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To be a woman in a man’s world “Has rarely been a problem” for Neila Benzina. This Franco-Tunisian, who has innovated for twenty years has, to her credit, the creation of two digital consulting agencies (including Wimbee, a data specialist), an online training platform (Techwin) and the Holberton School, a private school which teaches both programming and life skills to young people who dream of digital.
A nice result for the one who, at 42, pushes young people to turn to tech and never hesitates to encourage them, especially when it comes to girls. “Quite simply because I am never seen as a woman but rather a skill”, says Neila Benzina, Web pioneer in Tunis and half of the team today is female.
However, she admits having had, at the beginning of her career, to find a place in very masculine circles. In retrospect, she believes that her gender has served her rather, being one of the few to combine digital with women in the 2000s in Tunisia. “I was sometimes spotted more easily because it was rare to have a woman in this environment”, she admits, remembering that her role model remains another pioneer: her grandmother, Tahwida Ben Cheikh, was the country’s first female doctor.
Help with the decision
Originally from Tunis, Neila Benzina grew up in a wealthy middle class family. With a mother professor of French literature at the university and father civil servant and veterinarian, she studied at the French Lycée then left for France to study in a school of telecommunications. “Telecoms have directed me towards niches such as engineering consulting”, continues the one who specializes in business intelligence. Her internship in a company that offered decision support through data analysis allows her to open up to the industrial, automotive or banking sector and convinces her to move towards e-commerce and e-commerce. business.
The young woman chose her native country to set up her first business and quickly proved her worth, growing from five employees to more than 400. “Quickly, we became experts on data and digital and developed a lot of projects”, explains the one who very quickly senses the potential of Tunisia to become a platform for sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.
The Tunisian revolution, however, marks a turning point. While she has long repeated wanting “Stay away from politics”, it is involved in associations with TACT (acronym for the Tunisian Association for Communication and Technology) to help development and encourage institutions to invest in information and communication technologies. It also maintains a link with France by developing French Tech in Tunis and integrates the executive office of the En Marche movement while also participating in successive digital policies in Tunisia.
Its ambition is accompanied by a social commitment. In 2018, when Business and Decision was bought by the telecommunications company Orange, Neila Benzina developed another of her ideas. This time alone, she wants to improve the employability of young people. In a country where unemployment affects nearly 36% of the youth, she wants to participate in training.
Almost 3,000 engineers leave Tunisia every year for better wages and working conditions abroad. The Holberton School enables innovation by “Training young people who do not necessarily have diplomas, but work by peer learning [apprentissage collaboratif] on projects and undertake to reimburse their tuition fees once they get a job ”, explains Neila. Its two-year pedagogical model of training is still in its infancy, but among the last two groups of students, all have found employment.
Today, despite the uncertain situation in the country, since the President of the Republic Kaïs Saïed granted himself full powers, the entrepreneur continues on her path. “I remain observant and optimistic”, specifies Neila Benzina, still convinced that there are “Real potential that can attract investors”. Tomorrow, she hopes to be able to develop her training models in the interior of the country.
This series was produced in partnership with the L’Oréal Foundation.
Summary of our series “Science changes the lives of African women”
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In Tunisia, an engineer tackles youth unemployment