Two livelihood specialists based in northern and central Iraq share their thoughts on creating employment opportunities for Iraqis post-ISIL.
Job opportunities create hope and new prospects. Through UNDP's Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS), the programme has prioritized providing short and medium-term livelihoods support to Iraqis building back after the devastating ISIL conflict. To date, this has created job opportunities for over 39,000 Iraqis contributing to household income, increasing purchasing power and restoring community infrastructure.
However, stabilization needs remain as over 1.2 million people are still displaced, primarily because they do not have homes and jobs to return to.
How do we build on the progress made so far and continue to create job opportunities for Iraqis returning? Having worked closely with the communities for years, we spoke to two livelihoods specialists working in northern and central Iraq for their insights.
Addressing growing needs
With Iraq having one of the lowest women’s economic participations globally, focusing on creating livelihood opportunities for women has been a key priority for UNDP. In May 2017, through a pilot initiative in Anbar, FFS started working with Iraqi women to restore critical infrastructure through cash-for-work projects. "In the beginning, the communities refused women's participation. This was due to a range of factors including the nature of Iraqi society and the conservative perception of the role of women," says Ali Al-Najjar, Senior Programme Officer at UNDP Iraq.
Ali Al Najar explains how post-conflict the country was faced with a new reality as widows were suddenly forced into the labor market to provide for their families. UNDP also supports female headed households with small grants to restore their businesses and assets lost.
By end of 2017, having reached over 200 women in Anbar, Ali Al-Najjar and his team expanded the project to other liberated governorates Salah al-Din and Diyala. "The impact the pilot had on improving the purchasing power of households was visible. As a result, we started seeing more requests from local authorities in other regions to involve women," he says. He focuses on covering the livelihoods portfolio within FFS in central Iraq and works with different local authorities to ensure effective implementation of the projects.
In the northern part of Iraq, the stabilization needs are similar. "Lack of stability could affect the sustainability of our interventions," explains Narin Hasib, Project Manager, covering livelihood initiatives in Ninewa. She stresses the need to ensure equal participation of all Iraqis, including women and youth, to build back Iraq and ensure the sustainability of progress. "Financial independence is key to empower women and youth and boost their role in the society. This can empower women at their community level and eventually bring about a culture of support for equality and better representation of women at the national level.”
Towards sustainable solutions
According to Ali Al-Najjar and Narin, what has worked for the programme is to package sustainable solutions for the community by combining infrastructure rehabilitation projects with creating livelihood opportunities. How? Narin explains, "while renovating and equipping a large olive oil factory in Bashiqa, we are training and financially supporting olive farmers to further boost their production."
UNDP is pivoting from supporting Iraqis with short to medium- and long-term livelihood opportunities with the evolving context and needs. Ali Al-Najjar stresses that the sustainability of employment "is one of the critical aspects to keep those who returned to feel secure and sustained in their areas."
Striking a balance
The last year and a half of the pandemic have also posed unique challenges. "The communication with my team is more effective now. It has emphasized keeping in touch with teams remotely while also ensuring COVID-19 safety measures are followed at project sites. We adopted to the new normal and were quick on our feet to find new ways to monitor and implement," says Ali Al-Najjar.
Balancing between the office and managing the implementation of the projects, Ali Al-Najjar and Narin have struck the right balance. By wearing face masks, regular sanitization, distancing and vaccinating themselves, they travel to project sites to monitor the progress and engage with communities. Working closely with communities, they also ensure the needs of the people are well represented while designing projects.
On speaking to Ali Al-Najjar and Narin, it is evident how much they love their jobs. "I am motivated by how my work affects people's lives positively. Especially when I see their happy faces after we completed a project,” shares Ali Al-Najjar.
Sharing a similar feeling, Narin says, "Livelihoods is key towards stabilization and sustainable development, especially in fragile contexts and for vulnerable rural communities recovering from conflict. I feel motivated to work hard knowing my work can support families by putting bread on their table, and they can resettle in a dignified manner."