Youth empowerment in Tunisia

Tunisia has been feted as the only successful democratic transition among the Arab uprisings but its faltering economy is unable to meet the aspirations of its young people. Structural unemployment is the outcome of both supply and demand effects, including the inefficient functioning of the labor market. The economy has not been creating decent jobs as well as justice and a better and more inclusive government for the rapidly growing number of young people. This unstable and complex situation has a negative effect on the Tunisian youth and some fear it could also drive more young Tunisians into the arms of extremist groups.

We must take responsibility and give Tunisia’s youth the chance to take matters into their own hands! Therefore we composed a brief outline that gives you an understanding of the situation, and (hopefully) ideas how we — as good (digital) citizens — can help improve the situation in Tunisia.


Please note: this awareness campaign is part of the certificate course Social Entrepreneurship (MOOC) at the Copenhagen Business School. Powered by Coursera.

Tunisia has gone through a seismic political shock that led to the collapse of its previous autocratic regime and to the beginning of the transition to democracy. The ongoing political, social and economic institutional transformations should lead to a more democratic government and unlock great economic development potential, but the situation remains politically fragile and highly uncertain. Some fear it could also drive more young Tunisians into the arms of extremist groups.

What then triggered the Tunisian revolution? Lack of opportunities for youth seems to have been a key driver for the revolution.

Poor governance:
In Tunisia, unemployment has been persistently high for more than two decades preceding the 2010 revolution and afterwards. It was often above 14 percent until 2010, and between January 2011 and May 2012, about 200,000 additional jobs were lost and the unemployment rate reached 19 percent.

In 2017 the unemployment rate is 15.3 percent. Female 22.7 percent (359.300) of the active population and 12.4 percent (266.300) for male (

This structural unemployment is the outcome of both supply (labor force) and demand (public and private sector) effects, including the inefficient functioning of the labor market. The economy has not been creating decent jobs as well as justice and a better and more inclusive government for the rapidly growing number of young people.

Gray location map of Tunisia, blank outside.

Tunisian labor force:
The Tunisian labor force is increasingly educated; the number of university graduates has been rising rapidly thanks to the open and free access to higher education. 16 percent in 2010, and it keeps growing. The total educated labor force is above 53 percent.

However, the quality of education and of training, and consequently of the skills acquired by this growing labor force, are not always adequate. The policy of free and massive access to education has been implemented at the expense of the training quality.

Why has the problem not been solved?
The educated youth between 15 and 30 years with a secondary or higher education are asking for better and more decent jobs. Yet, in current situation the higher the education level a person has, the lower the probability they will find a job. The unemployment rate increases with higher education levels and is highest for those with university degrees.

The quality of the education system is certainly a major issue. It is not designed to produce the appropriate skills or to ensure high-quality training, making it crucial to radically improve this system in order to move up the value chain and to ensure the transition towards a more productive economy.

Private sector:
There has been a significant gap between rules and facts, leaving room for deals, abuses, lack of transparency and corruption. The business environment is therefore not conducive for substantial investment and enterprise creation, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Investment has been predominately concentrated in low value-added, low-wage, labor-intensive activities based on low-level technologies.

Regardless of the importance of these jobs it is no surprise that the educated youth are not attracted to these enterprises for employment or satisfied by the informal jobs (an economy that is neither taxed, nor monitored by any form of government) they offer.

Why has the problem not been solved?
The economy’s capacity to create jobs, especially good jobs, and attractive opportunities has been weak, well below the expectations of job seekers, especially youth. As a consequence the demand for skilled and educated labor is limited and contributes to the existence of skills mismatch (the gap between an individual’s job skills), which is also an important factor underlying the low level of employment. Tunisian employers often complain about the lack of employees with the right abilities.

Regional and gender inequality:
In spite of the overall decrease in income inequality, unemployed youth, especially those from the hinterland poor regions, have ample reasons for revolting. All indicators confirm that regional disparities have been large and persistent: unemployment, income level and poverty by region show that the western regions are poorer and provide many less opportunities to the population and to youth who have the hardest time to find jobs or to start a business.

Unemployment rates and duration of unemployment are higher for youth and particularly for women — even more so for female graduates. Women living in the poorer regions are the least fortunate. More generally, unemployment is much higher in the west and the south of the country, including in the Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine area.

Why has the problem not been solved?
Most of these regions remain highly dependent on agriculture, which provides mostly seasonal, low-skill and low-pay employment, which is not attractive for youth. Unemployment and poverty strengthened the sentiment of exclusion and discrimination among the populations of the poorer regions, who have developed a strong belief that their situation is caused by a biased public policy and regional distribution of public investments.

Who are we trying to help and what is it we want to solve?
The educated youth between 15 and 30 years with a secondary or higher education. A key economic challenge for Tunisia today is to improve the business environment (reforms of labor laws and of the financial sector), in order to increase investments and to create more and better enterprises able to provide more attractive employment opportunities for youth. Tunisia also needs to repair the educational system and offer students the relevant skills compatible to the required knowledge and skills of the private sector.

For enquiries or ideas please contact us.

Sources: The Brookings Institution “Youth Employment and Economic Transition in Tunisia” 2013, Financial Times “Tunisia: After the revolution” 2016

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