December 23, 2014


*Written by Raheil Aziz – SPARK Country Representative, Iraq/Kurdistan

This December SPARK officially registered in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The office in Erbil looks out onto the Kurdish capital’s stunning skyline and shatters an outdated view many have of the region. Raheil Aziz made the move back to Iraq/Kurdistan to start up the new office after living in the Netherlands for 18 years. Raheil primarily focuses on local support for the Migrant Entrepreneurship Programme – offered to Diaspora in the Netherlands with ambitions to start a business back in their country of origin.

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View from SPARK’s new Iraq/Kurdistan office

Kurds are part of an Iraqi government and, in addition, have an autonomous region in northern Iraq with its own government, parliament and president. Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), is growing so rapidly that many call it the next Dubai. The growing economy, rise of the middle class, reconstruction process, and the stable security situation have led to the presence of numerous international companies and organisations, NGOs, expats, and more than 26 consulates and embassy offices in KRI.

The prosperity of KRI has been set in motion by oil sales; forty percent of Iraqi oil stock is located in the KRI. Yet, while the oil and construction sectors have received much attention in the past decades, other sectors with great potential have been omitted. This is why the Kurdish government is now working towards further development of the private sector and especially focusing on the agriculture, tourism, and industrial sectors. The Dutch government is also optimistic about the progress of Iraq/Kurdistan. While visiting Erbil on December 21, 2014 the Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders sat down with SPARK to discuss the city’s current state. He told me, “I am very impressed with the different programmes that SPARK does and the results achieved.”

I am responsible for the local implementation stage of the Migrant Entrepreneurship Programme, which aims to further develop the private sector and create jobs in several fragile and conflict affected states. Through the programme, SPARK provides support to Kurdish migrants in the Netherlands who want to set up a business in Iraq/Kurdistan. In the Netherlands, participants of the programme receive training and customized coaching to write their business plan. Once the entrepreneurs arrive in KRI, I support them in their market research and necessary practicalities in beginning a business. All business owners need to visit the Chamber of Commerce and other bureaucratic bodies so this is a constant. What varies is the particular companies, organisations, and people that the migrant entrepreneurs speak to in order to complete their individual market research.

As KRI suffers from a lack of information and transparency as well as high levels of bureaucracy and sometimes corruption the international entrepreneurs who receive local support have a big advantage. Even with its many hurdles, the KRI is burgeoning and I’m curious to see how Kurds from abroad will find their place in the reconstruction process.

The Migrant Entrepreneurship Programme is active in multiple regions. For a Somali Diaspora perspective on the project, you can read this interview. If you are a migrant in the Netherlands and want to start a business in your home country you can sign up for SPARK’s next training here.