Bringing Silicon Valley to Tunisia

Al Jazeera speaks with eBay's Sami Ben Romdhane at TEDx about creating a technology revolution in his home country.

    (Tunis, Tunisia) Tunisia is well-positioned to become a leading technology exporter, Sami Ben Romdhane, a Tunisian entrepreneur, told those gathered at a locally organised TEDx conference on Sunday.

    "We must create a culture where people are free to realise their ideas," he told the audience at TEDxCarthage.

    Tunisia has emerged from the revolution with an internationally known brand, something he said the nation's entrepreneurs of the not so distant future could use to market their ideas.

    He suggested the Tunisian government should co-sponsor events to help foster the country's high-tech image, such as a "hack-athon" or "Geek Academy".

    "Star Academy is great, why not Geek Academy?" he pondered.

    The North African country is well ahead of Egypt, Turkey and Morocco when it comes to internet penetration, Facebook users and R&D, he noted.

     
     

    What is lacking is a culture and infrastructure that encourages innovation. Patent-filing is lower than in neighbouring countries, he said, and the national education system is too detached from the marketplace. 

    Ben Romdhane, who has been based in Silicon Valley since the mid-1990s, knows what he is talking about. 

    Before taking up his currently senior director of technology at eBay, he worked for Apple and launched two successful startups.

    Despite his international success, Ben Romdhane has kept a close eye on his country of origin.

    "It was hard in the beginning, because there was not a Tunisian community on the internet, really, but it started to pick up around 2003, 2004," he told Al Jazeera (see our video above).

    Tnlabs.org, a Tunisian Twitter aggreagator site he created in 2009, became a focal point for people following the Tunisian uprising. Like Facebook or Twitter itself, Ben Romdhane's site escape government censorship.

    He advocates freedom of expression on his French-language blog, Pensées dangereuses, or "dangerous thoughts".


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