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Author: Mike Fleet, Senior Researcher
There is something interesting happening in Iraq, and if you’re not paying attention to it then you are going to fundamentally misunderstand the country in 10 years. Right now, from Baghdad to Mosul, the youth of Iraq are creating new start-ups, businesses, radio headquarters, and other new outlets to work for themselves. In a country where 60% of the population are youth, the potential for change is massive. As an Arab News article noted, areas like The Station and Mosul Space are helping these new graduates and young professionals to learn new skills and establish themselves and their start-ups. Some have noted that at a radio station in Mosul the young owners have openly celebrated their history of ancient Assyria by incorporating ancient architectural styles in their workspace more so than ever before.
While I was visiting Iraq, colleagues and friends Ali Albawi and Ali Ihsan showed me around to some of their own ventures, as well as those of other youth. First was the IQ Peace Center, a volunteer-run organization that brings together hundreds of youth during the year to focus on the arts and community involvement while running the annual Baghdad City of Peace Carnival. Located in a house near Karrada, everything inside the Center is handmade by its members, and it even includes a soundproofed room for local musicians to practice music.
One of the former leaders of the Center went on to create his own business, Al-Faisaliya, a resto-cafe that hosts and supports local musicians and serves as one of the city’s prime hangout spots for young professionals. Looking around you’ll quickly see other businesses owned by young professionals that have small booths located in other hubs like The Station. Many young, educated, and driven young professionals end up here to relax or work with some tea and/or smoking sheesha. The owner noted to me that many of the city’s kids of prominent politicians or militia leaders pay visits. As the city changes and the youth seek to change their country, these new business and political leaders will be the ones who chart the path forward.
Other former leaders of the IQPeace Center went on to create ;Doinc, a start-up incubator helping new business owners learn skills and access a network of likeminded individuals while providing a workspace for them from which to operate. Helped by Inno4Dev, a UNDP-funded program, the start-up hub is helping fellow creative minds to learn the skills necessary to bring their entrepreneurial ideas to life.
This Iraqi youth are the ones who will be driving the changes in Iraq in the years to come since the Iraqi government (which is currently the chief employer in Iraq) is currently bloated to the point where it cannot hire too many more employees. Iraqi university graduates and skilled labour force are seeking other options.
Iraq is in a massive transition, and in the incoming 10-15 years many of the heads of political parties or politicos operating in the background will either move away from politics or pass away. In addition, further attention to those entering politics or the (grand)sons and (grand)daughters of prominent businessmen and women and politicians are at the age where they are also starting their own careers. These networks and how they function, as well as the views of these youth, will set the stage for Iraq’s future. The Iraqi government would do well to pay close attention.
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