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Emna Ben Yedder: Doing her best to empower Tunisian citizens

2012 June 8
Emna Ben Yedder, SFCG intern with Partners with Humanity program.

Emna Ben Yedder, SFCG intern with Partners in Humanity program.

Interviewed by Audra Gustin, SFCG Communications Intern

In Tunisia, Emna Bed Yedder is a manager in Mergers & Acquisitions, working in an investment bank called Swicorp that operates throughout the MENA region. In her second life, as she puts it, she is also an activist working with an NGO she helped found ACT – Think & Decide. Along with 5 other NGOs and independents, ACT has implemented a project in Tunisia called Bus Citoyen, which focuses on raising political awareness among citizens and encouraging civil society participation in the democratic transition process and the constitutional writing process.

Like Dala Ghandour, she is also a part of the Leaders for Democracy Fellowship Program. She has been interning with the SFCG Partners in Humanity program with Juliette Schmidt for six weeks. Sadly, her last day with SFCG was yesterday. Thank you to both Emna and Dala for their many contributions to SFCG during their time with us.

How did you come to be a part of the Leaders for Democracy Fellowship Program?

The MEPI Office at the US embassy in Tunisia contacted me to promote my application to the program. They knew me as MEPI was one of our funders for the Bus Citoyen project and I am the treasurer of this project, so we interacted quite a lot. I am pretty involved in Tunisian civil society; we are doing the best we can to participate to the success of this transition and to empower citizens. Being an active part of civil society has become a passion of mine.

How do you feel your internship with the Partners in Humanity at SFCG will help you achieve your goals?

I really like working on conflict transformation projects here at SFCG, projects that look for the commonalities in societies and try to decrease divisions.SFCG does that in about 30 countries around the world, in post-conflicts areas where the situation is very difficult.

In Tunisia, the society is not as divided as in other nations such as Lebanon or post-war countries. Still, there are divisions like between those living in the coastal regions and the people living in the regions of interior, which are much more deprived, discriminated against and where the unemployment rate skyrockets. There is division between secularists and Islamists, which is a source of violence and conflict. Society is also very patriarchal, as youth voices are hardly heard.

So learning about how to transform these conflicts in order to decrease violence and animosity in the society is really something I am passionate about and that I will be happy to take back home. As SFCG also works a lot with youth and media, I am sure our NGO will be able to collaborate on some projects with SFCG in Tunisia, especially as Bus Citoyen involves many young volunteers on the ground that are very talented and really willing to grow.

You helped create the NGO ACT – Think & Decide; please tell us more about it.

The creation of ACT coincided with the very beginning of Tunisian revolution in January 2011 and was formally established in March 2011. ACT Think & Decide has two main objectives: to improve civic education and raise political awareness among citizens, and improve access to culture in deprived areas in Tunisia and help citizens structure small projects in their regions.

Tunisia is currently in the process of learning what democracy is. Tunisian people want to act on their future, but do not know how to proceed. Most of the population is lost, though eager for a neutral information and keys to understand in a context of a boom of contradictory information, especially as many parties or groups are trying to divide the society into two camps: Progressive vs. Islamist with both camps demonizing each other with various degrees in the violence used. Most information is provided in a highly technical manner, so can only be understood by a small portion of the educated populations. Most citizens still do not trust a system that has always put them aside, especially as the causes that led to the revolution (unemployment, regional inequalities) do not seem to be the main priority on the agenda of the politics.

ACT is very active in Tunisia’s civil society landscape, participating and organizing conferences, trainings, helping in humanitarian campaigns, and lobbying for a greater role of civil society. For example, our President participated to the transitional parliament during the transitional phase right after the revolution in order to impose the voice of youth and civil society.

We really believe civil society should be a key pillar of the society, and for too long this has not been the case in Tunisia. Now, you can see many initiatives flourishing and this is really exciting, people are now really taking ownership of their citizenship. In the coming months, we will be opening a library in Siliana, a rural area of Tunisia. We believe in these initiatives that can bring life, culture and exchanges in deprived areas, and open perspectives for youth.

The path is still long to get to a well-structured, strong and efficient civil society in Tunisia, but we are very motivated and we really want this transition to work and to see a more equitable and tolerant Tunisia emerging from this process.

ACT has helped implement the Bus Citoyen program, which promotes civil society political awareness and participation. What models of media advocacy is Bus Citoyen using and how might SFCG tie into this endeavor?

Although we had several interviews on the national radio channels and we had our spots broadcasted on TV, Bus Citoyen has not been overexposed in national media and we have been quite discrete on this side. Our objective has not been to gain attention but more to be really effective on the ground.

During phase I of the project, it was tight timing due to the coming elections and we did not really have time nor the willingness to implement a large media campaign around the Bus Citoyen. We focused more on targeting local radios in order to inform people about our venue, encouraging people to vote and doing voters education in a non-partisan way, explaining the main concepts, the phases of the process and so forth.

However, several foreign media and documentary makers covering the Tunisian transition have been interested in this project and asked to follow us on the ground some days. This includes ARTE and La Chaine Parlementaire TV channels and various foreign newspapers such as Mediapart. We also have a website, and a Facebook page/group.

Our project became pretty popular in Tunisia, because we have been everywhere, on the ground all the time. That’s what matters most I believe. I now realize that a proper media campaign that is well designed could really help disseminating the message to a much larger audience, creating a better outreach in order to transmit the largest amount of information to the largest number of people. This will ensure our objective of transmitting information that is non-partisan and aims at empower people by giving them the information and analytical tools that they need to make their own informed choices and understand better the complex political context we live.

What work that SFCG is doing have you found the most inspirational and why?

I really like what SFCG is doing in the area of conflicts resolution. It is seeking to transform conflicts, which means to make people realize that there are more commonalities that unite them than divisions that should separate them, to shift from positions to interested based relations, in a constructive way.

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