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Tasharok: Creating impact through Community Engagement

Reading time: 5 min

Find out what community engagement means to OMV in Tunisia, where we launched a program named “Tasharok”  (Arabic for “Collaboration”). The initiative is a good example of strangers becoming friends, how communities grow together, and why smart money is better than big money. Amna Tounekti tells us the story. 

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Did you know that Tunisia was the very first country in which OMV set up its international exploration & production business? From the first oil drilling in 1971, OMV focused on being a good neighbor for local communities. A rather new premise is the Nawara Gas Treatment Plant in Gabes on the South-Eastern cost of Tunisia, which went into operation in 2020. “When a big international company comes into a community, there are certain expectations – and skepticism”, says Amna. She works as a community engagement manager for OMV in Tunisia and is responsible for keeping in touch with local stakeholders. “We made plans for launching the Tasharok program together with the Bouchemma Municipality. At the first meeting with the representatives, all kinds of prejudices, demands and complaints came at me for about 3 hours. I was already expecting a tense atmosphere and was prepared for it”, Amna laughs. She was all the more proud when, 7 months later, she held in her hands an official certificate of appreciation from the mayor and was personally thanked by the community representatives – a sign of trust and gratitude. 

“The secret is listening”, she reveals. OMV didn’t simply donate a specific sum to the surrounding communities, but rather conducted an assessment together with its implementation partner OVC, a local NGO, and asked: What is the biggest impact we can create for the region? The outcome of this was that the main problems were unemployment but also a lack of public services like waste collection.

Smart money is better than big money

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“Instead of simply buying a garbage truck and new equipment every year and hoping the best, we set up a detailed 5-year plan for waste management services in the region”. To do this, the OMV team worked with local experts to find the best solution for the region. They clarified the best method to collect the waste, where to put containers and how to design efficient routes for collection. “This way, we can really help sustainably and not just fight symptoms in the short term”, says Amna. The focus is always on working together. As a result, over the course of the project, communities learned how to work together – and rely on each other.

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When it comes to community engagement, it’s not about money, it’s about impact and trying to respond to the needs of our communities. The Tasharok project in Tunisia is a great example of what you can achieve when everyone is working together.
Amna Tounekti, Community Relations Manager, OMV Tunisia

A changed perspective on jobs and values

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The Nawara Gas Treatment Plant in Tunisia is located near a rather rural area and the locals have little professional training and not many job opportunities apart from fishing or farming. “Many were frustrated that they couldn’t find a job”, Amna tells us. “Even if people can’t work directly for OMV, it’s in our responsibility to address this topic of employment on another level”, says Amna, who has been working in Community Relations for seven years now. “So we showed them a different perspective: Why be employed when you can be your own boss?”.

Seven women and three men were nominated to participate in a training program in which they learned to generate income for themselves through small activities, ones that generate value for the community at the same time. “For example, they learned how to set up a microbusiness to sew fishing nets, sell eggs, or provide welding services, and they felt valuable again and respected by others instead of complaining about being unemployed. A win-win situation”, Amna says. The small businesses were financed with microloans that don’t have to be repaid until the business is stable.

Watch the video and meet Maryam Ghoudi, a beneficiary of the Tasharok project, who set up a little farm and is now selling her agricultural products to restaurants and merchants.

Knowledge is power

“When people don't know where to turn, they often blame the government and big companies. So we put a lot of emphasis on education”, Amna says. “In our project, for example, we undertook the responsibility to encourage young local leaders to advocate for Basboussa residents, a small neighborhood in Bouchemma, and bring their concerns to the right authorities”. These young leaders are now acting as representatives of their small neighborhood and are legally recognized through a community-based organization. They were trained and coached to know their way around the paperwork and do the best they can for their communities to improve livelihoods in their neighborhood.

Creating change on many levels

“The people in our communities also got empowered by our projects. They experience a real mind shift and learn how to think in longer terms instead of remaining in firefighting mode”, Amna says. And as a side effect, the international cooperation also benefits: If communities work together with agencies, NGOs or other companies, they are much more self-confident. “They really changed their mindset from a ‘give us the money’ attitude to a ‘let's create big change together’ stance”, Amna observes, and adds a personal note: “I came as a stranger to these people and now I'm invited to the neighborhood as a friend. That makes me very proud and happy”.

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