New Attitudes and New Tactics Create Real Change in Tunisia

Tarek Lamouchi is New Tactics field & training development officer in Tunisia 

When I first engage with Tunisian organizations who are working to make change, they usually want to start with the most aggressive tactics: they want to organize sit-ins, they want to occupy spaces, they want protests. I help them think in a new way. Changing the attitudes of the activists makes a huge difference. With New Tactics’ methodology, they realize they can do things in a different way. They can create allies, not enemies. It’s a new attitude.

I’ve been with New Tactics for several years, but I started my career with the biggest microfinancier in Tunisia after I graduated with a degree in marketing. At this company, I was a trainer for institution staff and microentrepreneurs who took out loans, which were generally 200-5,000 dinars (100-2,500 USD). This work allowed me to see the realities of Tunisia – the poverty, the unemployment, the situations for women who were living in the country.

After the Arab Spring in 2011, I devoted my career to capacity building of new organizations – there was a boom after the revolution, and I trained associations on project management, financial education and communication skills. At that time, EuroMed Rights asked me to consult for them as they entered into a new partnership with a program from CVT called New Tactics in Human Rights.

This was how I found New Tactics, almost three years ago. I discovered the New Tactics methodology and found it a very interesting way of thinking. Civil society in Tunisia looked at decision makers as enemies; the attitude was almost always opposed to whatever the decision makers wanted. But New Tactics gave us tools and ways to think differently – we could work cooperatively with those in power. But we had to know how to approach them. Now they are no longer enemies. Decision makers are opponents at times, but this depends on the issues and where you want to work or change.

As a training and field officer, I first select participants and then train them as part of a training team. After that, I work to coach the participants in the field. I visit their locations and work with them on ways to implement the different steps of the methodology; I help them share the knowledge with other members of the community or of their organization. This kind of on-the-job training is very important. As a coach, it’s my job to give feedback after each session, to look at the different possible outcomes until there is implementation of an action plan.

One of the issues we work on in Tunisia is unemployment. Southern Tunisia has the highest number of unemployed college graduates in the country. There is no infrastructure to help people create projects and jobs. As an example, there is a large mining factory in the south, whose headquarters are located up north in Tunis. So the money made by the plant goes back up to the capital, while the local region has to deal with the pollution caused by the factory. So an area association has worked to push the institution to get revenues channeled into the local community and to create jobs there.

We also work on women’s issues, and while Tunisia has some of the best conditions for women in the Arab world, when women are victims of violence, it’s a different situation. If it’s the husband who’s committed the violence, the wife often cannot leave her home. Her family may ask her to stay or she has no place to go. So feminist organizations have created hosting centers for victims, where women can stay until their cases are resolved. In Tunis, these centers allow the women to bring their children with them as well. An association is working now with New Tactics on methods for creating more new centers elsewhere in Tunisia too.

Education is an important issue in Tunisia. There was an effective advocacy campaign two years ago started by theArab Institute for Human Rights (AIHR), to put a new system of education in place. AIHR worked with the New Tactics methodology to first work with experts to analyze the situation and develop a number of recommendations. They then took these to the Ministry of Education and the Union of Workers (UGTT), one of the most influential organizations in Tunisia. Using this approach, they were able to create allies of these institutions and now are working on creating better conditions for teachers as well as better outcomes for students.

In the area of sustainable development, people who want improvements in the infrastructure in their region are encouraging businesses and investors to collaborate on solutions. One example is activists working on creating access to transportation for persons with disabilities. After training and coaching, the activists did a survey on the subject and then took their findings to the right organizations to help make changes. I appreciate how those who were trained by New Tactics on these strategies are now training others in these methods.

One of the most important things about this work is the reciprocal sharing with partners. They learn from our training, but we are always learning from what they’re doing. It helps us give advice to others. For example, with the education tactics, it was important to start the process of change with experts who made recommendations. Before protesting, we advised them to start by doing a survey, gathering data. This helps with negotiations with the decision makers.

My work is rewarding every time I get to the field and see the very hard situations these activists are working in. The south of Tunisia is a difficult region. Even going to visit associations there, I have challenges with transportation – I sometimes have to improvise to get there. And I see very motivated, dynamic people in my work. They have the ambition to do many things. In Tunis, it is more comfortable, but in the southern region, they’re trying to make really significant change.

This experience gives me the opportunity to work with many interesting people in Tunisia and other countries who are working for human rights. This gives me optimism. When you work on your own, you can feel alone. It can be hard to deal with, but when you see others, when you can be part of change, that’s very inspiring.