plan makes inclusion a strategic priority and lays out a vision for building a minimum social protection floor for all.

Reversing the geospatial digital divide – one step, or leap, at a time

Anna Wellenstein's picture
Earth from space. Photo by NASA.

Global positioning systems (GPS), real time traffic maps, accurate weather forecasts, Uber, self-driving cars… Geospatial data is on full display 24/7 throughout the world these days.  It’s like nothing we have seen before. But none of this would be possible without the underpinning role of the government.

“Geospatial,” or location-based data has existed for hundreds of years – for example, in street and topographical maps. What’s different is how quickly new information is being gathered and the more sophisticated analytics that is being applied to it, thanks to technological advances.

What was once information only found in the domain of government, military, and select private sector, even up to the 1980s and 90s, has come into broad use over the last 20 years. With the increase of mobile technology and communications, handheld smart phones have democratized mapping, moving geospatial technology into the hands of every individual.

This summer, some tens of millions of people in the U.S. traveled to see the total solar eclipse, including a co-author of this blog. Not only was the eclipse amazing – but the drive back from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. showed the integration and impact of geospatial information in our daily lives.
 

Making Sand into Gold

Wael Zakout's picture
Haider Y. Abdulla | Shutterstock.com - Property Landscape in Dubai

Those of you who have visited Dubai in recent years may relate to what I am going to say: Dubai is in the middle of the desert, and its land, not that long ago, was really worth nothing. Now it is one of the most vibrant international cities in the world. All this happened in a relatively short time span.

5 Lessons learned from Public-Private Dialogues in Tunisia

Rania Ashraf Dourai's picture
Independence Square, Tunis - By Valery Bareta| Shutterstock.com

The time needed to acquire a permit to market medicines in Tunisia has been significantly reduced from 2 to 3 years to under 9 months.  This was achieved between the years 2014 and 2017, and is especially remarkable considering the difficult political context in Tunisia and in its different industrial sectors. This administrative reform, along with many others, was the result of public-private dialogues (PPD) launched in January 2014 in various sectors. As a sign of the importance placed on the process, it survives despite five recent changes of government in Tunisia.

Phones, Drones, and Stones – Forced Displacement and Technology

Omer Karasapan's picture
 Paul Prescott | Shutterstock.com

There are currently 66 million people forcibly displaced across the globe, 26 million fleeing their countries as refugees and 40 million internally displaced - the worst such crisis since World War II. The Middle East is among the most affected regions with over half the Syrian population forcibly displaced...

Reforming Employment Services: Three Steps to Big Change

Jacqueline Mazza's picture
Increasing the number of jobs publicly listed, enabling public and private institutions to better connect workers to jobs will not likely solve the jobs problem in developing countries. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst / WorldBank)


With the right kind of reforms, public employment services can do a better job of matching job seekers from poor households. In low and middle-income countries, individuals from poor households find jobs through informal contacts; for example asking friends and family and other members of their limited network. But this type of informal job search tends to channel high concentrations of the poor individuals into informal, low-paid work.

Job seekers especially from poor households need bigger, more formal networks to go beyond the limited opportunities offered by the informal sector in their local communities. This is where public employment services can help, but in developing countries many of these services just simply do not work well: they suffer from limited financing and poor connections to employers, and governments are looking for ways to reform and modernize them to today’s job challenges.

There are lots of cases where developing countries have improved their public employment services and these can serve as models. The lessons from these successful reforms can be distilled and replicated. Based on our recent publication, here are three case-tested strategies that improved the performance, relevance and image of public employment services.

Game-changing water solutions for the Middle East and North Africa

Claudia W. Sadoff's picture
Women collecting water in  Al-Minsalah district, Haddjah province, Yemen. Photo: ECHO/T. Deherman
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has become a hotspot of unsustainable water use, with more than half of current water withdrawals in some countries exceeding the amount naturally available. This could have serious long-term consequences for the region’s growth and stability. Solutions for narrowing the gap between the supply of and demand for water are an urgent priority.
 
As the Fourth Arab Water Forum gets underway next week in Cairo, Egypt, much is at stake in the region’s water management. Armed conflict and massive numbers of refugees have put tremendous additional stress on land and water resources in MENA as well as on infrastructure in communities receiving the refugees. In Jordan alone, according to the country’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation, climate change and the refugee crisis have reduced water availability per person to 140 cubic meters, far below the globally recognized threshold of 500 cubic meters for severe water scarcity.
 
These recent developments compound the impact of decades of rapid population growth, urbanization and agricultural intensification. A recent World Bank report notes that more than 60% of the region’s population is concentrated in places affected by high or very high surface water stress, compared to a global average of about 35%. The report further warns that climate-related water scarcity is expected to cause economic losses estimated at 6-14% of GDP by 2050 – the highest in the world.
 
As governments search for solutions, two trends in particular could present game-changing opportunities to bolster water security. As captured in two recent reports by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the viability of these solutions will depend on how governments and societies respond to them.

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