The AfDB and Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus Launch Social Business in Africa

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Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, delivered on March 13 a message of hope to Tunisians at a national conference on social business in Tunisia. The conference, which took place at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (IHEC) in Carthage, was organized by the African Development Bank’s Human Development Department and Yunus Social Business, in collaboration with Global Shapers and Orange.

“No one should be unemployed. Given the strength of human creativity, no problem can remain unresolved,” said Professor Yunus, reflecting on the high unemployment rate in Tunisia and emphasizing the power of human capital in Africa.

“We can create a world free of poverty, free of unemployment; we can create the world we want!” he said, stressing the need for young people to develop their creativity and entrepreneurial skills.

More than 500 participants from various stakeholder groups (government, development agencies, NGOs, representatives of large Tunisian and international companies and civil society) engaged in lively debates during the day-long conference and reflected on concrete social business ideas in Tunisia. Several projects with funding from the Bank’s pilot initiative for Tunisian entrepreneurs, Souk Attanmia (“market for development”), were present. The conference was broadcast around the world via a live webcast.

During the opening ceremony, the AfDB and Yunus and Social Business officially launched the Holistic Social Business Movement in Africa (HSBM) program, which includes pilot projects in Togo, Tunisia and Uganda. This program will be implemented in two phases: first, through awareness raising and capacity-building of stakeholders in Social Business; second, with the implementation of social business incubation funds in Tunisia and Togo. This program is part of the Bank’s Joint Initiative on Youth Employment in Africa, in partnership with the African Union Commission, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the International Labour Organization. The HSBM is a two-year program, funded by a grant from the Government of Japan and co-financed by the AfDB.

The manifestation of such a strong commitment from stakeholders forms the basis on which the African Development Bank and its partners, including Yunus Social Business, plan to implement the HSBM program in Tunisia. The partners and stakeholders expressed optimism about the effort, which comes at a time when Tunisian unemployment is high.

“Inclusive development is at the heart of the priorities of the African Development Bank. The African continent is ready for the development of the social economy,” said African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka.

During his visit, Professor Yunus met with CEOs of large companies in Tunisia such as CONECT, Amen Bank, BIAT, Ben Jemaa Motors, Swicorp, Tuninvest and Tunisia’s national federation for textiles and clothing (FENATEX), amongst others. In addition, Professor Yunus delivered a special lecture to students and professors of IHEC before a packed auditorium of over 200 people. He ended his visit to Tunis with a private meeting with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, who expressed his interest and enthusiasm for the initiative.

During the conference, Slim Khalbous, Director of the Graduate Institute of Business Studies, and Didier Charvet, CEO of Orange Tunisia, jointly launched a platform on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which aims to advance education and research in Tunisia.

Following this national conference in Tunisia, the Bank and its partners will organize two national conferences this year in Togo on May 16 and in Uganda on June 20. The three countries were selected on the basis of an assessment of their youth unemployment rates. Should the pilot programs prove effective, the Bank aims to expand the initiative to other African countries.

The first investments in Tunisia and Togo will be made between late 2013 and early 2014.