IBBC host a roundtable discussion with His Excellency, Mr Jaafar Al-Sadr

On Wednesday 4th December the Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) was pleased to host a roundtable discussion chaired by IBBC President Baroness Nicholson with Iraq’s newly appointed Ambassador to the UK, His Excellency, Mr Jaafar Al-Sadr, and fellow diplomats Dr Ahmed Al-Nakash and Ms Hanaa Jawad.

The meeting was attended by several IBBC member representatives including from Al Hadeel Al Hassan LLC, Constellis, EAME, Ernst & Young, March Holdings, Mutual Finance Ltd, Perkins & Will, Protechnique, PWC, Rolls Royce, RSK, Shell, Unihouse Global and Xratech.

His Excellency, Mr Al-Sadr introduced himself and opened a constructive discussion on current affairs in Iraq.

Baroness Nicholson, gave a summary of the history of IBBC in Iraq, its membership and the many events and activities it supports Iraq and the UK.

There was a good interactive discussion which identified opportunities for further cooperation between IBBC, its members and the Government of Iraq. Baroness Nicholson noted that the IBBC and its members looked forward to working closely with the Ambassador in the months and years ahead, and HE Al-Sadr expressed his appreciation for the continuing support of IBBC and its many members.

(Source: IBBC)

By John Lee.

Gulf Air, the national carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain, has announced the resumption of its direct services between Bahrain and Erbil in Iraq; further strengthening the airline’s existing Iraqi routes of Baghdad and Najaf.

The airline’s services to Erbil will commence on 02 February 2020, and will see Gulf Air’s three weekly flights between Bahrain International Airport and Erbil International Airport operated with an Airbus A320 aircraft.

(Source: Gulf Air)

Following the completion of a U.S.-funded, 18-month demining project, the Nineveh provincial government assumed control of the Mosul International Airport during a turnover ceremony on November 5.

Demining teams from Janus, TetraTech, and local Iraqi partner Al Fahad carried out the project from April 2018 to October this year. Together, the contractors cleared more than 170 explosive hazards, including unexploded ordnances, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and bomb-making materials.

The U.S. contractors also cleared significant amounts of rubble, enabling the provincial government to start rebuilding the airport.

The United States is the largest donor to conventional weapons destruction activities in Iraq, investing more than $498 million since 2003 toward the clearance of landmines, IEDs, and other explosive remnants of war as well as for risk education.

U.S.-funded demining teams have cleared over 108,500 explosive hazards since 2016, including more than 17,000 ISIS IEDs.

This support plays an integral role in enabling the restoration of critical infrastructure, the delivery of basic services, the return of displaced communities, and the resumption of local economies safe from buried ISIS explosives and the threats they pose.

(Source: U.S. Embassy in Baghdad)

Iraq-based International Network for Cards and Digital Payment Services (INC Iraq) and a Lebanese fintech startup NymCard that is digitizing how payments cards are issued, delivered, and used, in collaboration with Visa have launched the first digital-only (prepaid) payment card ‘Neo‘ in Iraq to serve the underbanked Iraqi population, the two companies announced in a joint-statement to MENAbytes.

The virtual card that can be requested through Neo’s mobile app within seconds will enable users to make online purchases on both local and international websites. The entire KYC process is digital. Neo’s mobile application (available for both iOS and Android) comes with a mobile wallet that allows users to keep an eye on their expenses.

The users can recharge their topup their Neo wallet through INC Iraq’s network of offline agents and then add the money from wallet to their card. A company representative, speaking to MENAbytes, said that INC plans to have 2,500 agents in its network within 12 months.

More here.

(Source: Menabytes)

Caliburn International, LLC has recently completed a renovation of the Al-Sqor Primary School in Bakar Village.

Located a short distance from Balad Air Base in Iraq, the village has endured years of conflict and unrest from the Iraq War through the insurgence, contributing to the school’s state of disrepair.

Caliburn identified specific needs to address in the renovation, focusing on shielding students from inclement weather, providing access to functional restrooms/washrooms, and enhancing classroom resources for the 600 boys and girls who attend the school each year.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to give back to the local community, which has always been supportive of Caliburn’s work in Iraq. Many of our Iraqi employees have children who attend the Al-Sqor Primary School, and we wanted them to have access to a clean, safe, and comfortable environment,” said Caliburn’s Chief Operating Officer, C.D. Moore.

