Delivering during the COVID-19 pandemic: Building capacity for Tunisian NGOs working with disadvantaged communities
The so-called Arab Spring was ignited in Tunisia in late 2010 and spread to many other countries in the region. More than a decade later, Tunisia is generally considered as the only country that managed a peaceful political transition towards a democratic form of governance (despite the current political and constitutional challenges following the events of 25 July 2021). However, and since the 2011 ousting of the Ben Ali regime, successive Tunisian governments have largely failed to address the social and economic inequalities that spurred the Revolution. This has placed NGOs at the forefront of dealing with structural and regional inequalities and delivering vital social services and helping the country's most marginalised communities. But NGOs have limited capacity and resources to meet these enormous needs. And, today, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and political turmoil are further worsening the precarity of many Tunisians' lives, making the important role of NGOs ever more challenging.
To meet this growing need the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, in partnership with the Council for Australian-Arab Relations, has embarked on a series of training and capacity-building projects. These inter-connected projects aim to support Tunisian NGOs working with marginalised communities, particularly in regional and remote communities, through this difficult post-revolution, nation-building period.
‘For example, in the latest project on addressing regional inequalities, we had initially planned to bring participants to Australia for intensive training' said Professor Fethi Mansouri, the project's leader, ‘but as the pandemic took hold, we needed to quickly pivot'.
Determined to continue to provide the much-needed capacity-training, the altered programme focussed on practical, community-led interventions led by the project's participants on the ground across Tunisia. The series of online training and mentoring workshops provided the participating NGOs with the methodological tools and financial resources to develop customised interventions at the local level. These interventions aimed at addressing issues facing marginalised young people and rural women, as well as researching and raising awareness on socio-economic and environmental problems facing Tunisia to inform social change.
But COVID-19 created many obstacles for delivering the projects as the pandemic intensified. It exacerbated the social problems facing the country; they are ‘now deeper than before', participant Fatma Amri, from the Will and Citizenship Organization contends. Saber Gharbi, a participant from the organisation Horizons pour le Développement Intégral, emphasised the situation of the rural women he works with ‘got even worse during the pandemic due to the lack of any type of government assistance for such a vulnerable group during such a critical time', which made delivering his project more important.
The online training program supported the participants through these challenges by honing their skills and capacity for adaptation. The participants drew strength from taking part in the program and being able to deliver projects during the pandemic and political turbulence. Saber Gharbi said it helped him in a number of ways; ‘learning from other's experiences, building collaborative networks, and getting advice and feedback' as he implemented his project in such a difficult time.
Professor Mansouri said ‘CAAR's support for the altered programme was invaluable in helping Tunisian NGOs deliver critical support to many vulnerable communities through the pandemic; this at a time when such support is needed more than ever'.