Itself an offspring of the revolution, the Youth Decides association is helping Tunisian youth take their political and economic destiny into their own hand.
Wala Kasmi grew up with political activism. She would follow her parents' lively discussions every day, thus learning to appreciate the magic and the power of words. “I spent hours and hours surrounded by books which I devoured one by one, like someone enjoying good chocolate,” recalls the young woman of 29.
But it was only when she was in secondary school that Wala had the sudden inspiration that determined her further political commitment. “My classmates and I wanted to participate in a protest march. Our teacher asked us to be reasonable and rather than breaking things or throwing stones, he suggested that we express our demands in writing, on placards.” Wala was impressed: “I discovered that we can say No in a peaceful manner, that we can express our demands and even change our world, without having to resort to violence.”
Birsa: Making our presence felt
Faithful to her principle of peaceful change, Wala joined Birsa in 2009, one of the first Tunisian networks of cyber-activists to break the wall of silence and fear and to openly criticize the Ben Ali regime. But the network did not want to restrict itself to virtual resistance. So when the regime was celebrating its 23rd anniversary on 7 November 2010, the Birsa movement mobilized committed Tunisian youth in Paris in order to discuss the country's future. “It was vital for us to make our presence felt on the ground in order to achieve maximum impact,” recalls Wala.
After the fall of the regime, the Birsa comrades parted ways, many of them withdrawing entirely: “What I considered to be the beginning was seen by many others as the end,” Wala says wistfully. “I was convinced that the country was going in the wrong direction. Our youth had triggered off the revolution, but was beginning to lose hope. Young people thought that their task had been completed, its commitment no longer necessary.” But Wala did not want to stop. She decided to revive Birsa so as to continue fighting for the interests of the Tunisian youth. But very few of her former comrades responded to her appeal. Evidently, the time had come for a new initiative with renewed strength.
Youth Decides: A political space for the youth
“We used our own financial means to create the association and started working with a sole objective in mind: to create a political space for young people as well as rights to political participation.” Hence the name of the association: Youth Decides. Most of the members hold diploma in ICT subjects, believing in the attraction of the internet and its mobilizing power- just like Wala who in the meantime obtained her qualification as a computer engineer.
They launched the Gov project during the 2014 presidential elections. This app makes it possible to put questions to the various political candidates, as well as to assess them and give them ratings. “Within a few days we had 1.2 million users. This figure greatly exceeded our own expectations,” Wala remembers enthusiastically. The success of this application, furthermore, obliged the candidates to visit the association on its premises. “And simultaneously, we organized debates amongst the young people that were supporting the different candidates. Daily reports were sent to the media. This was a good experience, allowing young Tunisians to express their views, to decide and – most of all – exert their influence,” Wala states proudly.
We code: from unemployment to entrepreneurship
On an economic level, too, Youth Decides was not going to remain passive. “Our objective is also to open up economic life for young Tunisians,” adds Wala Kasmi. In collaboration with the Esprit private university, the association launched the project We Code in January 2015. It benefits eight young graduates in different subjects and from different regions who were previously unemployed. “The idea was simple: We would teach them practices that are internationally proven so that they would create their own start-ups and earn money using the internet”.
After eight weeks of intensive training the participants were able to take up the challenge and launch their own projects. “This is a real success – not only for them, but also for the association and all the teachers who participated in their training. Only recently, our participants were unemployed and devoid of hope, and today they are entrepreneurs. They will be able to create wealth and employment,” Wala says enthusiastically.
Youth Decides will soon launch its third project. This will be a new digital application that will help young Tunisians contact the representatives of the Assemblée des représentants du peuple, Tunisia’s parliament. Users will be able to engage in discussions, to give their opinions on draft legislation and even to launch legislative initiatives. “Tunisian youth, which had been excluded from the political sphere, will be able to make decisions and make a difference,” Wala concludes Wala confidently. The young woman's determination and hope leave no doubt whatsoever on this subject.