Completed in three weeks, the renovation included cleaning and sanitizing all interior surfaces, repairing the roof, replacing classroom ceiling fans, replacing broken windows, replacing plumbing fixtures and restoring the bathrooms to working order, cleaning the school grounds and removing all debris, repairing classroom floors, and providing new desks and seats for the students.

Renovations were completed in advance of the start of the school year on September 25, 2019. Moore attended a Grand Opening Ceremony at the school on September 29, along with the Balad Base Commander and community leaders. At the ceremony, Caliburn distributed school supplies and dental care kits to the incoming students.

(Source: Caliburn)

By John Lee.

Spartan Air Academy Iraq LLC, Irving, Texas, has been awarded a $24,863,731 firm-fixed-price contract for contractor logistics support (CLS) services.

The contract provides for CLS services and material support for 15 T-6A aircraft.

Work will be performed at Balad Air Base, Iraq and is expected to be completed by June 30, 2020.

(Source: US Dept of Defense)

On Tuesday 1st October the Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) was pleased to host a roundtable discussion chaired by IBBC President Baroness Nicholson with His Excellency, Chief Justice Faiq Zidan, who was visiting the United Kingdom as guest of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The meeting was attended by several IBBC member representatives including from Constellis, G4S Secure Solutions, Harcus Sinclair, Mosul University, Protechnique, PWC SPS and Unihouse Global.

Chief Justice Zidan introduced himself and summarised his career, which began in 1991 as a lawyer in Baghdad. He was appointed as a judge in Baghdad’s Civil Courts and Criminal Courts in 1999 and then Chief of the Central Investigative Court responsible for Combating Terrorism and Important Crimes in 2005. In 2012, Faiq was appointed to the Federal Court of Cassation as Vice-Chief in 2014 and in 2016 as Chief, a position he still holds today. He was appointed President of the Supreme Judicial Council in January 2017.

Christophe Michels, managing director of IBBC, gave a summary of the history of IBBC in Iraq, the make-up of its current membership and the many events and activities currently being organised in Iraq, Dubai and the UK.

Members reported on current legal and judicial challenges they face when operating in Iraq. His Excellency confirmed he was familiar with many of these issues and undertook to review them on his return to Iraq. He said he would be particularly interested in any legal or judicial interpretations that could discourage foreign investment.

Chief Justice Zidan further encouraged IBBC and its members to organise more encounters with Judges from Iraq and to also increase its exchanges with the Iraqi Parliament, a suggestion much welcomed by the IBBC management and members present.

(Source: IBBC)

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green announced the first tranche of recipients under USAID’s New Partnerships Initiative (NPI) on Thursday during his remarks at the Accord Network’s Annual Forum.

The organizations will carry out programs that improve global health outcomes in USAID’s partner countries, and assist populations in the Republic of Iraq that are recovering from the genocide perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Administrator Green launched the NPI in May 2019 to expand and diversify USAID’s partner base and change the way the Agency does business. By working with new or underutilized partners, the Agency hopes to bring more innovative approaches to U.S. foreign assistance; focus on strengthening capacity and commitment in partner countries by tapping into existing networks of community- and faith-based organizations; and reach new populations.

Administrator Green also announced a new $18 million award to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to support the return and recovery of displaced religious and ethnic minority communities in the Nineveh Plains and Western Nineveh Province. Long-time USAID partner Samaritan’s Purse will receive $9 million of that total.

New USAID Assistance Through the NPI Direct to Local Iraqi Groups That Are Helping Victims of ISIS Genocide

USAID is awarding small grants through the NPI that total approximately $4 million to six local groups in Northern Iraq to help religious and ethnic minorities targeted by ISIS. The new NPI implementers in Northern Iraq are the following:

Philadelphia Organization for Relief and Development: The award will establish a community center in the town of Qaraqosh to provide services for people with disabilities, training in employment skills, child care, and a community food bank.

Catholic University of Erbil: The award will provide classes in business language and computer software for widows, victims of abuse, and former captives of ISIS.

Top Mountain: The award will support a business incubator and employment program for Iraqi youth, which will promote entrepreneurship, provide business training, and build commercial networks.

Shlama Foundation: The award seeks to improve job opportunities through training engineers on the installation on solar power, provide electricity for families, and install solar-powered pumps for farms and street lighting for villages.

Beth Nahrain: The award will help re-establish a local, women-led organization decimated by ISIS. The organization will also provide small-business vocational training to women in the Nineveh Plains.

Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights: The award will provide trauma-rehabilitation and resilience services to survivors of genocide; legal services and programs in justice/reparations; and activities to promote inter-religious and inter-ethnic dialogue.

