The ILO, the Central Bank of Iraq and partners celebrate success of the financial Inclusion Initiative for MSMEs under the PROSPECTS Programme

Hundreds of loans have been disbursed to aspiring entrepreneurs and existing MSMEs through the project, contributing to the creation and retention of more than 1,200 job opportunities for Iraqi host communities and forcibly displaced people.

Press release | 20 November 2023
©Karam Al Snjarae/ ILO
Baghdad, Iraq – The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) celebrated in Baghdad key milestones achieved through their joint project.

Around 200 loans have been disbursed to aspiring entrepreneurs through the initiative, playing a crucial role in creating and retaining over 1,200 job opportunities in the Dohuk and Ninewa governorates. Meanwhile, almost 3,000 young men and women, along with small and medium-sized project owners, underwent ILO-run business and financial training as part of the programme.

People targeted through the project include displaced persons, returnees, and host community members. The initiative has provided young women and men and small businesses with access to much-needed financial and training services to start and develop their own businesses, while addressing barriers to decent self-employment.

The event, which was organized under the patronage of the Governor of the CBI, saw the attendance of senior representatives from the Embassy of Netherlands, along with key players in the field of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) development and access to finance. These include representatives from employers' and workers’ organizations, key partner ministries, representatives of foreign embassies, active business development service providers, financial service providers, and other international organizations in the entrepreneurship eco-system.

Ammar Hamad Khalaf, Deputy Governor with the Central Bank of Iraq ©Karam Al Snjarae/ ILO

“Small enterprises face two main problems: the first is accessing the official financial or banking sector; the second is related to guarantees,” said Ammar Hamad Khalaf, Deputy Governor with the Central Bank of Iraq. “Our joint initiative not only equips the youth with the necessary skills to comprehend the intricacies of starting new businesses, but also facilitates access to financing with ample guarantees. We aspire to extend our reach beyond Duhok and Ninewa, fostering further economic empowerment and growth.”

At the event, partners highlighted the tangible impact of the project, emphasizing the transformation in both young people’s perception of self-employment as a career option and the financial institutions’ understanding of the needs of business start-ups and MSMEs in terms of both financial and non-financial services. This intervention falls under the broader ILO’s efforts to support decent employment creation and private sector development. It is being implemented within the framework of the PROSPECTS partnership in Iraq, supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Jacob Wiersema, Chargé d'affaires, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Iraq ©Karam Al Snjarae/ ILO

“Access to finance and training on business skills are important, as young entrepreneurs in Iraq struggle to access start-up capital and growing their businesses. For displaced persons, these challenges are even larger,” said Jacob Wiersema, Chargé d'affaires, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Iraq. “For the Netherlands, private sector development and employment for forcibly displaced persons and host communities are key priorities. Through programmes such as ILO’s Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) and Financial Education (FE) trainings, we hope to support entrepreneurs in their journeys towards accessing finance and trainings to improve and grow their start-ups.”

As a result of extensive consultations and design thinking that spanned over a year, the ILO and CBI launched this innovative financial inclusion model for MSMEs in April 2021. The partnership includes the Iraqi Company for Banking Guarantees (ICBG) and three commercial banks: Cihan Islamic Bank, Middle East Investment Bank, and National Iraqi Bank.

Maha Kattaa, ILO Country Coordinator in Iraq ©Karam Al Snjarae/ ILO

“We are extremely proud to witness these positive results today along with our partners,” said Maha Kattaa, ILO Country Coordinator in Iraq. “Our approach encompasses skills training, financial inclusion, and entrepreneurship support to foster sustainable economic growth and address the challenge of unemployment, especially among the youth. This initiative has been and will continue to equip the latter with the resources to establish jobs for themselves and others, aligning with the ILO priorities of the Decent Work Country Programme.”

In 2021, Iraq's unemployment rate was 16.5 percent, with a higher rate observed among the female labor force at 28.2 percent compared to the male labor force at 14.7 percent. Notably, the youth unemployment rate exceeded three times the adult rate, standing at 35.8 percent.

At the event, partners also called on other international organizations to replicate and build on this model, advocating for sustainable development over the traditional grant-subsidy approach commonly adopted across interventions aimed at providing financial support to local communities.

PROSPECTS is a global partnership, which brings together the ILO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and the World Bank (WB).