Even though Iraq is an oil producing country, it is now with 35% of its population living below the poverty line. Unemployment running at 60% among the youth sector (17-25). Almost all important social indicators places the country among the bottom 5% of countries in the world. The country has been in a continuous state of crisis for the last 35 years. The reasons for the current economic stagnation are:
- Lack of economic policy
- Corruption at all levels and has become institutional within both public and private sectors
- The dominance of the state over the majority of economic activities
- Flight of investment capital outside the country and low level of external investment coming into the country
- A state of nil or negligible adherence to laws
Any effort to rejuvenate the Iraqi economy must involve the large scale creation of new job opportunities. Given the lack of funds available, it follows that the only means of increasing economic activities is through entrepreneurship. What is required is a massive number of entrepreneurial projects to be initiated, incubated and supported through a network of organizations dedicated to the cause of successful startups.
RiTS, itself an entrepreneurial Iraqi company, having spent most of 2016 establishing Iraq’s first incubator dedicated to the graduates of Al Mansour University College. Then followed that by establishing Iraq’s first Crowdsourcing gathering, currently hosted on Linked in but shortly to go on the air as an independent self-contained resource that brings together Iraqi entrepreneurs and experienced professionals from around the world to combine their efforts, knowledge and money to support new startups in Iraq. This initiative has already led to 2 new ventures being established. A new division within RiTS to produce 3D printed mechanical prosthetic hands for Iraqi disabled children [http://tinyurl.com/hjehpz9].
Also a joint venture involving migrant Iraqis residing in the USA to establish an offshore team of programmers established in Iraq servicing contracts with major US corporations.
In addition to the above initiatives, we have also carried out efforts to survey the Iraqi entrepreneurship scene. We followed this by holding meetings and discussions with as many players in the field as we can find. This also included meetings with relevant government entities at Ministries of Higher Education & Research, and Labour & Social Affairs. The conclusion we reached from all these interactions is that entrepreneurship in Iraq is at its embryonic stage. The oldest initiative [Fikra Space] was only started in 2014. Today we have a number of players working in this field, but they are all working as separate islands. In order to accelerate entrepreneurship we need to create an ecosystem that integrates all efforts, and to focus all our activities on a single objective. That of creating new job opportunities. This is a simple metric that can be easily measured and helps us plan the size and timescale of our activities as individual organizations.
RiTS proposes taking Iraqi entrepreneurship up to the next level. Our proposition is based around establishing a Centre for Iraqi Entrepreneurship. This centre is to be cited in Baghdad and acts as a multi-functional organization supporting entrepreneurs, startups and helps with generating ideas for added value new projects dedicated to solving actual Iraqi problems. The Centre, effectively a large-scale incubator, should provide facilities for Iraqi inventors and for new generations of entrepreneurs. We strongly feel this centre should be left to entrepreneurs to run and should have no relationship with any Government department in order to protect it from the paralysis that the entire Iraqi Government apparatus suffer from. We envisage the Centre to act as a magnet that educates the youth in entrepreneurship, support idea generation and envelop it with state of the art business consultancy techniques, help with generation of project plans through to execution of the projects. Here is a non-exhaustive list of envisaged functions and activities within them:
- Science Exhibition: An exhibition that covers all the important scientific and technological inventions and discoveries from all basic sciences. The exhibits should have many practical simple experiments to demonstrate the principles of the theory or design or phenomenon being shown. It should have as much as possible “hands on” involvement from the exhibition visitors. Entrance to the exhibition should be scheduled for days dedicated to school/university students visits and on other days open to the public. Entrance should be for a fee in order to finance the operation of the centre. This facility should include or have alongside it a separate exhibition showing all inventions/discoveries originated in Iraq in the past times. There should be a further part of this exhibition of modern day Iraqi inventions where their work is exhibited with adequate brief about the inventors and their creations. In recognition of the many innovations achieved by Iraqi inventor Mr Mahmood Hussein, we believe he should be entrusted with overseeing the operations of this section of the Centre.
- Fabrication Laboratory –FabLab: To be equipped in accordance with MIT university FabLab standards and be member of the Fablab workdwide community. This facility will be as a workshop containing numbers of machine tools, 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters, etc. The FabLab is organized as a club to be attended by young inventors and grown up engineers who will be responsible for operating the equipment. The FabLab function is to facilitate production of prototypes of objects that are new ideas for products or instrumentation. The FabLab should be open for sponsorship by the large business companies who can either finance the purchase of the lab equipment or finance individual projects. Recognising the excellent pioneering work done by the Basra based Science Camp organization, we envisage they oversee the operation of this part of the Centre.
