June 19, 2023

Queen of Waste: One Woman’s Quest for a Greener Iraq

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Shocked by the level of food insecurity in her country, Marwa Raed’s business, Green Gold, recycles organic waste into compost, fertiliser and other agricultural products to boost the country’s food production.

Marwa Raed arrived in Iraq, after years of studying automotive engineering in Malaysia. Immediately, she was hit with a sight that she could never grow numb to: Iraqi people eating left-over restaurant scraps from the garbage. The horrid, heart-wrenching reality is a consequence of Iraq’s decades of political turmoil, violent conflict and extremism, as well as high unemployment that has plunged around 25% of the population (11 million people) into poverty. 

Marwa, being ever optimistic, decided to turn her emotion into action. She confidently walked into one of the best restaurants in Iraq and asked that they hand over the surplus leftover food to her, so she can package and distribute them to people in a more dignified manner. The restaurant owner refused her request. 

Marwa walked away from this incident with the conviction that the enormous amount of organic material and surplus food should be put to good use. Her startup, Green Gold, was born. She recycles this waste for compost, fertiliser and other environmentally-friendly products that support farmers in the agricultural sector, helping to combat food insecurity in Iraq.

Marwa Raed, green entrepreneur from Iraq, poses with her Green Gold agricultural products © 2023, SPARK
Green Gold products are made from recycled organic waste material © 2023, SPARK
Green Gold compost, fertiliser and agricultural products support farmers in Iraq © 2023, SPARK

“You can call me the ‘Queen of Waste’.”

Many people around her had initial doubts that as a woman and an engineer, she should not be working with garbage. Her reply to them was always: “You can call me the ‘Queen of Waste’.” 

Still, Marwa had a lot of challenges to overcome. The volatile political situation in Iraq added complications. As she describes it: “My country is not financially, politically or environmentally stable.” One of Marwa’s two farms in Baghdad was seized by militia groups and the effects of the climate crisis have led to extreme weather events, such as heat and floods, that continue to damage crops throughout the country. While some things were beyond her control, Marwa’s determination to turn her passion into a business led her to search for opportunities to learn more about entrepreneurship. She thus applied for a startup development programme provided by SPARK’s and Startup Without Borders, financed by The programme, which is the first of its kind in the region, is dedicated to refugee and local entrepreneurs who are building ventures against the odds.

Within this programme, she was able to receive intensive training, gaining valuable skills such as website creation, finance and branding. Moreover, amongst the 250 Iraqi participants, Marwa was nominated as one of the 10 SMEs participating in the Startups on the Move competition held during SPARK’s IGNITE conference in The Netherlands in 2022. “Not only did I learn important skills and gain a valuable network, but I came back from Amsterdam with renewed passion for what I do,” said Marwa. 

Marwa Raed pitching her startup, Green Gold, during the final of the Startups on the Move competition in Amsterdam © 2022, SPARK

In the year since, her business has shown great growth. What started as sales of $50 a month has now reached $500 a day, with Green Gold products sold throughout Iraq. Originally, Green Gold only had one product but has now expanded to include a variety of environmentally-friendly products, including GG balls that are made of dirt and stuffed with seeds. 

Marwa Raed, green entrepreneur from Iraq, poses with her Green Gold agricultural products © 2023, SPARK

Together with her newly hired team, which consists of two men and three women, they started offering workshops on waste reduction and positive environmental practices, reaching over 500 participants in 2022. “This was not our original intention,” explains Marwa, “but when we saw that this is something that the community and the environment need, we simply reacted to that need.” This is why it is important for Marwa to offer free courses along with paid ones for people who are not able to afford it, such as in orphanages and NGOs. 

But, of course, this is not enough for Marwa to whom the future of Green Gold is clear. “I know what I want, which is for Green Gold to be imprinted in people’s minds.” With her unfiltered passion, there is no doubt that her vision will someday come to pass.