Empowering women in business in unstable times

By Safa Fadhil, Head of Exploration and Sundus Abass, Gender Advisor at UNDP Iraq

June 21, 2020

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council (UNSCR) Resolution 1325, which helps to ensure women are on the frontlines of achieving stability and peace in Iraq. With this in mind, UNDP Iraq’s Accelerator Lab and Gender Division partnered with French Embassy in Iraq, Ambassade de France en Irak, The Station for entrepreneurship, Agence Universitaire de la, Zain Iraq Telecommunications Company, and Ashur Private Bank on a competition to support Iraqi women entrepreneurs.

The Raa’idat Competition encourages women to develop and grow their own enterprises. Despite the financial stress and anxiety resulting from the outbreak of Coronavirus in Iraq, the initiative captured the enthusiasm of Iraqi women keen to expand their business know-how.

To start, leaders from 20 entrepreneurial projects participated in training courses related to business planning and management, and other relevant topics prescribed by telecommunications company Zain Iraq. Seventeen projects progressed to the next stage of the competition, with leaders participating in financial budgeting training undertaken by UNDP Iraq’s Accelerator Lab.  The competition is ongoing – from these seventeen, five finalists will be selected, and then one overall winner, who will receive $ 10,000 in the form of a six-month incubation period, consultant support, recruitment costs, and purchasing specific equipment for its development. Cash prizes will also be awarded.

UNDP Iraq’s training offered participants a holistic approach to women’s economic empowerment, defining it as ‘a process whereby women’s and girls’ lives are transformed from a situation where they have limited power and access to economic assets, to a situation where they experience economic advancement’. In addition, it underlined the factors that enable and constrain women’s economic empowerment, while using the Design Thinking and Behavioral Insight methodologies to guide the work.  

UNDP Iraq provided expertise to highlight the importance of women’s economic empowerment and financial budgeting techniques to enable women entrepreneurs to effectively compete in the market. The training was conducted virtually and used a combination of interactive methods to deliver the target. The Accelerator Lab in Iraq used a human-centered approach to structure the training material, commencing with a needs-assessment session before planning the three lectures that followed.

The competition was integral to amplifying women’s voices. “I want to prove myself; I do exist, and I have the right to participate in my country’s economic empowerment,” says participant Nadia. For UNDP, this sentiment sits at the heart of the organization’s work.

it also enhanced the Accelerator Lab’s mandate in fostering collaborations with local and international partners to solve the issues of tunnel-vision employment experienced in Iraq, - i.e, pressures placed on young people to attain certain jobs. The competition also led to the discovery of 17 new, local, under-the-radar solutions and opened the door to experimenting with them.

To ensure the sustainability of the project, The Accelerator Lab in Iraq will be part of the training and competition evaluation that will take place after COVID-19. This will ensure the empowerment of women is prioritized alongside sensing and exploring innovative local solutions.