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December 21, 2012

Unless a unexpected problem, I will be blogging and sharing articles here: www.hatem-mahbouli.com . You can aslo follow me on facebook or twitter.

Happy holidays and all the best!

 

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eArtvolution.net, a Crossroads of Art and Entrepreneurship in Tunisia

October 21, 2012

(Below is my article to be published on Wamda.com)

The connection between art and business has always been a complicated one, and the debate on whether so-called “pure” art can be market-friendly is never-ending. ‘Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art’ Andy Warhol once said… which does not make the picture any clearer. Particularly recently, with the continuous budget cuts and the decreasing reliance on state support, artists have to pro-actively look for sponsorship,  new sources of income and innovative ways to combine good taste and the taste of money. No wonder then that entrepreneurs are embracing art as a new area of innovation and have fresh business models to explore. In the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, the art market is very heterogeneous and often hard to assess, but the emergence of very expensive and demanded artists[1] in Asia (something unthinkable a decade ago ) might signal a similar outcome for local Arab artists.[2]

eArtvolution.net, a young start up that made it to the final round of the prestigious Arab MIT business plan competition, is definitely betting on this. The story began in Tunisia and its share of the cultural effervescence that rolled out of the so-called “Arab spring”. Following January 2011, innovative art exhibitions and happenings (some of them breath-taking) had begun invading cities. The challenges faced by local artists remained however; a huge lack of funding, difficulty to access local markets, high fees charged by the renowned galleries, lack of connections with other local and international artists and other opportunities. Let alone the very challenging economic and social context that is offsetting the newly gained freedom, big problems, fortunately pushing for new business models and technical innovations to help address these needs: eArtvolution’s core team, four art passionate entrepreneurs, combining software coding, business development and design experience, envision a holistic solution that is to be deployed over three stages:

  • Social Network: Yes, one could say there are enough social networks nowadays, but this one will have different capabilities and will be targeting Tunisian artists primarily. They will be enabled to showcase their art pieces online and connect with one another, enhancing collaboration and stimulating new project ideas.
  • Online Art Gallery: The core marketplace will help both new clients and artists achieve optimal deals. Comments, grading plus high quality pictures could also be included.
  • E-learning Art Entrepreneurship: This part looks at first a little odd. Why would one add a whole e-learning module to this platform? When you look at the purpose of it, training artists on how to effectively generate revenues from their work, the module looks suddenly vital and very in-line with the endeavour’s mission. The team is currently in discussion with the Institute of Art Entrepreneurship (a “creative entrepreneurship” school in Chicago) and is considering adapting its curriculum to the local context.

Fees on transactions processed through the website, revenues generated from advertisement and training would drive the financial sustainability and success of this ambitious and innovative project – literally a small art ecosystem online!

What results could be expected out of these services? The team is confident the outcome can only be positive: empowered artists who leverage technology to improve their access to market, to fill the gap between them and new audiences and hence, breaking the monopoly of a small number of galleries. ‘We want to make art much more popular in Tunisia and the internet is obviously a great tool for this’ says Mohamed Amine Chourou, a technology consultant and co-founder of eARTvolution. Partnering with the Ministry of Culture and the Artists Union is crucial, and under way, though…with some difficulties: ‘The public administration is still unstable, inconsistent and unclear. One can agree on a deal with them one day and they do not recognize you the following one’, reports Slim Ben Bahloul, another co-founder.

As for an overwhelming number of start-ups in the region, and particularly in Tunisia, fund-raising is also a big obstacle. Building a MVP[3] that would attract interest and buzz would allow the team to approach local VC funds (called “SICAV” in Tunisia) and foreign funders with more confidence. A lack of historical data in the local e-business also makes it difficult to properly estimate the market size and the potential growth. It is like walking in a foggy area, not very surprising for the crossroad of art and entrepreneurship.

Even more challenging, ‘what keeps me awake is to translate on a laptop screen the feeling of standing in front of a masterpiece’ confesses Mohamed Amine Chourou. 3D glasses and appropriate beverages might help, but this goes beyond serious business model discussions.


[1] Among the ten most expensive artists working today worldwide, two are Chinese—Zhang Xiaogang and Zeng Fanzhi

[2] Not long ago, the main offer was calligraphy. It has greatly diversified since then.

[3] Minimum Viable Product

 

Glad to be back!

October 13, 2012

So many changes have happened for the last four months: new country, new job, new direction, new projects and, at the end of the day, new “areas of interest”. I was not sure anymore where to take this blog to. The purpose of  these few articles was not only to share ideas and contribute to any relevant debate, but also to get the comments of friends and readers…and release some frustration when it comes to politics in Tunisia. I have been writing a lot about social business and entrepreneurship, and I am thinking of talking more about my current work too, as a development investment officer, at the Dutch Development Bank, even if – I understand – it might not be the most exciting topic for some. I am also thinking of starting a new section in Arabic to talk about current issues and challenges in Tunisia. I might change the old design as well. In brief, updating it all, and make it more aligned with my new interests and projects. I got very interesting conversations, new contacts and some interesting feedback through this blog, and hope it stays!

It’s been a period of deep change and transition, as I said, from an MBA candidate in Washington, DC to a full time employee in the Hague, a totally different context, city (through they say it Washington DC of the Netherlands) and more often than expected,  language. There are four stages to the culture shock, even for the most experienced expats : honey moon, negotiation, adjustment and mastery. I think I am in the adjustment phase now: “one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. One knows what to expect in most situations and the host country no longer feels all that new. One becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more “normal”. One starts to develop problem-solving skills for dealing with the culture and begins to accept the culture’s ways with a positive attitude. The culture begins to make sense, and negative reactions and responses to the culture are reduced”.  And it always help to have many friends in Paris, very near by 🙂

So what’s next? Well, many exciting things in the pipeline. Professionally, after helping start a new Microfinance institution in Rwanda, I am working now on a new SME guarantee fund in Tajikistan. I am also exploring a couple of new start-up and project ideas, contributing to new magazines. etc  Also, they say the elections will be held before summer 2013…so more details to come soon!

