Yosra Hassyaoui, an alumna of the HANDS Professional Fellows Program (PFP), sponsored by the U.S. State Department, is making an impact in the lives of rural women in her home country of Tunisia.  As Vice President of the Positiver Association, which focuses on the development of women in rural areas, Yosra is providing women with the training they need in order to successfully begin their own micro-enterprises. Though her association is only two years old, Yosra has already helped more than 120 women in the Tunisian governorates of Nabeul, Bizerte, Gabes, Medenine, and Kebili.


This well-accomplished women’s advocate was able to fine-tune her training capabilities through her month-long fellowship with the National Women’s Business Council in Washington, D.C. that was organized through the PFP. At the end of the program, Yosra was exhilarated and impatient to start new trainings that utilized techniques she learned through her fellowship.


A photo of Yosra (pictured in center) and  aspiring women entrepreneurs

Speaking about her organization’s approach to helping rural women, Yosra says:  “We work on motivation of their self-confidence first, and then we support them in understanding how they can start their projects, how through their own projects they can help their families.”


Yosra is adamant about developing rural women’s sense of self-esteem and personal value as a core aspect of helping them start their micro-enterprises. “Rural women, as I see, they don’t have enough confidence in their projects. She has a project, and it can be innovative, and it can be a real business, a real path. But she worries about how the society, about the family, people saying, “How can a woman make a project?””


Yosra and one of her program participants in front of a wall of hearts, where rural women entrepreneurs in Yosra’s program share their dreams

Social barriers to women’s economic empowerment are almost as great as the personal barriers in Tunisia. Building up women’s self-confidence in preparation for developing their micro-enterprises is essential, Yosra says, for a new entrepreneur “…to feel more comfortable when she goes to the bank to make an application for credit.”


Yosra also spoke highly of the PFP: “The program gave me the opportunity to know US Women leaders. Erin Kelley, my mentor at the National Women’s Business Council in Washington, DC, was amazing. And I heard so many workshops on women and innovation in economic fields… I was inspired by their logic, their strategy, their way of thinking.”


Women entrepreneurs in Yosra’s program discussing how to start a business

When asked her main takeaway from the program, Yosra smiles, “We have to start from ourselves first, and then we can do everything.”

HANDS would like to thank the US Department of State and our many donors for making Yosra’s story a success. Yosra is just one of the many young leaders from the MENA region that HANDS supports, and we look forward to sharing many more success stories as we continue with this program.