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Voyage d'étude Salam
Agence Française de Développement has just approved financing for the new phase of the Salam project, a program that supports young civil society actors on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. Focused on sustainable cities, this is the first project led by a local Civil Society Organization (CSO) to be co-financed by AFD’s CSO Initiatives mechanism. As part of the celebrations around International Youth Day on August 12, we take a closer look at this innovative mechanism.

On July 5, 2022, AFD’s NGO Committee approved the allocation of nearly €35 million in grants, to support projects led by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). One of these projects, the Salam network, is led by the Social and Solidarity Economy Laboratory (Lab’ess) in Tunis. The CSO supports associations run by and for young people in Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan, in the field of sustainable cities. 

The next phase of the Salam project will be co-financed by AFD’s CSO Initiatives mechanism. It is the first program led by a local CSO to receive such financing, previously reserved solely for French CSOs. The project will initially run for three years and will receive €3 million in financing from AFD (90% of the total budget). 

“We have been working with countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean for a long time,” says Nicolas Le Guen, Head of Partnerships with CSOs at AFD, “but today represents a real change, an expansion of our partnerships: we want to support more civil society organizations and local initiatives (...) Citizens are the third pillar of society, along with governments and the private sector, and they can contribute to achieving the SDGs and engage in dialogue on public policy.” 

Giving a voice to Mediterranean youth 

In this new phase of the project, the aim is to develop a network of local support organizations in Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan. It will provide financial and technical support to projects based on the theme of sustainable cities, led by young people under 35 from local CSOs. “Young people are our priority target,” says Nicolas Le Guen. “The youth in southern Mediterranean countries have many aspirations, but there are fewer channels through which to express them than in Europe. The Arab Spring demonstrated this frustration and the lack of opportunities. We have responded to their need to implement projects, to create organizations and to have a future.” 

Lab'ess was founded in 2012 by the SOS Group with support from the French Embassy in Tunis, directly after the Tunisian revolution. It is a business incubator and a member of the Pulse network which promotes projects with a social and environmental impact. It has supported more than 2,000 associations and 80 social enterprises in Tunisia and in several other countries in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) since its creation.

According to Rachid Abidi, Director of Lab'ess, “the Salam project and its future development is a challenge for all of its stakeholders. This multi-country partnership with a country on the southern shore is breaking new ground, as we our work will be guided by a South-South configuration, as opposed to a North-South configuration. Today, Lab’ess, in partnership with AFD, will be directly responsible for the on-lending of funds to other organizations in the South.” 

Two key themes: sustainable cities and gender equality

The two calls for projects launched in each of the four countries in 2023 and 2024 are targeting projects with an impact on sustainable development, in line with SDG 11 on sustainable cities and SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production patterns. Issues addressed include: waste management, circular economy, sustainable food, urban agriculture, and the energy transition. For Nicolas Le Guen, “it is important to support the dynamics of social entrepreneurship which, alongside the conventional business world, aims to strike a balance between the economy, social engagement and the environment.”

Gender equality is also a key component of phase two of the Salam project: “We plan to ensure gender parity at all stages (pre-selection, selection, support, etc.), says Rachid Abidi, “with at least 50% being community project leaders. We will be placing particular emphasis on this because it is more difficult to achieve in some areas than in others. We also hope that project leaders will act as ambassadors on this issue on their own projects, in their countries.” 

Transforming France’s commitments into concrete action

The Salam program is aligned with the goals of the French Programming Act on Inclusive Development and Combating Global Inequalities, adopted in August 2021, which stipulates that CSOs in countries eligible for Official Development Assistance (ODA) can receive direct financing from AFD under certain conditions. It is also an integral part of the program initiated by the President of the French Republic at the Summit of the Two Shores in June 2019, later followed up with the commitments made by France in February 2022 at the Mediterranean Worlds Forum, to strengthen the position of young people in civil society in the southern shore states of the Mediterranean.

This new phase of the Salam program aims to establish a strong network that will gradually be expanded. “This is a first step over three years, but within the next ten years, the goal is to expand the program to ten countries across the region and support 260 projects with a social and environmental impact,” says Rachid Abidi.

Further reading