Published on Arab Voices

Three ways Tunisia can strengthen economic and social inclusion

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ImageDespite 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.

But numbers as well as human realities of socioeconomic exclusion show the need to move both further and faster. Promoting socioeconomic inclusion requires enhancing policies to stimulate growth and investment that focus on overhauling education, health and higher education systems. However, in parallel, it’s clear that there is an urgent need more coherent and effective social protection and promotion policies – policies with more robust management tools and targeted programs that can produce concrete results.
In Tunisia as elsewhere in the world, exclusion and vulnerability have many different faces. During my visits, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the real people affected. Take, for example, the stories of Anouar and a couple named Walid and Saida.  17 year-old Anouar grew up in Jendouba, dropped out of high school and spends much of his time hanging out at the café, making a living through small-scale dealing.  Walid, 30, and his wife Saida, 28, recently moved in with Saida’s parents in Kairouan after graduating from university in Tunis. After two years on unemployment, they can no longer afford housing. They have two children, aged 2 and 5, and are worried. How are they going to manage their future? How will they be able to afford school expenses for their older child? Which doors should they knock on to get further training to help them land a job in that region, and how will they pay for that training? Saida would be happy to be able to develop her tiny day care business using her kindergarten aide’s diploma, but what guarantee could she offer to obtain microcredit financing if she succeeds in developing her microenterprise, and who would take care of her own children while she goes to classes?
What are the key areas for action? First, the economic inclusion approach should be revisited to help both young people and businesses. The Youth Economic Inclusion Project for disadvantaged youth , Moubadiroun , is one example that gives cause for hope. We are privileged to have been able to support the government in its preparation of that project. Approved by the Board of the World Bank in September 2017 and currently awaiting ratification by the Tunisian Parliament, the project will provide clear direction for discouraged young men like Anouar. An awareness-raising initiative will seek him out to offer him a full-time probation period and follow-up support.  Saida will be given extra support for her children’s child care , as well as a holistic approach to creating her little business. Furthermore, small and medium enterprises in the regions where Walid, Saida and Anouar live will be helped to grow their investments within very specific value chains. Beneficiary businesses will be granted bonuses on investments when they offer apprenticeship opportunities to targeted disadvantaged youth.
Secondly, social assistance programs also must innovate to better protect children and help families invest in preserving or increasing their human capital, and ensuring a secure future for them. International experience with cash transfers to poor and vulnerable families combined with providing quality basic services (health, education) has shown impressive results in terms of reducing school dropout rates, child labor and poor nutrition. Tunisia must choose its approach. In any event the World Bank is ready to respond to this challenge and to work alongside UNICEF and other partners to help Tunisia develop a ground-breaking initiative for the most disadvantaged regions and segments of society. In this manner, some security can be offered to children such as Saida’s and Walid’s.
Thirdly, Tunisia needs to know its citizens better in order to serve them better. One way to do this is by using a dynamic, transparent and inclusive social information management system. Most countries that have made progress in strengthening social protection – Brazil, the Philippines or Chile, for example – have developed a social registry. Social registries are information systems that handle processes of outreach, registration and evaluation of needs and socioeconomic conditions. They make it possible to capture the variety of situations and needs of citizens like Saida or Walid. The registers include key information on individual socioeconomic situations as well as participation in different social programs, and provide a means to track the evolution of a citizen’s level of vulnerability or socioeconomic inclusion. Citizens benefit, as do service providers. For citizens, costs of transactions, travel and administrative red tape are minimal. For public service providers, the social registry reduces administrative costs and duplication and promotes greater synergy among programs. In Tunisia first steps have been taken, even if there’s an urgent need to make up for delays in implementation. Faster progress will allow Tunisia to improve and expand the coverage of social programs.
Since its 2013 decision, Tunisia has already begun updating rosters of beneficiaries of social safety net programs such as the Program for Needy Families and the program of reduced fee Health Care cards. Going forward, the latter two are grouped together under the name Amen Social.
Finally, any strategy for reducing poverty and promoting inclusion should be geared towards reinforcing institutional, human and financial architecture in order to ensure performance and sustainability. Although there is still much to be done, the will is there.


Carine Clert

Country Manager for El Salvador and Costa Rica

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