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A week in Iraq with start-up incubator Five One Labs

 
 
“The process was very informal and was the natural result of the conversation I had had with Patricia”
— Sophie, volunteer at 51Labs
“Women in Iraq comprise 57% of the population an one in every ten Iraqi households is headed by a widow”

The best skill-giving starts informally
After attending our April breakfast on entrepreneurship, Sophie Greig went to Sulaimania (Kurdistan) to mentor entrepreneurs selected by Five One Labs, the first incubator founded in 2016 in Iraq. It started with an email to Patricia – the Co-Founder – to say “I want to help” and after a few cups of coffee and an invitation from Patricia to come, she packed her bags. “The process was very informal and was the natural result of the conversation I had had with Patricia” says Sophie, who worked as a consultant for PwC and now E&Y.

Gender gap is an issue
It was Sophie’s first trip to the Middle East. “In Kurdistan, you can still witness the aftermath of war. I was surprised at how welcoming people were and open to sharing their story. While mentoring young entrepreneurs, I was struck by the fact that in spite of the internet, communities are still very much isolated. Those who wanted to launch online businesses did not know of the likes of Amazon or Deliveroo for example. Mentoring women entrepreneurs gave me an insight on gender segregation and how women are discouraged to go into the entrepreneurial route.” Women in Iraq comprise 57% of the population an one in every ten Iraqi households is headed by a widow. Post-conflict, it is harder for women to find work due to security issues and the breakdown of market infrastructure. 

 
 
“It is vital to both bring mentors to Iraq and to have remote mentors showing Iraqi entrepreneurs that they are part of a global community”
— Patricia Letayf, Co-Founder of 51Labs

There is a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in Iraq
For Patricia, “it is vital to both bring mentors in person to Iraq and to have remote mentors showing Iraqi entrepreneurs that they are part of a greater global community – so that they are exposed to trends and best practices from around the world.” These entrepreneurs can be refugees or displaced people; as private sector jobs are rare, entrepreneurship is sometimes the only alternative to working for the public sector.

 

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