Champions of Business Innovation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

12.08.2020 | Spencer Newland

CIPE and its partner the Kurdistan Economic Development Organization (KEDO) have recently concluded a yearlong project to improve the job and entrepreneurial skills for seniors of three universities in the Kurdistan region.

The project ended with an online Business Pitch Competition (BPC) on September 28 that challenged the participants’ innovation, creativity and leadership capabilities, building on the skills developed during this program. During the BPC, nine finalists were given five minutes to pitch their business plans to an independent jury committee formed by KEDO and CIPE. The selected winners represented three distinct business ideas:

  • Rzgar Mohammed from Chamchamall, a senior at Garmian University,
    plans to launch a business to package healthy, organic meals.
  • Mohammed Latif from Kalar, a senior at Charmo University,
    plans to open a wholesale facility to produce and package Kurdish bread and other regional specialties.
  • Avyan Ahmed and Safin Abid from Halabja, seniors at Halabja University,
    plan to start an interior design firm to serve both residential and commercial clients.

This program began in the Fall of 2019 when CIPE, with financial support from the U.S. State Department, partnered with KEDO to create a curriculum and a pool of efficient trainers to teach 150 senior-level students in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq about entrepreneurship and the private sector. The goal was not only to equip these soon-to-be graduates with the skills needed to succeed in the post-college world, but also to provide the tools to more confidently navigate the private sector rather than defaulting to the public sector for economic opportunities, as is conventional in the Kurdistan Region.

This curriculum was taught over a series of 144 total sessions from January through June 2020, moving to an online format in March due to COVID-19 restrictions. This all-online format was the first of its kind for the Kurdistan region and the three schools participating in the program—Garmian, Charmo, and Halabja universities.

The goal was not only to equip these soon-to-be graduates with the skills needed to succeed in the post-college world, but also to provide the tools to more confidently navigate the private sector rather than defaulting to the public sector for economic opportunities.

The students not only honed their skills in a classroom setting via lectures and partner work, but also interacted with local and international entrepreneurs to gain real-world insights about lessons learned from their private sector opportunities. To acquire first-hand experience in the private sector, 50 of the students participated in internships across 21 different businesses–an innovation brought on by this program, as public-sector internships are customary.

The program culminated on September 15, when CIPE and KEDO celebrated the graduation of the 150 students from the program who co-developed 72 business plans. Of these 150 outstanding students, 58% of whom were women, 32 students have started their own businesses and 12 have found jobs in the private sector.

These courses, along with the internship and business pitch experiences, which are aligned with the Iraqi government’s pro-private sector reforms, also represent many firsts for the Kurdistan region and these senior-level students.

It was the first all-online course in the region, the first time for many of the students to be exposed to the basics of private sector ideals and business development, and the first time many of them considered entrepreneurship and private sector work as viable career paths. Shifting the students’ mindset from one dependent on the public sector for economic opportunities to one that embraces the creativity and uncertainty of the private sector as an attainable career option represents how critical it is to give young people the tools to shape their own futures. As these students continue to develop their entrepreneurial skillsets, they will become empowered innovators who will spur needed economic growth and opportunity in the Kurdistan region.