Bilel Mansouri: From H4D Participant to Change Maker
To address a growing lack of civic engagement among Tunisian youth, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) launched an original initiative called Hack4Democracy (H4D) in Tunisia, a combination of democracy camps and hackathons, using technology to engage youth. IFES conducted six intensive four-day camps across Tunisia for youth aged 18 to 30, to design high and low-tech democracy service projects.
Before joining the fourth Hack4Democracy (H4D) initiative, 28-year-old Bilel Mansouri from Bougzene (Kasserine Governorate) was unemployed despite holding a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Bilel served as the leader of his H4D group, which developed a proposal for an environmental application named “Detecti” (You Must Detect!).
Detecti is a mobile and web application that maps illegal trash sites in an attempt to deter those who dump their garbage in unauthorized areas. It encourages citizens to report illegal trash sites and shares this information with the appropriate municipal authorities who have the capacity to both intervene against the perpetrators and to remove the trash. The application is also designed to help with selective sorting and identification of public waste bins to reduce pollution. Detecti seeks to provide employment opportunities, facilitate community work and promote recycling for a cleaner Tunisia.
Although the Detecti team did not win the regional competition in Sfax, IFES decided to qualify the project for the national H4D finale based on the promising potential of the team’s creative concept. Though the Detecti project did not become a finale winner, this did not discourage the young Detecti team, who felt they had created something solid and pertinent, not only for Kasserine but for all of Tunisia. The team decided to use what it had learned from the H4D camps and finale to further develop the Detecti application.
The defeat galvanized Bilel’s group to further refine its concept and look for interested collaborators and donors aligned with Detecti’s mission. The team’s efforts paid off when their concept piqued the interest of the German foundation Heinrich Böll Stiftung (HBS). After successfully pitching their idea to HBS, the foundation agreed to fund the project; six months after its conception, Detecti had secured its first donor. Bilel and a friend, a H4D camp participant from Kasserine, signed an agreement with HBS in April 2018 that funded the project on an entrepreneurial basis. Detecti was now on its way from an idea to a new Tunisian start-up.
Bilel and his team were able to improve Detecti by applying lessons they had learned from their H4D experiences, such as concept refinement, financial sustainability/funding strategies, and the importance of having a community focus. They also applied the pitching techniques and public speaking skills they learned in the camp, combined with the resilience and self-confidence they gained from the H4D events, to help move their idea forward. The Detecti team was motivated by its determination to benefit their community and bring about real change in youth attitudes toward public and political life. The H4D experience was clearly a turning point for Bilel.
“Before this experience I was a passive person, my highest ambition was to get a job in public administration and wait for my salary at the end of every month. After the H4D, I changed; my belief in my abilities grew bigger and I become aware of my skills, so I decided to take control of my professional life and create my own start-up.” – Bilel Mansouri
Detecti was only the beginning for Bilel, who also wanted to do something for the youth community in Kasserine. In February 2018, Bilel and a group of former H4D participants from Kasserine created a civil society organization, Jeunes Actifs (Active Young), that aims to promote H4D’s overarching goals. Jeunes Actif’s objectives are to integrate youth into public life, promote the use of information technology (IT) and establish educational cultural activities. Bilel was elected president and his two friends, also H4D participants, were elected treasurer and secretary general. The group believes that change can be brought about through technology and works to foster youth civic engagement and bridge the gap between social and public spheres of life.
Bilel’s motivation for creating Jeunes Actifs came from his experience in the H4D camp and a desire to apply what he had learned from the activity. He believes that today’s most powerful strategy to mobilize youth lays in the combination of IT, public affairs and social engagement. Bilel concluded, “Personally, I’m trying to pass on to the youth in my community in Kasserine, who did not have the chance to participate [in the H4D activity], all the skills and knowledge I learned from the H4D program, to encourage them to actively participate in the public life and have an efficient role in society.”
This H4D initiative was funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.