“This is the youth selling cigarettes, this is unemployment,” a 27-year-old street vendor yelled in Tunis, before setting himself alight in March this year. He died in hospital. This young man was from a poor town in northwestern Tunisia struggling to find a steady job to support his mother and siblings. The tragic fate of Adel Khadhri, like that of his predecessor in 2010, whose death marked the beginning of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, highlights immense social problems that plague Tunisia’s society.

Though progress has been made since 2010, problems persist. High prices, up to 30 percent  youth unemployment rate, and economic disparities between regions, are all making the lives of Tunisians harder. Mr Khadhri was not only suffering financial destitution, but, according to his brother, had stomach problems but did not have enough money to get treatment.

One of the country’s main challenges is unemployment, especially among young graduates. In most regions of the world, the duration of unemployment spells is shorter for youth than for adults. However, in most Middle East and North African countries, youth unemployment is longer, many having to wait years for the right job.

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report published by the International Monetary Fund in June 2012 identified some of the key contributors to youth unemployment as high labour force growth, skill mismatches and high wage expectations. This creates an absurd situation where the highest unemployment rate is found among the most educated young people. In a sense, Tunisia is the victim of its own success. Over past decades, the Middle East and North Africa region had made strides on providing education; average years of schooling increased fourfold since 1960. But this trend has failed to provide the young workforce with relevant skills, and in some cases education is used to mask the inability to obtain employment. The situation is even more difficult for young female graduates.

We have long been advocates of social business; a type of enterprise that tackles social and environmental problems while at the same time generating revenues to pay for its own costs. When the African Development Bank invited us to start the Holistic Social Business Movement (HSBM) in Tunisia, the first problems we addressed were youth unemployment, female empowerment, rural inclusion and the environment.

The HSBM is not your typical development initiative. Its aim is to encourage Tunisian people to come up with social business solutions for their own communities. Where the economy is not providing enough jobs, young job seekers should instead see themselves as potential job givers, and take advantage of opportunities to create livelihoods for themselves and other young people. Yunus Social Business (YSB) Tunisia, which is running the initiative, will have two roles: as a business incubator and an investment fund.

The incubator’s role is to build awareness, involve the young people, and show them the building blocks of a successful social business. It held the first National Social Business Conference in March 2013 at the IHEC University in Carthage. We have started a pilot programme and are currently working with entrepreneurs to help them develop their strategy and business plans, with the aim to eventually invest in some of the best candidates.

The fund is currently exploring ways to make investments into social businesses that will be in line with the principles of Islamic finance. YSB will help the entrepreneur set-up, but the business will be run entirely by the entrepreneur once it takes off. Our fund aims to invest in six to seven social businesses every year. Right now, the incubator is working with businesses in plastics recycling, women’s handicrafts, biological agriculture and ecotourism in rural areas. The quality such businesses have in common is their commitment to the development of human capital, whether it be improving working conditions of plastic collectors, skills and tools of female artisans or the entrepreneurial abilities of the unemployed youth in rural areas. Through the mechanism of business, YSB aims to transfer employable skills to the most vulnerable people, empowering them to seize control of their own working lives.

Profits made by social businesses must be reinvested into other social businesses or the local communities. When the investment is repaid to the fund, it will be recycled into new investments. Sustainability is key.

The African Development Bank is financing the pilot phase of YSB Tunisia with a grant by the Japanese Trust Fund. But, in order to invest in great social business entrepreneurs, we will need to have capital in our fund. We receive donations and interest-free investments. We are open to development institutions, corporations, private foundations as well as individual donors.

YSB Tunisia is one of the funds run by Yunus Social Business. Based in Germany, YSB’s other operations include Haiti, Albania, Uganda, Brazil, Colombia and India. More than anything, YSB Tunisia aims to give young people hope, so that unlike Adel Khadhri, they would have a tool to solve problems of their own community, to become job-givers, not job seekers.