 

Glad to be back

Hatem Mahbouli

 

Tapping into the impact investing resources

April 4, 2012
I Thought it would be interesting to get your comments on my article in the TAYP Newsletter ( TAYP aims at increasing the effectiveness of economic and investment flows between the US and Tunisia, and creating a networking platform for Tunisians who live (or lived) in the United States to help each other professionally)
“At this very sensitive stage of Tunisia’s development, with almost one million of unemployed and about 25% of the society living under the poverty line, a few disagree that the private sector has to play a very crucial role in creating sufficient jobs and achieving sustainable growth in the near future.
At TAYP, we work very hard to promote Tunisia’s potential and opportunities to US investors, because we believe in this very premise that private sector needs to be developed, and that Tunisian entrepreneurs need also to be connected to US energies, expertise and funds . The question that could be raised here is: what type of entrepreneurs? and consequently, what type of investors?.
Considering the distance and the transaction cost, the interest would go typically to the high growth, cash hungry (established) companies. And indeed, despite the uncertainty and the internal challenges, there are companies that are growing fast in Tunisia and that deserve high attention.
Focusing on this type of deals would, however, leave untapped a large amount of resources that could be leveraged for the support of another type of innovators and initiators: the (for-profit) social entrepreneurs. A social entrepreneur recognizes a social problem and use entrepreneurial principles to organize a venture to achieve social change, providing market-based solutions to urgent social issues.
The concept, therefore, is very seducing, mixing the benefits of the non-profit and the private sectors. And, in the Tunisian context with so many social challenges, we do not only need entrepreneurs, but also active social entrepreneurs:  entrepreneurs who design effective business models to serve disadvantaged communities in the sectors of environmenteducationgreen energyaccess to financegovernancehealth etc.

Of course the profiles and the needs of these social entrepreneurs are very specific: they have different challenges, financial potential, and bottom line. And hence the existence of very particular investors to interact with them: the “social impact investment” funds.  In fact, since the financial success of micro-finance, many investors have been willing to replicate the success story in other social areas, and the amount of funds flooding in the “impact finance” – investments intended to create positive social or environmental impact beyond financial return- is highly growing (the impact investing industry could grow from its present $50 billion or so in assets to $500 billion in assets within the next decade according to Monitor Group).
Hundreds of funds, foundations and high net worth individuals are currently looking for investment opportunities with positive social impact in developing countries: OPIC for instance has just started a “social business fund”. Tunisia should be connected to these sources and channel in a part of these available resources. At TAYP, we can play an important role in promoting the country among these specific investors as well, but a  generation of profitable and effective social entrepreneurs should take place in Tunisia first, with an appropriate ecosystem and legislation.”

The Tunisian Center for Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship 2012 is here!

February 9, 2012

The Tunisian Center for Social Entrepeneurship is proud to start his fellowship program for 2012. We need talented and passionate contributors to join our initiative and help build new social businesses in Tunisia: no cheap talk and only actions with impact 🙂

More info here

The AKP effect?

January 21, 2012

Is the AKP party responsible for the Turkish “turnaround” that  had been observed during 2002-2007?
After the early elections on November 3rd 2002, due to continuous disagreement between coalition forming parties, a completely different political picture emerged. In fact, the parliament had a dual composition with only AKP (Justice and Development Party), a 15 month-old new party in power and CHP. It was the first time since Turkey moved into multiparty democracy in 1946 that such a radical change has occurred. This shift is important to show the magnitude and scope of  transformation, which has covered almost all spheres of the society.
The new decade of economic revival in Turkey has been, therefore, correlated with the arrival of the Islamic party AKP to power. This actually encouraged some  analysts to see causality between these two results. Following the “Arab spring”, Islamic parties gaining power after the recent elections in North Africa (Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco) are very appealed to the “AKP model”, that has been seen as a potential similar economic outcome for this new “Islamic wave”.

This perspective is however missing some facts: new Turkey’s rapid emergence has not primarily been due to Islamist ideology or, for that matter, to policies associated with the Islamic faith. Rather, as shown in many reports, Turkey’s rise as a power on the regional and even global scene is the consequence of the country’s blistering economic growth over the last fifteen years. Merits of the AKP government can be mainly drawn from its continuing commitment to improve its economic policies, these policies being actually based on structural reforms and new engagements that were initiated many years before its arrival to power (many of them pushed, interestingly, by the IMF).

Moreover, despite the improved standards of living under AKP, Turkey is still very much a developing country: the country’s per capita GDP is still relatively low by OECD standards, considerably lower than European Union rates, and about a third that of Israel, the leading industrial nation in the Middle East.
The unemployment remains also very high (around 17%).

Please feel free to leave your comments!

Hatem Mahbouli

The Future Quotient

December 28, 2011

At a happy hour in Hub Westminster, I met with someone working for Volans who is developing an interesting concept: the Future Quotient. It measures the long-term thinking and acting capability of individuals and companies, or as they define it: “the FQ is a measure of the future readiness – of individuals, teams, agencies, businesses, brands, and beyond- to positively cope with and overcome the various complexities as a result of foreseeable and unforeseeable future changes in the economy, society and the environment”
I found the tool quite interesting. After all, it is a valuable measure to get, and could be as useful as the measure of thinking abilities (IQ) and or emotional control (EQ). The question now is whether organisations and individuals will quickly adopt it or  will it stay a semi-marketing and funny tool to gain some slots in business conferences?…oh and you can take the FQ test here