Fahmologia: empowering Tunisian youth to become science communicators
September 15, 2023
Mehdi Cherif is the founder of Fahmologia, a youth initiative working on scientific communication in Tunisia that received the support of the EU-funded project Safir. Through Fahmologia, Mehdi and his team of students are bridging the gap between scientific knowledge and the public, fostering a culture of scientific literacy and curiosity.
Mehdi Cherif’s face lights up when he talks about the inspiration to create his initiative, Fahmologia. A sociology master’s student, he is also the founder and current national coordinator of Fahmologia. It aims to facilitate access for Tunisians to intellectual and scientific production (books, conferences, etc.) as well as to promote and strengthen this production. “A full-time job!” he laughs.
The story of an inspiration
Mehdi launched Fahmologia 3 years ago when he was studying for a Bachelor in Sociology at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of Tunis. He first established it as a club at his university, and now it has blossomed into a national initiative with 6 clubs and counting. “We found a need, a demand for scientific communication that is not fulfilled .” Mehdi says.
Launched in 2020, Fahmologia emerged at a critical time when the proliferation of fake news, disinformation, and inadequate scientific communication surrounding Covid-19 vaccines became prominent. This context highlighted the urgent need for effective scientific communication, specifically in a way that is accessible, relatable, and easily comprehensible to the general public.
Mehdi also drew inspiration for Fahmologia from science communication offices in universities in the United States. These offices combined science with modern communication, delivering scientific messages to diverse audiences, including youth. Recognising the absence of such initiatives in Tunisia, Mehdi decided to establish student clubs that would take on the responsibilities of science communication offices. The primary focus would be online communication through social media platforms.
Content creation and turning youth into science educators
Fahmologia’s core activities revolve around training youth in content creation, providing them with access to professional filming studios and equipment. The funding provided by the EU through Safir allowed Fahmologia to improve on this aspect. With the ability to hire trainers and coaches, Fahmologia offered professional training to the students. Moreover, the funding from Safir allowed Fahmologia to acquire essential equipment and rent a recording studio, significantly enhancing the quality of the produced content.
In Fahmologia, youth take on the role of educators, sharing their knowledge. This involves not only sharing what they have learned but also hosting researchers, often fellow students pursuing their master’s or PhD degrees, and occasionally even professors who specialise in various fields. Mehdi provides an example, “Students from the National Agronomic Institute, who are aspiring agricultural engineers, offer valuable insights on agriculture, including topics such as sustainable wheat cultivation, addressing milk shortages, and potential solutions.”
One such student, Mariem Askri from the National Agronomic Institute says “Even if this year was difficult academically, I chose to devote a large part of my time to Fahmologia because it is so innovative and my field lacks such initiatives. I’m so grateful to have been a part of this, to have gotten training and met such interesting people.”
More than just communication: Cultivating Future Leaders and Building Ecosystems
Fahmologia is not just a communication platform; according to Mehdi, it is “a network to train future leaders and public intellectuals,” an essential aspect of any thriving nation. In fact, Mehdi envisions a model that allows for growth and progress within the university clubs. Members initially join the network, receive training, and engage in content creation. However, Mehdi’s vision extends to holding internal elections in the future, enabling students to assume management roles within the club structure at both the university and national levels. He aspires to witness individuals who initially joined as first-year university students eventually become national coordinators, a position that he currently holds. For Mehdi, this approach ensures sustainability for the initiative. “My goal is to make myself obsolete, basically, no longer needed for Fahmologia to function,” he states.
Fahmologia also plays the “ecosystem builder” role in Tunisia’s scientific research landscape. It aims to establish an ecosystem that facilitates networking among researchers, fostering connections and enabling the rapid dissemination of information on new research. Fahmologia thus aims to encourage collaboration among researchers with shared interests, ultimately advancing scientific knowledge in the country. As Mehdi explains, “Our objective is to support the Tunisian research ecosystem to facilitate synergies between researchers, journalists, decision-makers, and other actors in civil society.”
A strong sense of belonging has already developed among the members of the university clubs within Fahmologia. What initially started as a playful nickname, with members jokingly referring to each other as “Fahmologists,” has now evolved into a term widely used by the members on their social media platforms. “Fahmologia is, above all, a big family. It’s not work, it’s friends, it’s family, it’s a big dream that we all have together and that we realise little by little.” says Wejden Benzid, the head of the Fahmologia club at the Faculty of Judicial, Political and Social Sciences in Tunis.
A promising future and sustainability thanks to Safir
Both Mehdi and Fahmologia have a promising future ahead. The young man wants to expand the initiative in the country and beyond “ I think we have proven that Fahmologia is a cost-effective alternative to science communication offices, so why not duplicate it in other developing countries.”
Mehdi is also planning Fahmologia’s journey towards sustainability and full autonomy as a non-profit organisation. The funding received from Safir has brought about positive changes, allowing them to rent a recording studio, acquire necessary equipment, and employ three paid staff members. “Safir also helped me improve my management skills through the training received.” Mehdi adds.
The EU’s support has greatly enhanced the quality of Fahmologia’s content. As part of their sustainability plan, Fahmologia is now exploring the possibility of renting the studio to content creators, some of whom are former Fahmologists. By doing so, they aim to generate income that can be utilised for the continued operation and expansion of the initiative. This strategic move not only promotes self-sufficiency but also provides a platform for ex-Fahmologists and other creators to produce their own content.
Safir is an EU-funded project focused on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and promoting socio-economic inclusion for young people in North Africa and the Middle East. By providing resources and funding, Safir empowers young people to contribute to the SDGs actively and become agents of change. Through initiation and support sessions, local incubators, and civil society organisations, Safir offers training and opportunities for advocacy, networking, and participation in decision-making processes. The project supports 20 civil society organisations, established 18 innovative spaces in higher education and research institutions, connected 7 local incubators, and benefited 1,000 young project leaders from 9 countries in the region.