Zoom on : Rachid Abidi Director of Tunis’ incubator for entrepreneurs « Lab’ess »
Lab’ess – which means « Everything is going well » in Tunisian – was created in 2012 just after the Tunisian revolution. It is an association under Tunisian law associated with PULSE, an international organization part of GROUPE SOS supporting impact entrepreneurship. The area of intervention focuses on the Maghreb and the Middle East with 75% of the actions in Tunisia.
To highlight the activities of the Lab’ess and know more about its commitment to foster social entrepreneurship in Tunisia, we got a special time to interview its director Rachid Abidi :
Can you describe your position and your work at Lab’ess?
Our mission is to support the associative movement of the social and solidarity economy (SSE) and to support social entrepreneurship as a lever for inclusive and sustainable solidarity development. Our core business is to raise awareness, accompany and finance the actors of change while advocating to facilitate and improve the structuring of the SSE sector in Tunisia.
I have been the legal representative of PULSE in Tunisia and therefore the Director of Lab’ess in Tunis for the past 5 years, an organisation that brings together a team of 20 very committed people. My work can be broken down into five main tasks: I lead a team of operational managers with the deputy director, I monitor the financial and HR aspects with the administrative and financial manager, I ensure the sustainability of the structure by seeking funds to support our strategic plan, I develop the Lab’ess brand by promoting its activities and I represent Lab’ess with major partners.
What are your personal motivations for doing this work?
I am lucky to be in a profession where we can invent solutions every day to alleviate social and economic problems. What we are proposing today has a real impact on Tunisian men and women who wish to start businesses, as well as an environmental impact, and being able to combine the two is very interesting and stimulating. What we do as a team on a daily basis is meaningful and useful for the local communities. It is also personally satisfying to see Lab’ess grow and flourish.
Since 2012 we have worked with more than 80 social entrepreneurs and supported more than 2000 associations. Our incubation programme for entrepreneurs lasts about 6 months and provides networking, coaching and loan financing. One of our support programmes concerns Tunisian associations in neighbourhoods being renovated and rehabilitated: we help them to set up innovative and sustainable urban projects in collaboration with municipalities and citizens in order to respond to real local needs. One of our main objectives is to be at the service of the actors in the long term and not in a one-off way.
According to you, how important is social entrepreneurship in the necessary transition towards a more just and inclusive economy?
In my opinion, social entrepreneurship is a solution that brings together different worlds. It is an action model that combines both the general interest and good economic practices by involving many stakeholders. It is a solution that creates intelligent cooperation, makes a positive contribution to society (particularly employment for the most vulnerable) and responds to major environmental issues where the state or the private sector have no answer. Collaborative work with the people concerned, who are aware of the local problems, is necessary to find truly adapted solutions.
The fact that money is not the driving force can sometimes make it difficult to understand the social entrepreneurship approach, but the commitment remains very strong among social entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, this is not the dominant model yet, so we have to fight even harder to defend our ideas. Even if we are seeing a progressive development of impact investors worldwide, it is not really the case in Tunisia. We have to teach our tunisian entrepreneurs how to adapt their discourse in order to be able to take on their project and convince classic financing organisations, which is an additional obstacle. This is why we have been developing an honour loan scheme for entrepreneurs since 2021.
What do you expect from the national and international trend in favour of the development of social entrepreneurship?
At the end of the first lockdown in 2020, we contributed to the formation of an informal solidarity collective « Tounessolidaire » which gathered more than 150 signatories for a tribune that was sent to the tunisian President of the Republic, President of the Government and President of the Assembly of People’s Representatives. The aim was to notify them that the SSE actors who contributed to allievating the difficulties of the pandemic were not recognised enough and to relaunch the study of the SSE draft law. After that, everything went a bit faster, the deputies in the Assembly voted the text of the law in plenary in June 2020 and then the law was promulgated by the President of the Republic in July 2020. But nothing has really moved since then, we are waiting for the introduction of the decrees and orders, without which we have few means to establish the framework for structuring the SSE sector. We need the process of adopting the decrees to be accelerated, as there is talk of a label that would grant aid, benefits and incentives.
There are still a lot of things to be put in place to structure the SSE sector: a SSE agency and a Higher Council of SSE. And we as actors need to regroup and organise ourselves as a representative body in order to be credible and bring united claims to the state. We need to create a taskforce that would allow better coordination of the different stakeholders to reflect on the vision and strategy of the SSE in the medium and long term in Tunisia. We, the support structures, also need more support because our economic models are fragile. We get our funding directly from international cooperation and private donors, no funds come from the state or Tunisian authorities. We want to diversify the origin of our resources for greater sustainability and reliability.
Today, belonging to PULSE is an opportunity because we benefit from the GROUPE’s experience, tools, methods, financial support if necessary, consistent communication and support for our development. This is an important support that complements the know-how and dynamics of the local team.