Earlier this year, the United Nations established a World Solidarity Fund (WSF) modelled on Tunisia's pioneering programme of poverty elimination, the National Solidarity Fund.
Speaking at the launch of the WSF, Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said: "In a few short years, the Tunisian National Solidarity Fund has helped to reduce poverty to around 4%. I am delighted that the UN has decided to scale up this innovative mechanism to world level."
It seems appropriate that from a continent that has almost become synonymous with poverty, should come a solution to a problem described at The New York Millennium Summit in 1999 "as the most important challenge facing mankind." Tunisia's solution to poverty reduction has the advantage of having been tested in the field and shown to work spectacularly.
The NSF was set up in 1992, following a tour of the country by the President, Ben Ali, who was appalled at the condition in which marginalised groups were living. Although Tunisia's poverty level then, at around 26% was far smaller than the average for Africa, it was too large for a country that had embarked on a course of rapid improvements in general living standards. An ingenious solution was called for.
The concept behind the NSF was based on two pillars: an active involvement of all sectors of society in the reintegration of marginalised groups into the mainstream and a voluntary fund that would be matched from state coffers.
The aim was to provide decent housing, running water, electricity, educational and recreational facilities and revenue generating opportunities to marginalised groups. Another, no less vital aim, was to bind together a country that had fractured along economic and social lines during the decade preceding The Change in 1987.
The masterstroke in the concept was to involve all members of society in the battle. Alleviation of poverty was no longer the sole preserve of the government or of international organisations- it was something everybody could participate in. The response was overwhelming.
The public gave willingly and generously--large amounts coming from the wealthy and corporations, to pennies from children celebrating birthdays. The fund was scrupulously administered. Projects were well planned and completion targets set and adhered to. As the tangible results became more visible, public enthusiasm warmed further and the fund grew larger. A National Solidarity Bank was set up to...