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#inno4dev in Iraq: Doing more, lots more, with less


The #inno4dev programme provides hands-on learning events for hundreds of budding entrepreneurs and promotes a sense of social cohesion among youth from all parts of Iraq. Photo:UNDP

Innovation is alive and well in Iraq as evidenced by the energy, creativity and "grit" of the 175 young entrepreneurs I had the privilege of spending four days with in an #inno4dev (innovation for development) workshop in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq last weekend. The workshop is part of a UNDP Iraq multi-year #inno4dev programme that promotes innovative approaches to solving development challenges.

These 175 youths were selected from among 500 women and men who participated in six #inno4dev gatherings earlier this year. At the workshop, they were put through their paces, learning about approaches and tools, such as design thinking, lean startup, and business model canvas, as they developed ideas for ventures ranging from a health data surveillance system to educational zones for kids.  From these, about two dozen teams will be selected to participate in an #inno4dev forum in the first quarter of 2017, where they will have an opportunity to pitch their ideas to potential investors.

So, how does the UNDP #inno4dev team, a team of one, manage these activities with all these moving parts: hundreds of youth coming from all around the country, speaking different languages, having different skills and levels of experience, with different areas of interest?

Innovatively, of course.

Since the launch of activities in August 2015, Dhafer Hasan, manager of the #inno4dev programme, has put together a talented, dedicated and tight crew of 26 young volunteers to support these efforts. He identifies people with potential to contribute and lead at various events or through his extensive network of youth who are members of the Iraqi Youth Café, an online platform for youth that he also manages.   

Most are professionals -- engineers, architects, graphic designers and doctors; a handful are students, studying business or economics. All of them are dedicated to the #inno4dev cause and helping their fellow Iraqis pursue their aspirations and dreams.  They volunteer their time and skills, committing sometimes a few hours a week, or more like 24 hours a day when a workshop is on.     

Together, the volunteers design and deliver the various events, activities and interactions. They document every detail and share results via traditional and new media tools, including one of my favourite gadgets, the UAV camera that videotapes from above, below and all around.  Here are a few short vlogs from the workshop that make use of this aerial footage.

Rania Bakr, a student studying architecture with a strong interest in creating physical spaces that promote innovation and entrepreneurship, joined the team a year ago. She first met Dhafer through a friend when they were both volunteering at a local event.  She was invited to apply to participate in one of the early #inno4dev workshops.  Based on a strong showing of leadership, attitude and commitment, Dhafer asked her to share her knowledge of the entrepreneurship ecosystem at the next workshop, and next thing, she was invited to be a part of the #inno4dev volunteer team where she is now the focal point for the documentation team.  She credits the #inno4dev experience with giving her opportunity to learn and grow, to share her knowledge, and to give back to her community.

The #inno4dev team of volunteers are unique in several respects:  they are managed as a team, not a collection of individual volunteers; they are able to connect with the youth they are working on behalf of exactly because they are youth themselves, with young workshop participants finding them more approachable and not seeing them as distant or foreign “experts”; and they are given as much responsibility as they can handle.

As Rania says, the #inno4dev team is the “dream team of volunteers in Iraq.” And while they are helping UNDP deliver on an important programme, they are also showing by example what hard work, dedication and passion look like.

By pulling together this team of young volunteers, Dhafer is able to deliver results that would have been well beyond the means of a single individual to deliver. The #inno4dev programme provides hands-on learning events for hundreds of budding entrepreneurs, creates opportunities to network and partner with peers and potential investors, and promotes a sense of social cohesion among youth from all parts of Iraq.

Dhafer invests time and energy in developing the team, mentoring them, guiding them, giving them room to contribute.  And the return is hundreds, eventually thousands, of young entrepreneurs and innovators equipped and inspired to pursue their passion.

It’s an impressive, cost-effective, and yes, innovative, model for managing programmes, one that other programmes may want to consider as resources are scarce and expectations for impact and results are high.   

For more information about UNDP Iraq’s #inno4dev programme, contact Dhafer at Dhafer.Hasan@undp.org.


Jennifer Colville Blog post Arab states Sustainable development Innovation Knowledge management Jobs and livelihoods Poverty reduction and inequality Iraq

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