Ouissal Diary first part
Tunis, November 7, 2017
I am sitting in the conference-room of a nice hotel at the seaside of Tunis with a group of twenty women: ten are German and ten are Tunisian.„Ouissal means bridge but actually it expresses – like so many Arabic words – much more because it also speaks about relationship“explains Clara Gruitrooy, the bold young general secretary of EMA (Euro-Mediterran-Arabic Association). She is the initiator of Ouissal, the programme in which I will be volunteering for one year from now on.
It is a hands-on activity to support the Northern African economy by mentoring twenty young Northern African (10 Tunisian, 10 Moroccan) female entrepreneurs and startups every year.
The ten European female entrepreneurs will be the mentors to the Tunisian ladies. We will discuss their challenges and pass on our know how, expertise, experience and connections in regular one-to-one skype meeting twice a month.
Thus „Building a bridge“ over the Mediterranean sea as Clara says.
The room is filled with curiosity and exitement as we are all waiting to be matched. We don’t yet know who we will spend the next twelve months with.
Several of the entrepreneurs have been matched with their mentors. Finally it is my turn and I am matched with Sarah, a bright young mentee with sparkling brown eyes, contemporary haircut and style. She is full of exuberant energy! We immediately like each other!
The group spends the rest of the first day with our trainer, the renowned Sabine Asgodom. Sabine uses humour and exercises to help us open up and reflect in an easy but profound way on life and success.
We learnt funny things like:
Women often come across like Cinderella, because they don’t allow for ‚me time‘. They can also be in a constant fight and defense mode: The „machete women“. Neither behaviour leads to success.
Or the difference in complexity of male and female brains:
Men have one on- and one off-button, women instead have those two plus an airbus dashboard for more detailed functions…
Men take chances without doubting themselves which is a big advantage on the way to success.
The day was a perfect mix and rushes by. By the evening when we have dinner on the hotel´s roof top restaurant we have all become acquainted. Thank you Sabine!
Tunis, November 8, 2017
The next morning is dedicated to the mentees who have to work out the objectives they want to achieve by October 2018 and planning the milestones to get there with their mentors.
Before we start we have a short morning session with everybody in the big meeting room and I become aware of the beauty, power and warmth which are accumulated here!
I am surrounded by strong women. There are Tunisian engineers who have graduated in bio-chemistry, petrochemical engineering, civil engineering and computer sciences. Tunisia has no „MINT education problem“ (mathematics-informatics-natural sciences-technology) like Germany has. Tunisian women choose to study in these areas.
What is really striking is the sense of beauty which they all have. I also feel a completely different level of intimacy they offer to other women. It is a certain closeness and an atmosphere of supportive which is not only due to the programme.
I absolutely have to learn more about their culture and it´s positive sides, especially now that we seem to hear only about the limiting impact on female lives. I am looking forward to it.
Sarah takes me out to a nice local café who‘s (female) owner produces homemade sweets which are beautifully packaged for export. Another Tunisian female entrepreneur success story!
Sarah has graduated as a petrochemical engineer, but has been running her own Digital Marketing Agency for several years and now employs 15 people from the very young generation.
We start our session by clarifying our expectations and write down seven rules for our collaboration.
It is an interesting, almost philosophical discourse which takes us back in history and forward to the kind of future we both hope to see in our globalized world.
We agree that we want to make an impact, as small as it might be, we know it will make a difference. It seems like two idealists from different generations have found each other.
This is a good basis for trust but at the same time we can be realistic, so we come back to our task, sharpen our objectives define some KPI´s and milestones.
Sarah is witty, sparkling, quick in understanding and digesting the matter. It is great fun for me to work with her. She will keep me alert!
And she promised to teach me „everything“ about digital marketing. I am very curious. Win-Win.
The rest of the day is reserved for a little excursion to the artist village Sidi Bou Said.
We have tea, watch the breathtaking sunset over the Mediterranean sea and have official photos taken:
Tunis, November 9, 2017
In the morning the mentors and mentees meet again. We are asked to finalize yesterday´s work and prepare a presentation for the group which shall be given by Sarah. We have to find a name or metaphor for our project and fill out some papers for Ouissal. We have 45 Minutes.
Sarah is late. She is doing too many things at the same time which is clear because this young lady is CEO of a successful agency with very young employees only! That must be a barrel of monkeys, but a very creative one. The agency has won a lot of prizes already and is in demand. Leadership is our topic.
My Mediterranean part (living in Italy for many years) says „take it easy“, my Germanic part (how I was brought up) says „We have to be structured otherwise we are running out of time“.
I am having a second coffee and a another delicious croissant . The sun shines through the window as I look across the bright blue sea. Waiting like this is no burden! Yet it crosses my mind that leadership starts with self leadership…
Finally she arrives and for today I forget about this. She looks „ravissante“ as they say in French, the second language here, which means ravishing.
We fix our technical part, the „how“: How often, which media etc. and we decide that she will come over to Italy for a weekend in January for some intense one-to-one sessions and that I will come to Tunisa again next summer (half way through the programme) to shadow-mentor her. This is our subsidiary arrangement and we are both exited and confident that we will succeed.
Our project-name is „Gryphon“ the legendary creature with the body of a lion and head and wings of an eagle. We have our reasons 🙂
Presenting is Sarah´s everyday job and so she does well in the conference room explaining our project to the group. In fact all the mentees do well.
They are like a colourful bunch of flowers. Each mentee has a great product, which she presents with passion: luxurious biological olive oil, spices with strong flavour, natural biological cosmetics based on cactus figs, essential oils for aromatherapy and services like Sarah´s agency, Imen´s civil engeneering bureau or Dajanana´s social media support concept…
The objectives all sound challenging but realistic.
The room seems to burst from all this energy, commitment and pride.
Mainly the mentors look on with pride when their mentee presents.
In high spirits we go to the Medina of Tunis the traditional central market where we enjoy the afternoon, learning historical insights from our guide Dr. Damak who had studied in Eastern Germany. He is a man full of knowledge and wisdom. We then had traditional Tunisian food and ended the day walking around the labyrinth of little lanes in small groups to see the little stores and find souvenirs.
Back in the Hotel we have a final Gala on the rooftop terrace where we have wine and snacks. We also get to meet alumni from the past years and tasted / tested our mentee´s products.
What a beautiful final of another inspiring day…
Tunis, November 10, 2017
Very early in the morning we leave for the airport and I can‘t believe it’s been little more than three days in Tunisa. I have gained so many impressions, enlarged my network, made friends with German and Tunisian women, have overcome vague prejudice and found a challenging and most charming mentee.
The programme was well chosen and perfectly organized by Clara and her team. Thank you Ouissal for this great kickoff!
To be continued…
© Dr. Cristina Barth Frazzetta