02/21/2019, 08.28
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Iraq: coworking and start-ups, young people battle unemployment

The public sector is saturated and cannot absorb employment requests. For 2019 the government will spend 52 billion in salaries and pensions, an increase of 15% over the previous year. It is essential to relaunch private individual businesses and industry, taking advantage of modern technologies. Appeal to banks: interest-free loans and aid for young people.


Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Trapped between an endless waiting list for government work and a still fragile private sector, Iraqi entrepreneurs - especially young people - are trying to respond to high unemployment by creating their own start-ups.

The first signs of this new creative spirit - now widespread in the West, but still in its infancy in different areas of the Middle East (excluding Israel) - had emerged in 2013; however, the rise of the Islamic State (IS, ex Isis) had led to the suspension of many projects ready to leave.

Now, with the military defeat of the Caliphate, coworking spaces grow to flourish in a nation where the unemployment rate is around 10% and the public sector is already overloaded - and in debt – with perseonnel. And many of the new entrepreneurs and innovators start their journey into the business world in a glass building in central Baghdad: The Station.

Inside, between a cup of coffee and shelves full of books - that the jihadists wanted to burn - new ideas and projects take shape, discussions are held around the shared desks, while young fashionable Iraqis click on their laptops. "We are looking to create a new generation  - underlines the executive director Haidar Hamzoz - with a different mentality".

In an interview with the AFP he says "We want to tell the young people that they can start their projects, reach their dreams, and not just rejoice for a government job that, perhaps, they do not even want". Moreover, the youth population in Iraq accounts for 60% of the total of 40 million inhabitants and, after graduation, most wait years waiting for a call from a public office or for a government contract, the country's main employer .

According to the World Bank, in recent years four out of five new jobs come from the public sector. For the 2019 budget, the government expects to spend $ 52 billion in salaries, pensions and social assistance for its workers, an increase of 15% over the previous year and equal to half of the total budget.

However, the state cannot meet all the demands and again according to data from the WB 17% of the males and 27% among the women (of young age) remain without work. A long-standing problem relaunched in recent days also by the Chaldean patriarch, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, in his speech at the 55th edition of the Security Conference in Munich (Germany), in which he invoked new "job opportunities for young people".

When the Islamic State conquered power and territory in northern Iraq in 2014, raising Mosul to capital, Saleh Mahmud was one of hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee to escape jihadist folly. As he left, he had to forcefully close one of the very few start-up coworking hubs in the northern metropolis. With the expulsion of the militia in 2017, he returned and re-opened his doors. "About 600, 700 young people - says the 23 year old - have already passed through Mosul space" to take part in seminars or meetings to start up the business.

Another start-up, Dakkakena, tries to capitalize on the spirit of rebirth. It is a network marketplace specialized in home delivery of goods and products, for dozens of families who have returned after the war. "On the web - underlines the 27 year old founder Yussef al-Noaime, who borrowed the idea during the years of exile in Holland - we can sell at lower prices than shops, because we have lower costs". A similar service, Miswag, was born in Baghdad in 2014 and last year had hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits.

The industry pioneers explain that there are two elements to start with: the public sector is saturated and oil is not the only resource for Iraq. "The banks - concludes the 26 year old startupper Tamara Raad - play an essential role. They have to make loans without interest and help young entrepreneurs ".

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