USAID-supported job training, apprenticeships and microfinance loans help unemployed Iraqi youth secure meaningful work.
CHALLENGE. At the start of 2010 Iraq had the highest rates of unemployment in the Middle East. Thirty percent of its adults lacked jobs. More than half of the country’s young urban males were unemployed. At 19 percent, female participation in the workforce was even lower, according to World Bank estimates at the time. Restless youths desperate for something to do often joined terrorist militias, perpetuating the cycle of violence.
INITIATIVE. With funding from the U.S. Ambassador’s Targeted Development Program, the USAID-Tijara Provincial Economic Growth Program designed the Iraqi Youth Initiative. The goal was to create 2,500 full-time jobs for Iraqis between the ages of 18 to 35. Selected youths received training at one of 11 Small Business Development Centers around the country. Those wanting to start their own business were referred to the Youth Entrepreneurship Access to Finance Program (YEAF). There aspiring entrepreneurs received help writing a business plan and were introduced to microfinance institutions working with USAID-Tijara that could provide startup financing.
Young people with no interest in running a business were sent to the Youth Employment Promotion (YEP) program where training consisted of language and computer skills plus information on resume writing and office etiquette. USAID-Tijara located Iraqi companies willing to provide apprenticeships to worthy young Iraqis and then matched prospective employees with appropriate employers.
RESULTS. Since the start of the Iraqi Youth Initiative (IYI) two years ago, 3,256 youth have been trained to be independent entrepreneurs under the YEAF program. Some 1,165, 13% of them women, have started businesses with microfinancing worth $4,049,000.
Of the 1,455 people trained by YEP, 800 received apprenticeships with Iraqi companies. Thirty-four percent were women. More than 845 Iraqi companies have pledged an additional 2,861 apprenticeships that could evolve into permanent jobs.
Thanks in part to IYI and other USAID development efforts, Iraq’s unemployment now hovers slightly above 15% and the United Nations estimates youth unemployment has fallen to 23%.
About the Photo: Rana Mohammed Ali, 29, is one of 15 young Iraqis who found jobs at five Tikrit pharmacies thanks to Wedad Abdul-Halim, 55, a licensed pharmacist active in Salah ad Din’s medical services community. A corporate supporter of USAID’s Iraqi Youth Initiative, Wedad also placed 13 IYI graduates in local medical diagnostic clinics as laboratory assistants. Fifteen of the 28 now have permanent jobs paying higher salaries.
Active in the volunteer community, Wedad approached a local orphanage she supports and convinced it to employ two young people as care givers. They, too, now have lasting employment.