When the taxi arrived at the hotel in Carthage where I should meet Raafat Jerad I felt curious because it seemed quite luxurious. When I saw him on the terrace with the view on the Mediterranean with his big smile and the beer sitting, I instantly felt a connection and knew that the interview would be really fun. In fact, we had countless drinks andRaafat even got confused with his age making himself a few years younger.
Raafat is a studied engineer who was fed up with a 50h work week and quit his corporate job in March 2016. After some months of reorientation, he came up with the idea to open a co-living and coworking space based on a social business model in Kerkennah, a little Tunisian island in the Mediterranean. He combined his passion for people and his love for Kerkennah, the island where he was born.
Discover Rafét's Story
Part 1 Each person in unique – Raafat’s story as a young entrepreneur in Tunisia
Raafat left his well-paid corporate job at a big Tunisian energy company with a lot of questions. He asked himself if the job he was doing and the life he was living helped other people or not. His life was filled with routine. “I saw a lot of people waking up in the morning, going to work to gain their life and I was part of it. I started to ask myself questions like if the things did on a daily basis gave me the opportunity to be a better person and to bring something positive to the community. Thinking about it that way I saw that my impact was small and that I didn’t find the personal growth and development that I was looking for.”
He thought a while about what he could do to change his situation and it was he was really interested in. “I wanted to do something for my country and for the place where I’m from that I really love. It’s a cute little island with a big potential. My dream was about transforming it.”Raafat told me that from his parents’ house he could see the island. “When I was a kid, I imagined that one day I will open my hotel there” and he smiles.
Learning new skills in Morocco
The day Raafat realised that he didn’t want to live a life where the objective was to have an income instead of positively impacting the world around him, he quit and went to Morocco for one month. There, a founder of a co-living coworking space taught him everything necessary to create his own co-living coworking space and he got to know the lifestyle of digital nomads.
The idea of creating a co-living coworking space was always linked to his passion – people. “It’s my passion since I’m a kid. I try to meet new people whenever and wherever it’s possible. Creating a co-living coworking space is about bringing people to Tunisia, to meet and to talk with them, to learn from them and to share knowledge and experiences. I also wanted to give my island Kerkennah something back.” He smiles at me and I truly believe him.
Raafat’s co-living and co-working project “Sailors desk” also aims to help young Tunisian graduates that often face unemployment after finishing their studies. “I want to convert them into digital workers and change their mentalities. Including them in the digital world will help to solve the unemployment issue and also some of the economic challenges Tunisia is facing.”
Behind the scenes of a co-living space
At the moment of our interview in September, Raafat was very excited and in full preparations to launch his project. He said to me “we will start in November and we will host our first handful of people. For two weeks, they will work and live in Kerkennah surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. We will choose our guests with the idea in mind that they train some young Tunisians graduates in digital work like how to create and monetize a website or blog. We want to exchange knowledge and digital skills so that young Tunisian graduates can start their own online business”. Raafat seems to be really excited about welcoming his new guests because “it’s also about bridging cultures and the human and personal experience.”
I ask how to imagine such a co-living and co-working place once it will run. He tells me, “a typical day at Sailors Desk will start with a Yoga and motivation session. Then, we will have a learning session like mastermind workshops or training sessions on problem-solving. In the evening, we will project films or share travel and life stories from one of the digital nomads that experience things ordinary people don’t. They will talk about problems they are facing so it’s like a learning community that can be created through co-living and coworking.” He stops a while, then retakes his thoughts, “all these things I want to bring to Kerkennah, not only because I’m from there, but because of all the great things there like the peace of the Mediterranean sea and the soul of the island. With this I mean all the typical things the island has to share and that you will feel when you are there.”
Sailorsdesk will become an integral part of the community
Entrepreneurs in comparison to creatives have a capacity to project themselves into the future. Maybe because they have to? Raafat knows what he wants. “After 5 years, I hope that the co-living and coworking space will stable and work without me. It will be directed by local people from Kerkennah. I also hope that after 5 years I will have impacted more than 100 people that will find digital jobs like for example creating websites or videos or selling products online. After 10 years, I would like to do something different. It would be cool to bring traffic to the island and build a structure around local handicrafts that can be sold to help people to sustain themselves.” I really like his medium-long term as well as a sustainable approach, especially in a world where people look for quick wins and disregard local populations and the environment for their personal interests.
Raafat adds “I imagine Sailorsdesk as a part of the community. It should be for everybody, also for the old man who is sustaining his boat and who has a lot of stories about the island to share. I’m working with great people and we want to do some workshops about miniature boats for example. In Kerkennah boats have a typical shape that allows them to flow in low water. There is an old man that after losing his job created these boat miniatures and sells them in a little shop. We already talked to him to do activities related to that. We also thought about other cultural activities related to Kerkennah.”
The challenge is to introduce something new to Tunisia
When I ask him about the difficulties, he mentions language problems. In fact, it’s his English but it’s getting better every day. Another challenge, he says, “is introducing something new to the country and show people the new ways of living that exist nowadays. In Tunisia, they are not aware of the opportunities linked to digital work and jobs. Digitalisation also creates new ‘normal’ and ‘corporate’ office jobs, but also opportunities to easily found own digital businesses.”
Tunisian youth is eager to take new opportunities
Raafat is surprised by the flexibility of young Tunisians. “Tunisian youth welcomes everything because they don’t know about all these things happening. As soon as they are aware, they try to find their own opportunity in it. This surprised me because going from the physically to the digital world is not so easy, but young Tunisians can do that really fast. This was even the motivation for me to go further. Also, friends of mine are introducing coding skills to kids and they are doing this job really good.”