The United States remains committed to supporting persecuted religious and ethnic minorities in Northern Iraq. With these new awards, the total assistance the U.S. Government has provided since 2017 in Northern Iraq is now more than $400 million. These programs complement H.R. 390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018, which passed with bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress and which President Donald J. Trump signed into law on December 11, 2018. Additional U.S. humanitarian assistance has also benefited the same Iraqi communities.

New Funding for the IOM and Samaritan’s Purse to Help Victims of ISIS Genocide

Administrator Green also announced at the Accord Network that Samaritan’s Purse will receive $9 million as a part of a new $18 million award to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to support the return and recovery of displaced religious and ethnic minority communities in the Nineveh Plains and Western Nineveh Province in Iraq.

New USAID Assistance in Global Health Through the NPI

Administrator Green also announced two new awards under the Agency’s NPI for global health. These awards, which total $68 million, will leverage the expertise and reach of local and locally established civil society and faith- and community-based organizations to increase the quality, access, and sustainability of health care.

The new NPI implementers for global health are the following:

World Relief: Working with local partners, World Relief will expand and leverage existing community networks in four countries to help strengthen maternal, reproductive, and child health at the local level.

Palladium International: This program will help reach USAID’s goal of increasing access to, and the uptake of, high-quality health care across priority areas, in line with USAID’s Journey to Self-Reliance. The partner will provide sub-awards to local organizations, along with mentoring and technical support to strengthen their capacity. Palladium will be expected to pass sixty-five percent of the total award to new and underutilized sub-awardees.

(Source: USAID)

By Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf, Co-Founders of Five One Labs.

At Five One Labs, we work with idea or early-stage entrepreneurs from diverse communities to launch scalable, innovative businesses. We’ve had the privilege to work with tech startups like Dada, PHARX, Khanoo and more, and deeply understand the struggles that entrepreneurs who pursue apps, SaaS (software as a service), e-commerce solutions and more face in Iraq’s context.

Based on our work in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) over the past two years, we have been able to identify some of the most pressing challenges tech entrepreneurs and the startup community encounter.

The top five challenges are described below:

Challenge 1: Online-based businesses don’t legally exist in Iraq.

Registering businesses in Iraq is a costly and time-intensive process in the best of times, but it is made even more difficult because of the lack of law regulating online or technology businesses. E-commerce sites, SaaS, applications etc are not legally considered businesses, and cannot be registered as such. Entrepreneurs establishing tech startups are often left without the protection and freedom provided by being legally registered.

When entrepreneurs choose to register their tech businesses, they must register as a traditional business and open a brick and mortar location. They could choose to register as an “office,” which is the least expensive choice, but an ‘office’ registration could negatively impact the entrepreneur’s ability to take equity in the future. Other registration choices are more expensive and time-intensive.

The registration challenges that both tech and non-tech business face have been recognized by many, including Orange Corners, an initiative launched by the Dutch Government. In November Five One Labs and Orange Corners will release a “Roadmap” for business registration in the KRI, which will also highlight the registration experience of tech businesses. A similar roadmap will be published by KAPITA on the business registration process for Federal Iraq.

Challenge 2: The digital skills gap in Iraq increases the time and cost of launching a tech startup.

Launching a tech business, be it a mobile application or a website, requires a certain level of digital and technical skills, particularly as the business grows past its initial stages. And if an entrepreneur building a tech startup does not have the technical skills herself, she will need to enlist the support of developers and coders to build more complex prototypes to be able to test her product.

While digital skills and literacy are important for entrepreneurs — be they inside Iraq or outside — the skills gap in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, creates challenges for startup founders in the country. Data on computer programming education and skills are not readily available in Iraq, our experience working working with startups and anecdotal evidence suggests that the shortage of coders in Iraq has increased the time and cost of launching an app- or website-based business.

A number of non-technical founders that have gone through Five One Labs’ incubator program have found that coders and developers can be expensive, which increases their startup costs and causes delays in launching their businesses.

Additionally, a number have had to work remotely with developers, either in other parts of Iraq, or outside of the country entirely, to have their technical needs met, and many have gone through multiple freelance coders or developers in the early stages of the development of their products. Some non-technical founders also delay the hiring of CTOs, either because of the cost or because of a lack of understanding of the importance of having one on board from the outset.

