The purpose of the USAID Jobs, Opportunities & Business Success (JOBS) project is to help Tunisian private companies to increase economic growth opportunities. Led by Chemonics International, the project works through multiple pathways to promote growth, strengthen competitiveness, and catalyze job creation of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Connexus, a women-owned small business, leads JOBS’ Access to Finance Component, providing training and technical support to financial institutions and equity investment firms that invest in SMEs. In 2019, JOBS facilitated more than US$11.6 million in new SME finance and investment.
Response to COVID-19
With the arrival of COVID-19 in Tunisia, JOBS developed a crisis management strategy to mitigate the negative impact on Tunisian SMEs. The centerpieces of this strategy include support for the Tunisian government’s Emergency Fund and the development of a digital SME investment platform.
Support for the Emergency Fund
In early June 2020, the Government of Tunisia announced a 700 million Tunisian dinar (TND) (approximately US$245 million) Emergency Fund to provide funding to Tunisian businesses to maintain their operations and turnover, sustain jobs and salaries, and strengthen loan repayments. Through its Caisse de Dépôts et des Consignations (CDC), an independent governmental second-tier fund, Connexus’ JOBS team worked with the Ministry of Finance to structure and launch five separate sub-funds to support SMEs.
In response to a request from CDC in April, JOBS developed the models, policies, and systems to operationalize the Emergency Fund and its sub-funds. Connexus’ technical advisors elaborated the investment strategy and negotiated the terms for the Emergency Fund, as well as its governance and operational models, financial and administrative policies. In addition, JOBS supported the development of legal and regulatory documents, a placement memo, business plan and prospectus. With a fundraising strategy in place, and a contribution of 40% of the capital from CDC, the Emergency Fund is now ready to launch. CDC has acknowledged their appreciation for the JOBS team’s intensive support in institutionalizing impact measurement for CDC’s investments, particularly those supporting SMEs affected by the COVID-19, and businesses in underserved regions who are employing women and young people.
Development of Digital SME Marketplace
To improve the efficiency and accelerate the flow of investments to SMEs, Connexus’ team also helped to develop a digital SME marketplace, named JOUSSOUR Invest. Through this online system, SMEs can be matched to investors to apply for equity and quasi-equity investments. In a transparent and regulated way, this platform brings all 40 Tunisian private equity investors to compete in one SME marketplace. The JOUSSOUR platform is expected to launch in three months and to eventually become one of the largest partnership facilitation tools in Tunisia.