I have weekly plans
When I ask him about his typical workday, Raafat says “it’s more flexible now with a lot of joy because it’s for me and it’s like living for my passion. It’s like doing what I want because I’m convinced to do it. On a typical work day I wake up early, no later than 9 am”, he smiles. “I start to think if I did or not the job of yesterday because I have a weekly plan that has tasks for every day. Then, I start working and after I have finished my day I meet with friends. I do that because afterwards I feel resourced, motivated and connected. Before going to sleep I have 30 to 60 min to learn something new.” I look at him and think silently that I admire organised people. Even if I also do what I have to do and even learn new languages like Arabic, I have difficulties to stick to such a plan. It suffocates me kind of… there we are again maybe with the difference between creative people and entrepreneurs.
Tunisia is changing
When asked about his greatest hopes or fears, Raafat thinks about Tunisia. “My hope is for Tunisia. The change is here and I hope it will be fast and lead to something good.”
Let your values guide you
Raafat’s philosophy of life resonated a lot within me. “Do whatever you fear and let your values guide you. If you have really good values that motivate you, you will not only be successful, but you will have an impact on the people around you.” He reminds me of Maslow’s pyramid – “if you reach self-transcendency, you will achieve your goal in your life.”
For people that want to become an entrepreneur or open a coworking space, he tells me “the only advice I can give is to find your inner motivation. You have to know your values and you have to know yourself. With this, you can go for anything you want because motivation comes and goes, but you need to find something that is always there and present in yourself.” He confirms me once more that this is what will guide you and help you to accomplish and achieve your objectives in life. I feel once more convinced by Raafat. He has the talent to sell his ideas. I have no doubt that his project will work out very well.
On his website www.sailorsdesk.com and social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin) you can find a lot of information about the digital nomad world and about Kerkennah island.
Part 2 How is it to live in… ? – Raafat’s vision on Tunisia
When I ask Raafat about his experience of living in Tunisia, he tells me with a big smile that “it’s like something really really exceptional because it’s really warm, not because it’s sunny, but people here are warm. They love you and they hate you at the same time. It’s like living with a big family of 11 million people so the hatred is kind of affection.” I exactly know what he means because I have a big sister and we always fight when we meet at home for Christmas, but in the end, we love each other too.
The digital economy is an opportunity for Tunisia
Raafat sees Tunisia’s greatest challenge in improving the economy and especially related to digital inclusion. “If we will succeed in including ourselves in the digital economy, we will raise our economy and we will solve most of the country’s problems.”
According to Raafat, the opportunities lie in the digital economy. “By digital economy, I mean all the digital wealth, all the digital jobs and all the digital ideas. Finding something in the digital, it’s an opportunity that will allow people to work beyond geographic limits”.
Part 3 What’s the Mediterranean for you? – Raafat’s message for the Mediterranean
What’s the Mediterranean for you?
“The Mediterranean is a real historical place with a bright future. We should know that we are part of a huge community. In the Mediterranean people are sharing something – their culture. There were the Carthaginian, Roman, and Egyptian reign and all these civilizations were exchanging a lot of things, especially in terms of culture. Beautiful Cléopathra, the queen of Egypt, seduced the Roman César. We are like a big family and we share a lot of cultural things that we need to value, to respect and to work with for the future.”
Raafat’s message for the Mediterranean
“My message will be for the South because in politics they are speaking about the South and the North of the Mediterranean. I think it’s not about South or North, I think it’s about the Mediterranean sea and about the people who are living on both rivers – we should take care of them. Kerkennah, the island where I’m from, is affected by global warming. All the climatic changes are affecting the Mediterranean. The sea is changing, even the wind is changing, and fishermen are changing their traditional ways of fishing. They have hard times to find fish to secure their living. We need to take care of each other and think about the consequences of our actions for others and our community.”
Part 4 Enjoy Tunisia like a local – Raafat’s insider travel tips for Tunisia
Places to go
“If someone wants to come to Tunisia, I recommend a tour in Tunis, the capital, and its medina. There are also other touristic places like Hammamet and Sousse. Then you have Kerkennah, the island where I am from and where I have founded Sailorsdesk. Kerkennah is a small island full of typical things. Food and local fish recipes that you can only find there. It’s all about finding something that is extraordinary and discover how people live there.”
“My favourite festival is related to the island where I’m from – Kerkennah. It’s the Octopus festival because Kerkennah is growing and harvesting octopus. It’s really great because with a sailing boat you go from a little village to another. The other part of the festival is folk music and a lot of food! There are of course a lot of dishes cooked with octopus.”
Part 5 Discover new books, films and music groups – Raafat’s cultural recommendations
“I really like folk music, especially from my island Kerkennah. In the international context, I’m a fan of Manu Chao. He is like he’s a messenger saying that the world is about bringing people together and letting people love each other! Sharing their affection because we are a community living on earth and we should love each other! We should take care of ourselves. It’s not about geographic or politics, it’s about humans and souls!”
“I’m reading a book by Malcolm Goodwell called ‘Outliers: The Story of Success.’ I like it because it lets me identify myself in a bigger context. I become aware of aspects that encouraged me to do things in life and how to position myself to be successful. Reading a book like that can help an entrepreneur to be successful and I really want to be successful!”