Unrest in Tunisia: Can Microfinance Make a Difference?

> Posted by Center Staff
Tunisia’s regime change is creating immediate challenges for everyone who lives there, but also hopes for political reform and new opportunities. It may be possible for microfinance to contribute to a new Tunisia offering greater freedom and economic opportunity.
The events of the past week have been difficult for everyone.  Michael Cracknell, of Enda Inter-Arabe (enda-ia), the only best-practice microfinance institution in Tunisia, reports that several clients have lost their lives.  Beyond that, some of the MFI’s branches have been damaged. Throughout, Enda Inter-Arabe has continued to operate, in recognition that clients, especially some whose businesses have been damaged, need access to services more than ever.
Press reports indicate that the latest turn of events seems to be for the better – a calming of the streets, and more peaceful demonstrations for change.  Meanwhile, markets have remained open, and public services such as electricity, gas, water, and transportation have continued to function.

Tunisia’s crisis was prompted in part by economic problems, especially unemployment among youth.  Microfinance services can help people rebuild after the damage to shops, small factories, and other businesses. Enda Inter-Arabe’s website comments, “As a civil society organisation, enda-ia undertakes to do everything in its power to contribute to the national reconstruction effort and to job creation, especially for young people.”
Looking to the longer run, a political opening could provide a chance to reform Tunisia’s restrictive regulations that have made it difficult for microfinance institutions to operate.  The people of Enda Inter-Arabe are valiant defenders of low-income entrepreneurs, especially women, in Tunisia. Perhaps the day will soon come when they will be joined by a new group of MFIs.