- Startup Business Incubator: Business experts who would run workshops for entrepreneurs as well as personal mentoring of would be startups from the initial idea phase, through planning and through to post execution of the projects. The overall objective of the incubator is to ensure Iraqi startups are: High Integrity, Professional, Modern, Ambitious, Innovative, Passionate, Collaborative, Effective and Efficient. Any entrepreneur will have equal opportunity to ask the incubator for their services and support as long as the project will be running in Iraq. This part of the Entrepreneurship Centre is the core business of the Centre, we therefore envisage it is managed by a team made up from all non-governmental entrepreneurship organisations actively operating now in Iraq.
- Crowdsourcing: This would become the HQ for the online resource we have established to support Iraqi entrepreneurship. The physical resource will include training and conference rooms. Experts in their fields from around the world will be invited to give lectures and seminars to either a public or invited audiences. People connected to single project may also hold conferences with their mentors, supporters, investors, partners, etc in this facility. A regular feature of these events will be inviting successful Iraqi migrant entrepreneurs to present their experiences and offer advice to Iraqi entrepreneurs who are working on similar projects. This facility should also be used for any training programs required by any of the other constituent parts of the centre.
- Voluntary Work: This part of the centre is dedicated to a special type of entrepreneurship, voluntary work. Many groups are mushrooming all around the country of mainly youths forming teams to execute single or a series of tasks. We believe the Entrepreneurship Centre should offer an HQ (umbrella) facility for these groups and teams so that they can be better organized in their campaigns and to take advantage of the facilities in the centre, e.g. the crowdsourcing to connect with people from similar organizations worldwide.
- Music Corner: Mr Karim Wasfi has done much useful hard work with youth groups around the theme of music. So in order to balance the large influence of technology on the Centre, we suggest establishing a part of the centre for music groups to meet, practice and perform. As with voluntary work they too can benefit from the other facilities offered by the centre.
- Iraqi Marshes: As the marshes are now listed as world heritage protected environment, there needs to be many new entrepreneurial projects flowing from this in the areas of agriculture (fish, dairy products), homemade handy crafts, and tourism. Hence dedicating a section of the centre to the marshes is to help focus efforts on the marshes. Also in recognition of the work done by “Nature Iraq” organization in winning the UNESCO listing, we envisage that this organization oversee the operation of this part of the centre. The reader may wish to know that RiTS, Science Camp, Nature Iraq, and the inventor Mr Mahmoud Hussein are already working on a joint project to rejuvenate the marshes economy.
- Alternative Energy: As with the marshes, this part of the centre is named to put focus on alternative energy projects. We envisage the Iraqi inventor Mr Mahmood Hussein to oversee the operation of this part of the centre.
- Scientific Think Tank: Since 2003 until the present, there are many technical failures involving government projects. The idea of establishing a think tank made up of experts on many disciplines to meet regularly to review Iraqi problems, recommend solutions to the government (if GoI wishes to receive them) or channel the solutions through the incubator to entrepreneurs to turn them into commercial projects.
- CrowdFunding, Sponsorship and Competitions: Funding represents the biggest problem Iraqi entrepreneurs, innovators, and inventors face. RiTS is already working on a highly innovative mechanism for crowdfunding through the crowdsourcing website. This facility will become available during 2017. Opportunities to obtain funding will be available to any entrepreneurial project known to the Centre and to be implemented in Iraq. The same section of the Centre may also run other kinds of awards, e.g. as prize incentives to startup projects or inventions or voluntary teams, or musical achievements. We also believe that the centre should offer the projects or individuals for direct sponsorship or investment. Hence, grants or loans can be channeled directly to individuals or projects through this section.
- Intellectual Property: In the absence of enforceable intellectual property laws in Iraq, we propose the centre to operate an IP registration facility such that people can refer to these records in any court cases where the IP of a particular idea is disputed.
- Media & Communications: This part of the Centre is dedicated to publicizing the popularizing Iraqi entrepreneurship through multiple media channels. It also gathers and distribute information on latest inventions, discoveries in science and technology to all Iraqi entrepreneurs. It should also inform them about all entrepreneurial projects started in the region and worldwide as regular news digests.
The above is our first pass on this essential endeavour we are placing on the table. We invite comments, advise, criticism and improvements to help us refine the project. We invite people interested in helping us achieve this effort to choose any parts that suits their purpose or size of their funds. As it can be seen where possible, we are making this self-financing, and sustainable. Funds in the form of grants or loans are needed to equip and furnish the Entrepreneurship Centre. The biggest item required is a property. Here we propose the Iraqi Government allow us the use of the Universe Dome (القبة الفلكية) building with its anciliary properties located besides Al Zowra park. We believe the building is not being used for any worthwhile purpose by the government. Any help with this regard will be gratefully received.
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