Tijara Provincial Economic Growth Program-Iraqi Youth Initiative
The Iraqi Youth Initiative is a new private sector initiative designed by the U.S. Agency for International Development to create employment opportunities for young Iraqis was initiated this week by the USAID-Tijara Provincial Economic Growth Program. The project hopes to expose young Iraqis living in underserved or impoverished areas to essential business skills and entrepreneurial opportunities.
"Inspired by the U.S. Ambassador’s Targeted Development Program, this youth initiative will provide young entrepreneurs with personalized business training, access to apprenticeship programs in their local business communities and financial services previously unavailable to them in Iraq," said Raymond Mendenilla, the 30-year old director of the USAID-Tijara Youth Initiative program.
Over 5,000 youths between the ages of 18 and 35 will benefit from the program, which is expected to create 2,500 full-time jobs. To insure the initiative’s success, more than $4.45 million is budgeted in individual and group loans for people who need financial assistance to start a business.
"The Youth Initiative seeks young business-minded individuals who can make it through the rigorous selection process and complete intensive training programs," said Mendenilla. "Training will include classroom workshops, one-on-one consultations, mentoring by experienced business planners and guidance from microfinance officials who can approve youth friendly loans."
At close to 30%, Iraq has the region's highest rate of unemployment. More than half of Iraq’s young urban males are unemployed, while female participation in the workforce is, at 19%, even lower. Finding meaningful employment is critical to the creation of a more prosperous and stable society.
"This initiative will create jobs for new graduates and assist young entrepreneurs who currently don’t have access to finance," said Ali Al-Hussainy, a private sector and finance development specialist with USAID. "Gainful employment and a stable business environment allow young people to start families and build better lives."
Implemented through USAID-Tijara’s existing network of Microfinance institutions (MFIs) and Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), the youth initiative has several components. A Youth Employment Program will recruit 1,600 individuals, of which 1,000 will be placed into apprenticeships while 500 receive permanent jobs. Those remaining will be trained for opportunities outside the program.
A total of 3,600 Iraqi youths will be invited to attend the Youth Entrepreneurship Resource Center, where training to become a business owner will be given. Around 1,800 who excel at their studies and demonstrate a clear idea of the businesses they want to create will be invited to apply for an individual or group loan via the Youth Entrepreneurship Access to Finance program.
A total of $4.45 million in loans will be provided by microfinance institutions scattered throughout the country. Overall direction will come from ten SBDCs. The USAID-Tijara youth initiative is a nationwide program. Baghdad, Najaf and Kirkuk will be the first governorates to receive funding.