The good news is that this reality is changing quickly, thanks to some amazing organizations across Iraq. Re:Coded, FikraSpace, and Preemptive Love Coalition’s WorkWell Program have been offering high-quality digital skill-building programs across the country to ensure that moving forward, the country’s youth are well-equipped to participate in the digital economy.

Challenge 3: The cost of launching a business is high — and there aren’t many ways that entrepreneurs can find financing to cover these costs.

In addition to the fact that the costs of building apps in Iraq can be high, tech founders also face high legal startup costs.

The lack of regulation regulating tech businesses can make registration more expensive, as entrepreneurs are forced to consult with and shuttle back and forth between multiple ministries and chambers of commerce who may interpret their startup as a different type of business, which impacts the cost.

Regulations also stipulate that businesses must have a physical office, and a lawyer and an accountant on retainer, which are immense costs for someone looking to launch a startup. Around the world many early-stage entrepreneurs, particularly tech founders, operate their registered businesses from home or from coworking spaces, but regulations in the KRI stipulate that an office (with four walls) is required, and so renting an office whereby a business can register from will likely add several hundred (if not thousands) of dollars in expenses for a new business depending on where in the country they are located.

Given these high costs — the million dollar question for tech founders (and entrepreneurs more generally) is where do they go to offset these expenses and find enough capital to build their business? While we will discuss this in more detail in future posts, options for financing in Iraq are extremely limited. For instance, Arabnet’s State of Digital Investments in MENA report for 2013-2018 shows no publicly-reported investments in digital business in Iraq during that period.

Many entrepreneurs thus self-finance or look to family and friends for funding, and for those who are able to find angel investors, the terms can often be stringent, or investors may seek a majority, rather than minority, stake in the company.

Challenge 4: Cash on delivery is still the norm.

Mobile and e-payment options are growing in Iraq. Asia Hawala, Zain Cash and Fast Pay are mobile payment methods that can and will change the way businesses in the country operate. Pre-paid credit cards, like Qi Card and Zain WalletCard, are starting to allow Iraqis to purchase things online that they were previously unable to purchase. However, there are still a number of challenges with e-payments that cause headaches and risk to technology entrepreneurs.

Nevertheless, mobile payment methods are not as widely used as in other countries. Debit card penetration remains low and only 11% of Iraqis have bank accounts, which means that the majority of online purchases still happen through cash on delivery. Cash on delivery causes a number of problems: first, there’s the risk that customers will not actually pay for what they ordered, and the startup will be left with the burden. Some startups, like ShopYoBrand, a startup that purchases and delivers items from international brands like Zara, IKEA and Amazon to Iraq, makes customers pay a small amount of the total up front to provide some insurance.

ShopYoBrand founder Randi Barzinji said:

“Cash is hard to manage… there are a lot of transactions on a daily basis to be calculated manually instead of having an automatic system do it for you. And this is because the majority does not use an e-payment method yet on a daily basis…The challenge is to convince people for them to gain our trust, so that they’ll pay us ahead of time [to reduce risk]…It’s also important that the customer understands that we can’t order anything either without knowing the customer [and trusting them].”

The lack of e-payments makes expansion extremely challenging as well. Startups operating across the country, like grocery delivery app Miswag or last-mile delivery service Sandoog, have to transport cash from across the country to their headquarters, which is dangerous and time consuming. Balancing budgets can take months, with delays in customer payments and then additional delays in cash transportation.

Challenge 5: Lack of international e-payment options makes international expansion challenging without a foreign bank account.

Iraq, to all intents and purposes, is still disconnected from the international financial system for reasons relating to sanctions and the risk of money laundering. While Iraqis can use prepaid cards to pay for some services – like freelance coders – online (though often these cards do not work), it is very hard to receive money from abroad in Iraq.

OFAC lifted the majority of country-wide sanctions against Iraq in 2003, but the risk of somehow funding proscribed groups is still enough of a barrier that most international e-payment methods do not connect to Iraq. Paypal and Stripe, among other payment services, have restrictions against operating in Iraq. This means that freelancers based in Iraq cannot be paid by foreign clients, and it also means that Iraqi entrepreneurs cannot easily provide their products or services to customers in other countries.

Conclusion

We are optimists, and understand the magnitude of the impact that these startups will have if they are able to succeed. It is up to us and other members of the ecosystem in Iraq (and globally) to better understand the obstacles that cause technology startups in the country to stumble, so that we can ensure that we provide them with the support necessary to overcome them. Our job is to ensure that our early stage entrepreneurs have the support necessary to launch scalable, innovative businesses.

