L'heure pour entreprendre!

Who better than entrepreneurs to solve Tunisia’s most pressing social, economic and environmental challenges and contribute to the development of a post-revolution vibrant (green) economy embodying both wealth and wellbeing?

This is exactly what Rym Baouendi, Zied Mhirsi, and Houssem Aoudi — the three cofounders of Tunisia’s first co-working space — had in mind when they established Cogite.

Co-working spaces have mushroomed across the Arab world providing fertile grounds for entrepreneurship and innovation through collaboration and community.

Cogite is on a mission to fuel a movement of impact-driven entrepreneurship in Tunisia — channeling it towards sustainable development by building skills, fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing, and enabling social innovation.

“The sustainable development landscape is gradually building here and there are several promising initiatives, however they remain disconnected and disjointed—this is one of the main reasons we wanted to establish Cogite,” explains Rym Baouendi.

After pausing, she adds thoughtfully, “We view Cogite as a home for impact-driven individuals and organizations in Tunisia. It is a community in the truest sense, where exciting social innovation projects are co-created for high impact.”

Zied Mhirsi, a media entrepreneur who is founder of Tunisia Live — Tunisia’s first English news site — and a radio host, doctor and public health expert chimes in adding, “Tunisia is in desperate need for reconstruction and sustainable growth with several social, economic, and environmental challenges to grapple with such as high youth unemployment, poverty and environmental degradation which continues to go unnoticed.”

“There is a lack of citizen and private sector engagement and a laissez-faire attitude that places the onus on the government to fix everything, rather than taking responsibility and adopting an entrepreneurial approach,” Mhirsi laments.

How it All Came Together

Baouendi, who runs Medina Works, a sustainability consultancy specialized in spaces and the built environment, says she was working mainly from home, coffee shops, and co-working spaces in the UAE.

“I was living the struggle of startups and freelancers and really valued co-working spaces for the great physical resource they offered but also for the meaningful connections that one could find. And that’s how I thought of starting a co-working space in Tunis.”

“However, I had one challenge: I wasn’t based in Tunisia!” she laughs.

Through a combination of serendipity and networks, Baouendi found partners who believed in her mission — including Mhirsi, who was a high school friend, and Houssem Aoudi, founder of TEDxCarthage.

“I was thinking about a similar project and heard through the grapevine about Rym’s idea,” explains Aoudi, a digital strategist and experienced projects and events manager and founder of Wasabi communications agency.

“With the three of us joining forces, we had a better concept and model for Cogite and a great founders team to deliver it and provide proof of concept before approaching investors to franchise the model nationally,” he adds.

Cogite’s 1000 sq. foot space — which is environmentally friendly by design — offers resident entrepreneurs, nomads and pay-per-visit users co-working spaces, meeting rooms, event and exhibition space, and a library. Prices range from 50 TND ($30 USD) a year for a youth community membership to 250 TND ($150 USD) a month for resident desk-space.

With a capacity for 25 desks in an open co-working space — which can be transformed into an event space for 60 people — Cogite currently hosts a mix of tech entrepreneurs, designers, PhD students, engineers, NGOs, and freelancers.

In addition to hosting its multidisciplinary users, the space also hosts a rich calendar of events focused on entrepreneurship and social innovation. This includes upcoming events like Global Entrepreneurship Week 2013 as well as:

  • Investors dens
  • Professional development workshops
  • Co-creation workshops like hackathons
  • Mentorship events
  • Talks 
like TEDx salons, and Meet the Entrepreneur
  • Public events
like yoga and movie nights
  • Networking events and social gatherings

As a social enterprise, Cogite reinvests its profits to scale its mission by providing accessibility to its services, and has also set up a scholarship fund for talented youth.

Two years in the making, Cogite officially launched in September of this year and envisions a network of collaboration spaces in Tunisia. A second franchise is planned for downtown Tunis, before the brand scales nationally.

Leena Al Olaimy is a social entrepreneur and professional idealist as co-founder of 3BL ‘Triple Bottom Line’ Associates: a Bahrain-based social impact and sustainability consultancy and think-do-tank committed to the MENA region’s sustainable development. She is also the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) Quality Control Consultant for Sustainability Reporting Training Partners in the MENA Region. You can find Leena’s profile on her LinkedIn page, and on Twitter @LAlOlaimy.

 

Source : Wamda: by Leena AlOlaimy, December 1, 2013

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