High expectations of the diaspora – "Communauté Tunisienne Résidente en Suisse pour le Développement (CTRS)"-project



Coordinating a diaspora project presents unfamiliar challenges. Lukas Rüst* shares his initial experiences of the first diaspora project to be directly implemented by Switzerland – the "Communauté Tunisienne Résidente en Suisse pour le développement (CTRS)" project funded by the SDC's Global Programme Migration and Development (GPMD).

The project aims to make a contribution towards ensuring that the skills and expertise of the Tunisian diaspora in Switzerland are used for the benefit of the development of Tunisia, especially disadvantaged regions.

With a total of 16,000 members (including over 10,000 dual citizens), the Tunisian community in Switzerland is relatively small in comparison to those in France (around 700,000), Italy (190,000) and Germany (85,000). Members of the community are nevertheless generally well qualified and possess a high level of motivation to cooperate on Tunisia's development.

The project runs for a five-year period until 31 December 2018. It has a total budget of CHF 3.5 million and a team of three Tunisian employees based in Tunisia and Switzerland who report to the International Cooperation Department of the Swiss embassy in Tunisia. The project is made up of four elements.

1. Strengthening the institutional framework conditions to support Tunisians abroad

2. Development initiatives (small projects, technical consulting for entrepreneurs amongst the diaspora)

3. Transferring know-how

4. Support with implementing the so called trainee agreement between Switzerland and Tunisia on the exchange of young professionals

Information on the means of support available for Tunisians abroad was previously difficult to access. Many citizens were also distrustful of the state. The project's relatively long duration enables the institutional upheaval in Tunisia to be taken into account. It also supports Tunisian organisations in Switzerland, on one hand, and it supports initiation of measures in Tunisia for the Tunisians living abroad on the other.

Opportunities and challenges

The project team faces particular opportunities and challenges in this diaspora project, which is the first to be directly implemented in Tunisia.

During the project's development phase, almost all of the at least a dozen diaspora associations were invited to participate in consultations. They are now familiar with the project and appreciate the fact that Switzerland, together with Tunisians living in Switzerland, is committed to the development of their native country. Almost all of the organisations contacted attended the project launch in Geneva on 10 March 2014.

Expectations are high of the Tunisians in Switzerland who perceive themselves as a target group, on one hand, but as taxpayers and therefore as commissioning party of the project on the other. Reconciling these various perspectives and delivering effective results represent a challenge. The Tunisian community in Switzerland is also heterogeneous, i.e. each association and every person has their own history and their own ideas that they wish to see put into effect in the new Tunisia.

The project also involves maintaining the initial euphoria and motivation of the Tunisians in Switzerland in light of the substantive obstacles and bureaucratic hurdles that lie ahead. Several associations have already carried out primarily small-scale humanitarian projects on their own initiative and with their own funds. Transferring these experiences to larger-scale projects constitutes a further challenge. In specific terms, the question arises as to how partnerships with local players can be established as part of the call for projects and how the official authorisation required can be obtained.


The project team is tackling the challenges outlined by adopting the following implementation principle:

1. Rapid implementation: even though the project itself runs until 2018, specific development initiatives should be selected and supported in 2014.

2. Transparency: the requirement for transparency will be met through the project's own website http://www.ctrs.ch/ acting as a single point of information. All players involved should have the same level of information as far as possible and, at the same time, be regularly informed of the project's progress. The decision-making criteria for supporting small projects will also be communicated transparently on the website. The Tunisian Ministry of Social Affairs is also to receive support in communicating information on the government's means of support for diaspora initiatives (e.g. online).

3. Focus on technical cooperation: the project aims to take account of the diversity of the Tunisian diaspora in Switzerland and to consequently have a unifying rather than a divisive effect. It focuses on sustainable and more technical development projects which benefit the wider community. Political and cultural events of individual associations will expressly not receive support.

4. New mode of operation: finally, the CTRS project will also adopt a new mode of operation. As the project is being implemented in both Switzerland and Tunisia, major importance is attached to the coordination of the individual players. Practical project implementation, the decision-making procedures and the working processes have to be defined on a participative basis, on one hand, and organised as efficiently as possible on the other.

All of these measures aim to ensure that this first directly implemented diaspora project in Tunisia achieves the desired impact.

*Lukas Rüst is responsible for the migration and protection unit at the International Cooperation Department of the Swiss embassy in Tunisia.