Iraqi youth plant start-up seeds

Baghdad: Stuck between an endless waitlist for a government job and a frail private sector, Iraqi entrepreneurs are taking on staggering unemployment by establishing their own start-ups.

The first murmurs of this creative spirit were felt in 2013, but the Islamic State group’s sweep across a third of the country the following year put many projects on hold. Now, with IS defeated, co-working spaces and incubators are flourishing in a country whose unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent but whose public sector is too bloated to hire.

Many self-starters begin their journey at an aptly named glass building in central Baghdad: The Station. There, they sip on coffee, peruse floor-to-ceiling bookshelves for ideas and grab a seat at clusters of desks where other stylish Iraqis click away at their laptops.

“We’re trying to create a new generation with a different state of mind,” said executive director Haidar Hamzoz. “We want to tell youth that they can start their own project, achieve their dreams and not just be happy in a government job they didn’t even want,” he told AFP. Youth make up around 60 percent of Iraq’s nearly 40 million people.

After graduating from university, many spend years waiting to be appointed to a job in the government, Iraq’s biggest employer. Four out of five jobs created in Iraq in recent years are in the public sector, according to the World Bank. And in its 2019 budget, the government proposed USD 52 billion in salaries, pensions, and social security for its workers – a 15 per cent jump from 2018 and more than half the total budget.

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