How British Creativity can Help Iraq

By Ashley Goodall.

How British Creativity can help Iraq and rebuild nations and communities.

As middle Eastern economies begin to realise dependency on oil is no longer an option, they are diversifying their economies and evolving their cultures to position for the future, key is creativity and the tech economy.

For many the’ Iraq’ word brings shivers of gloom. Whatever doomsters think, Iraqis still have to create a new future, free of rancour, prosperous and ultimately hopeful. The UK can really help them on this journey.

As IBBC companies rebuild the Infrastructure and economy of Iraq (Oil and gas, Power and engineering), the other big win that the UK can help Iraq with is ‘creativity. We can help leapfrog sectarian divides, bring the country together, inject pride and confidence and begin the process of nation building.

Two complimentary areas of expertise come neatly together to rebuild nations and communities: Architecture and Tech: The physical and virtual, the national and the communal, visual and intangible, shared and entrepreneurial, cultural and business.

In Architecture, Zaha Hadid’s amazing inspirational work to define and create Iconic cultural statements is being deployed for the new Central bak building nearing completion and the  Parliament building designed to build a sense of national identity and articulate a new aspirational narrative for Iraq. Charles Walker MD of Zaha Hadid believes architecture is a physical manifestation of a nation state and, particularly for countries that are recovering from conflict; architecture can play a reconciliatory role to build a new sense of nationhood and community.

Charles believes ‘buildings are the national landmarks that project a nation’s sense of itself through the semiotics of communal values .Zaha Hadid’s creative modernity frees nations to imagine the kind of visions they want to project about themselves. The scintillating new parliament building draws inspiration from the geological alluvial plane of the Tigris River and a cultural belief in civic democracy that indicates normality is returning to the country’.

Anne Kerr and Bob Philips of Mott MacDonald believe that planning and ‘Place making’ is fundamental to national and urban success. Anne says it can take 50 years to establish a ‘community’ in the broadest sense. Mott MacDonald’s ‘Placemaking’ brings together all aspects of community building – from the physical infrastructure, to provision of what holds a community together- education, health, a sense of purpose, buildings, mobility and economic prospects, work, and individuals’ sense of self-worth – iconic buildings and tech can help inspire and aggregate but the softer aspects of community building and capacity also have to be factored in.

As civil engineers Bob Philips says you can’t have social infrastructure unless an engineer designs and builds it and civil engineering provides for people – ‘Engineers make it happen’. Mott MacDonald’s work includes large International development projects and to make the idea of creating communities come alive. The consultancy launched its ‘Engineering Hope’ report to explain how to make fast communities, through place making and especially for the 60 million refugees currently living in camps.

‘Tech’ brings its own benefits and opportunities: The UK’s record in start-ups and the new tech industry is remarkable, Tech city was established in 2010 but this start up cluster now leads Europe , is second only to USA for investment . Key to consolidating tech is the recent location of Facebook , Google’ and Spotify’s headquarters to London, the location and power of the city to drive investment and knowledge in Fintech and a record volume of new tech businesses in London.

Tech ecologies grow fast and drive external perceptions of a country. Put together with a strong creative sector, design and film production, and London/UK becomes the leading location for film production, design and gaming, music and communications. Tech enables communities to flourish and interact in areas of interest beyond sectarian or religious boundaries. On line communities are strengthened by their interests and bring people together.. British and international tech is well placed to help build Iraqi communities, provide education and skills for young people on line, enable them to trade, to be entrepreneurial, retail and interact with the world beyond their borders.

In Iraq Yazen, MD of Zain Cash explains ‘Zain have set up clear objectives to close the current financial gap that left majority of the population unbanked.  We’re building financial services that meet current needs and assist in fuelling new digital economies. Services that are getting strong traction are electronic salary disbursement, electronic bill payment, and online payment solutions. A key success of Zain’s is a vast network  which we  are heavily investing in, to ensure convenient and accessible services for everyone, whether in rural and urban areas”

Fethi Kirdar of Moby group, a leading Media company, is encouraging the Iraqi government to support tech initiatives: ‘’to provide seed capital, low cost workshops and build the tech ecosystem, including promotion of E Government. Fethi says’ Iraqi young people already engage with high penetration of digital media, are keen on e-commerce and have the attitude, aptitude and ideas  to create tech solutions for the problems they see around them. The time is right and the audience is primed for take-off.’

Iraq's young, tech-savvy entrepreneurs are finding business opportunities in mobile apps at a time when the government is strapped for cash and looking to the private sector to create jobs. Iraq has one of the most youthful populations in the world, with  60 percent of its 2015 estimate of 37 million people under the age of 25, according to the U.N. In a bid to create up to 250,000 private sector jobs, the government last year started a $5 billion loan initiative for small, medium and large projects called Tamwil, or Finance, which is run by the Central Bank.

Entrepreneurs are already versioning delivery apps like Wajbety, or My Meal, and  al-Khateeb launched an Uber style app called Ujra, or Fare according to Sinan Salaheddin of Associated press  Baghdad. Arabic App creation is a clear opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs.

What Iraq needs now is direct investment in entrepreneurial tech start-ups and expertise from UK tech industry specialists willing to take a leap of faith to back the catch up opportunities Iraq offers. IBBC have a new tech group that will support and help you navigate Iraqi business, led by Botan Osman of Restrata, Zain and Alastair Kett’s PWC, are keen to attract new members who can take advantage of the opportunities for both tech and architectural reinvention and nation building that Iraq offers.

Once tech takes hold growth will be fast and positive. And, as with Architecture, the Brits now have a number of world class leaders like Zaha Hadid and Mott MacDonald to enable the rebuilding of Iraq’s communities as the Iraqi Government so requires.

Ashley Goodall is a martketing consultant to Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC).

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