Anis El Fahem, National Director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Small Business Support National Program Manager gave AfricanManager an exclusive interview where he spoke about several aspects of the EBRD’s fields of intervention in Tunisia, its programs and tools to support SMEs but also plans for the next few years and the budget for technical assistance.
What is the balance sheet after years of EBRD’s operations?
The EBRD is an international financial institution whose primary mandate is the development of the private sector in its countries of operations to facilitate the transition to market economies.
Since 2012, we have been present in the Southeast Mediterranean countries (SEMED region), namely Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. Lately, Lebanon has in turn become a country of operations. In Tunisia, the Bank has been officially operational since 2013.
Since then, we have made investments of around € 387 million for nearly 30 projects, mostly in the private sector, such as energy, automotive, agri-food and the financial sector.
The bank has also made public investments such as the project to clean up Lake Bizerte or strengthen the distribution network of STEG.
Apart from financing activities, the EBRD provides technical assistance to Tunisian SMEs in various sectors. These activities are financed by international donors, in particular the European Union (EU).
Thanks to generous donations from the EU, we have been able to provide consultancy services to almost 457 companies by mobilizing local consultants.
These companies have been supported in various fields such as strategic development, communication, organization, information systems, engineering or quality management systems.
Our ultimate goal is to improve the competitiveness of these companies.
We also have a program where we mobilize international expertise and where we call on professional experts who come to help Tunisian companies of a certain maturity and that are leaders to become national and international champions by entering new markets or new technologies, or by improving their governance and management.
In this context, we have accompanied more than 61 companies, each of which has received the right to a grant of up to €50,000 to carry out its strategic development projects.
And at the training level, is there a program?
Yes … We provide training for management consultants. We have developed a training curriculum for Tunisian consultants to improve their practices of the trade. These modules are inspired by international best practices. We have already trained 150 Tunisian consultants.
We are also very active in supporting women entrepreneurs through specific support products such as coaching and mentoring of women entrepreneurs. We also organize training in the fields of financial management, leadership and digital marketing, in order to improve their managerial and personal skills.
To this end, we are the manager of the PACS program, which is a program to support the competitiveness of services, in association with the Ministry of Trade.
With a budget of €10 million, this program targets the services sector, namely ICT, professional services, transport and logistics, tourism and crafts.
SMEs operating in these sectors can benefit from all our subsidized advisory and support products.
We are also in the process of providing support to professional associations and we have so far had about ten associations with whom we are working to improve their services and the services they are offering to their members such as CONECT, the National Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs, the National Council of Women Entrepreneurs, the Tunisian Federation of Travel Agencies and the Association of Guest Houses.
All these associations are being accompanied by the EBRD through its PACS program, to improve their services and business model in order to achieve viability and sustainability.
What are the EBRD’s plans for the next few years in terms of technical assistance?
Over the next three years, we have a global budget of € 14 million for all of our technical assistance activities, financed by EU funding.
These €14 million, which extend to 2020, will support nearly 700 companies, train nearly 200 women entrepreneurs and 150 consultants, support a dozen professional associations, and provide support and the coaching of at least 80 women entrepreneurs.
What are the criteria for SMEs to benefit from EBRD programs?
In terms of eligibility criteria, all Tunisian SMEs can benefit from this program. It is very simple. The company must have two years of operations and mostly Tunisian, mostly private.
Companies in the industrial, services and trade sectors are eligible.
How is the EBRD satisfied with these projects in Tunisia?
We perform evaluations of our consulting projects one year after the end of the project through the measurement of performance indicators.
The results are fairly positive: 95% of our beneficiaries are generally satisfied, 79% of companies have succeeded in increasing their turnover after the project, 58% have improved their productivity and 72% have been able to create employment after having benefited from the support of one of the EBRD’s programs.
Thus, 27% of our beneficiaries were able to access external financing with the EBRD’s financial partners. We always want to do better.
To date, the impact has been very clear and the success rate of our interventions very satisfactory given the quality of the projects being set up.
Our expertise will ensure that the needs of the company are thoroughly identified through a thorough diagnosis and subsequently translate the consulting business needs, identify the best providers and help to set up the consulting project.
To this end, we are currently working with nearly 300 Tunisian consultants who are highly qualified.
Is there an improvement over the last few years?
Yes, we are constantly evolving. We started in 2013 with only 2 people and a budget of nearly €1 million. Now we have a team of 8 people spread over two offices in Tunis and Sfax and a budget of €14 million.
In 2013, the objective was to accompany 35 companies. This year, we are planning 170 companies. We will ensure that the demand in the market is met by mobilizing the EBRD’s resources and know-how.
Now there is an effort to be made at the level of the communication so that the intervention instruments of the EBRD are known to the Tunisian companies. It is very important that businesses become aware of the need for advice and technical assistance.
How is Tunisia positioned compared to the other countries where the EBRD operates?
At the level of technical assistance, we are very well placed despite the small size of Tunisia. We have the largest program in the region. We have the biggest budget and the most important objective.
We are ahead of other countries. This is justified by the maturity of the fabric of Tunisian SMEs thanks to several upgrading and support programs that have benefitted Tunisia in
recent years but also thanks to a quality product of the EBRD that best meets the specific needs of every business and very simple procedures but also a very active team.