By T. Keyzom Ngodup, co-founder and Executive Director at Ideas sYnergy, an Iraq based private sector development consulting company.
A New Iraq or Perspective Updated: First Mover Advantage?
Sipping my iced coffee at Costa, a coffee shop in Erbil, I (and everyone else at the coffee house) noticed with insouciance a group of young American soldiers walk in for some caffeine and presumably an outing. The sighting of American soldiers (dressed in uniform) is rare in Northern Iraq, and especially in Erbil, putatively safe and referred to as the gateway to Iraq. I pondered on this seemingly mundane event and it occurred to me that this may be my first ‘encounter’ with Americans in Erbil since Ideas sYnergy’s establishment in early 2011.
Through my last couple months in this city as an independent expatriate (as in not living within a walled community/compound with security protocols), I have come across a range of foreign entrepreneurs who have gone ‘local’: Lebanese, Turkish, Italians, Germans, French and British, some restaurateurs, others event managers, traders, company owners etc however I have yet to meet an American who lives and conducts business outside the walls of compounds. This is not to say there aren’t any, but rather to point to its’ low probability. In the same vein, recent article pointed out that U.S. companies have been slow to get in on the investment opportunities in Iraq, even lagging behind countries that opposed the war in 2003, such as France. According to the article, U.S. companies tend to be more risk averse than their European counterparts, despite continuous urgings by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The media in the U.S. contributes to this quagmire. An Iraqi friend living in the U.S. expressed his surprise at a recent National Public Radio (NPR) feature on Iraq’s Kurdistan, to the extent he felt the region under discussion was perhaps wrongly referred to as KRG.
U.S. businesses are asked to shed their heterodox ideas of Iraq and capitalize on the investment opportunities created through its’ government’s blood and treasure. Iraq Insights’ June Issue reported that U.S. commercial activity is touted to increase after the conclusion of the Business Forum: Promoting Economic Opportunities in Iraq held in Washington, D.C. And indeed U.S. commercial interest is growing: Iraq’s commercial attaché office in Washington received 2,251 applications to do business in Iraq in the first half of this year, compared with 1,369 in the same period last year. Although U.S. commercial activity in Iraq ranked fifth at $1,997 million in 2010 (compared to Turkey’s $14,883 and France’s $4,243) as per a report by Dunia Frontiers, independent American expatriates conducting business in Iraq complain of their government’s lack of support, even of the simplest nature such as business introductions and linkages. For U.S. businesses to capitalize on opportunities in Iraq, and partake in Iraq’s economic growth as a business partner, its government will have to do much more (the upcoming August issue of Iraq Insights, a flagship monthly publication of Ideas sYnergy, will compare investment promotion strategies of foreign governments in Iraq) . The recent opening of U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Basra, and soon in Erbil is a welcome respite.
T. Keyzom Ngodup is co-founder and Executive Director at Ideas sYnergy, an Iraq based development consulting company committed to economic and social development through market-based solutions that help build and scale innovative businesses for sustainable and inclusive private sector development.