Iraqi Youth Initiative Arrives in Anbar

The Iraqi Youth Initiative, a new private sector program designed by the USAID-Tijara Provincial Economic Growth Program recently opened its first office in Anbar at the Ramadi Business Center. The inauguration of the Youth Entrepreneurship Resource Center coincided with the awarding of microfinance loans to seven of the 25 young Iraqis who completed the RBC’s “How to Start a Business” course. In addition to completing the course, the seven loan recipients submitted business plans that were approved by professional business planners associated with the Iraqi Youth Initiative.

Iraq Youth Initiative Arrives in Anbar with Promise of New Jobs and Business Skills Training

“The microfinance loans given under the auspices of the Iraqi Youth Initiative will bring stability to Anbar province because they will create job opportunities for young people living in under-served or impoverished areas,” said Faris Taha Al-Faris, chairman of the Anbar Provincial Council’s Youth and Sports Committee. “Anbar’s Provincial Council views the Iraqi Youth Initiative with great enthusiasm and will provide all assistance necessary to make it a success.”

Anbar comprises about one-third of Iraq’s land area but contains only five percent of its population. The province’s workforce is younger and less well trained than that for Iraq as a whole, making the Youth Initiative especially welcome. There are opportunities in agriculture, construction and light manufacturing, according to a 2009 provincial market assessment by the USAID-Tijara Provincial Economic Growth Program. Faris hopes the combination of business skills training and startup financing will produce the entrepreneurs that Anbar desperately needs.

Over 5,000 youths nationwide between the ages of 18 and 35 will benefit from the program, which is expected to create 2,500 full-time jobs. To insure the initiative’s success, more than $4.4 million is budgeted in individual and group loans for people who need financial assistance to start a business.

“Youth suffer disproportionately from high unemployment in Anbar,” said Zeid Al-Hardan, director of the Ramadi Business Center. “Partnering with the Iraqi Youth Initiative allows us to help young Iraqis create employment opportunities for themselves and others. RBC will provide training, counseling, and mentorship services to potential youth entrepreneurs to help them design and execute their projects.”

At close to 30%, Iraq has the region’s highest rate of unemployment. More than half of Iraq’s young urban males are unemployed, while female participation in the workforce is, at 19%, even lower. Finding meaningful employment is critical to the creation of a more prosperous and stable society.

Implemented through USAID-Tijara’s existing network of Microfinance institutions (MFIs) and Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), the youth initiative has several components. A Youth Employment Program will recruit 1,600 individuals, of which 1,000 will be placed into apprenticeships while 500 receive permanent jobs. Those remaining will be trained for opportunities outside the program.

A total of 3,600 Iraqi youths will be invited to attend Youth Entrepreneurship Resource Centers, where training to become a business owner will be given. Around 1,800 who excel at their studies and demonstrate a clear idea of the businesses they want to create will be invited to apply for an individual or group loan via the Youth Entrepreneurship Access to Finance program operated in Anbar by the Al Takadum Organization.

“There is considerable scope for the Iraqi Youth Initiative to contribute to youth entrepreneurship in Anbar,” Said Mohammad Hagig, Al-Takadum general manager. “We are delighted to be able to offer financial assistance to young borrowers and our microfinance organization hopes to finance at least 180 youth business startups within to coming 12 months.”