This Sunday, we launched our first incubator in Sulaimani that is fully focused on tech startups. This program is only possible through the generous support of GIZ, and in partnership with IOM and AsiaCell, who will be providing seed funding and services to our entrepreneurs.

Donors and actors across the country are excited about tech entrepreneurship, and we are looking forward to positive improvements in the ecosystem as more people work hard to make meaningful change.

___________

Five One Labs is a start-up incubator that helps refugees and conflict-affected entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses in the Middle East. Launching first in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, we aim to empower individuals to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and to contribute to the economic growth of their communities.

Five One Labs entrepreneurs are provided with training; mentorship by world class entrepreneurs from the USA and the Middle East; and a community of creative changemakers to share their experiences with. 

Our vision is to develop an inclusive network of innovators and entrepreneurs that have the support, skills, and connections to positively change their communities and countries. 

By Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf, Co-Founders of Five One Labs.

At Five One Labs, we work with idea or early-stage entrepreneurs from diverse communities to launch scalable, innovative businesses. We’ve had the privilege to work with tech startups like Dada, PHARX, Khanoo and more, and deeply understand the struggles that entrepreneurs who pursue apps, SaaS (software as a service), e-commerce solutions and more face in Iraq’s context.

Based on our work in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) over the past two years, we have been able to identify some of the most pressing challenges tech entrepreneurs and the startup community encounter.

The top five challenges are described below:

Challenge 1: Online-based businesses don’t legally exist in Iraq.

Registering businesses in Iraq is a costly and time-intensive process in the best of times, but it is made even more difficult because of the lack of law regulating online or technology businesses. E-commerce sites, SaaS, applications etc are not legally considered businesses, and cannot be registered as such. Entrepreneurs establishing tech startups are often left without the protection and freedom provided by being legally registered.

When entrepreneurs choose to register their tech businesses, they must register as a traditional business and open a brick and mortar location. They could choose to register as an “office,” which is the least expensive choice, but an ‘office’ registration could negatively impact the entrepreneur’s ability to take equity in the future. Other registration choices are more expensive and time-intensive.

The registration challenges that both tech and non-tech business face have been recognized by many, including Orange Corners, an initiative launched by the Dutch Government. In November Five One Labs and Orange Corners will release a “Roadmap” for business registration in the KRI, which will also highlight the registration experience of tech businesses. A similar roadmap will be published by KAPITA on the business registration process for Federal Iraq.

Challenge 2: The digital skills gap in Iraq increases the time and cost of launching a tech startup.

Launching a tech business, be it a mobile application or a website, requires a certain level of digital and technical skills, particularly as the business grows past its initial stages. And if an entrepreneur building a tech startup does not have the technical skills herself, she will need to enlist the support of developers and coders to build more complex prototypes to be able to test her product.

While digital skills and literacy are important for entrepreneurs — be they inside Iraq or outside — the skills gap in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, creates challenges for startup founders in the country. Data on computer programming education and skills are not readily available in Iraq, our experience working working with startups and anecdotal evidence suggests that the shortage of coders in Iraq has increased the time and cost of launching an app- or website-based business.

A number of non-technical founders that have gone through Five One Labs’ incubator program have found that coders and developers can be expensive, which increases their startup costs and causes delays in launching their businesses.

Additionally, a number have had to work remotely with developers, either in other parts of Iraq, or outside of the country entirely, to have their technical needs met, and many have gone through multiple freelance coders or developers in the early stages of the development of their products. Some non-technical founders also delay the hiring of CTOs, either because of the cost or because of a lack of understanding of the importance of having one on board from the outset.

The good news is that this reality is changing quickly, thanks to some amazing organizations across Iraq. Re:Coded, FikraSpace, and Preemptive Love Coalition’s WorkWell Program have been offering high-quality digital skill-building programs across the country to ensure that moving forward, the country’s youth are well-equipped to participate in the digital economy.

Challenge 3: The cost of launching a business is high — and there aren’t many ways that entrepreneurs can find financing to cover these costs.

In addition to the fact that the costs of building apps in Iraq can be high, tech founders also face high legal startup costs.

The lack of regulation regulating tech businesses can make registration more expensive, as entrepreneurs are forced to consult with and shuttle back and forth between multiple ministries and chambers of commerce who may interpret their startup as a different type of business, which impacts the cost.

Regulations also stipulate that businesses must have a physical office, and a lawyer and an accountant on retainer, which are immense costs for someone looking to launch a startup. Around the world many early-stage entrepreneurs, particularly tech founders, operate their registered businesses from home or from coworking spaces, but regulations in the KRI stipulate that an office (with four walls) is required, and so renting an office whereby a business can register from will likely add several hundred (if not thousands) of dollars in expenses for a new business depending on where in the country they are located.

Given these high costs — the million dollar question for tech founders (and entrepreneurs more generally) is where do they go to offset these expenses and find enough capital to build their business? While we will discuss this in more detail in future posts, options for financing in Iraq are extremely limited. For instance, Arabnet’s State of Digital Investments in MENA report for 2013-2018 shows no publicly-reported investments in digital business in Iraq during that period.

Many entrepreneurs thus self-finance or look to family and friends for funding, and for those who are able to find angel investors, the terms can often be stringent, or investors may seek a majority, rather than minority, stake in the company.

Challenge 4: Cash on delivery is still the norm.

Mobile and e-payment options are growing in Iraq. Asia Hawala, Zain Cash and Fast Pay are mobile payment methods that can and will change the way businesses in the country operate. Pre-paid credit cards, like Qi Card and Zain WalletCard, are starting to allow Iraqis to purchase things online that they were previously unable to purchase. However, there are still a number of challenges with e-payments that cause headaches and risk to technology entrepreneurs.

Nevertheless, mobile payment methods are not as widely used as in other countries. Debit card penetration remains low and only 11% of Iraqis have bank accounts, which means that the majority of online purchases still happen through cash on delivery. Cash on delivery causes a number of problems: first, there’s the risk that customers will not actually pay for what they ordered, and the startup will be left with the burden. Some startups, like ShopYoBrand, a startup that purchases and delivers items from international brands like Zara, IKEA and Amazon to Iraq, makes customers pay a small amount of the total up front to provide some insurance.

ShopYoBrand founder Randi Barzinji said:

“Cash is hard to manage… there are a lot of transactions on a daily basis to be calculated manually instead of having an automatic system do it for you. And this is because the majority does not use an e-payment method yet on a daily basis…The challenge is to convince people for them to gain our trust, so that they’ll pay us ahead of time [to reduce risk]…It’s also important that the customer understands that we can’t order anything either without knowing the customer [and trusting them].”

The lack of e-payments makes expansion extremely challenging as well. Startups operating across the country, like grocery delivery app Miswag or last-mile delivery service Sandoog, have to transport cash from across the country to their headquarters, which is dangerous and time consuming. Balancing budgets can take months, with delays in customer payments and then additional delays in cash transportation.

Challenge 5: Lack of international e-payment options makes international expansion challenging without a foreign bank account.

Iraq, to all intents and purposes, is still disconnected from the international financial system for reasons relating to sanctions and the risk of money laundering. While Iraqis can use prepaid cards to pay for some services – like freelance coders – online (though often these cards do not work), it is very hard to receive money from abroad in Iraq.

OFAC lifted the majority of country-wide sanctions against Iraq in 2003, but the risk of somehow funding proscribed groups is still enough of a barrier that most international e-payment methods do not connect to Iraq. Paypal and Stripe, among other payment services, have restrictions against operating in Iraq. This means that freelancers based in Iraq cannot be paid by foreign clients, and it also means that Iraqi entrepreneurs cannot easily provide their products or services to customers in other countries.

Conclusion

We are optimists, and understand the magnitude of the impact that these startups will have if they are able to succeed. It is up to us and other members of the ecosystem in Iraq (and globally) to better understand the obstacles that cause technology startups in the country to stumble, so that we can ensure that we provide them with the support necessary to overcome them. Our job is to ensure that our early stage entrepreneurs have the support necessary to launch scalable, innovative businesses.

This Sunday, we launched our first incubator in Sulaimani that is fully focused on tech startups. This program is only possible through the generous support of GIZ, and in partnership with IOM and AsiaCell, who will be providing seed funding and services to our entrepreneurs.

Donors and actors across the country are excited about tech entrepreneurship, and we are looking forward to positive improvements in the ecosystem as more people work hard to make meaningful change.

___________

Five One Labs is a start-up incubator that helps refugees and conflict-affected entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses in the Middle East. Launching first in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, we aim to empower individuals to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and to contribute to the economic growth of their communities.

Five One Labs entrepreneurs are provided with training; mentorship by world class entrepreneurs from the USA and the Middle East; and a community of creative changemakers to share their experiences with. 

Our vision is to develop an inclusive network of innovators and entrepreneurs that have the support, skills, and connections to positively change their communities and countries.