At a glance

Iraq is currently characterized by two crises. First, the war between the Sunni jihadist terrorist organization Islamic State (IS) on the one side and the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad and the government of the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan on the other, which has been going on since 2014. Second, by the impact of falling oil prices, which have been in decline since 2014, on a state controlled economy dominated by the oil sector.

In parallel, Iraq is characterized by a strong population growth and a very young population – with nearly half of the inhabitants under the age of 19. The social structure is strongly characterized by internally displaced persons and refugees and many communities also lack employment and income opportunities.

This promotes the marginalization of young people, who have poor opportunities in the labour market due to insufficient support and a lack of opportunities for social, economic and political participation. The situation is particularly critical for young women, for whom unemployment is more than twice as high as for young men nationwide.

A significant improvement in employment and income opportunities cannot be expected anytime soon, especially in the traditional business sectors, such as the dominant oil sector. Traditional business sectors are also unable to compensate for the loss of government jobs. This is a significant problem, as almost half of the working population is employed in the public sector. Low import duties, high security costs, corruption and difficult access to land and financial services make entrepreneurial livelihoods massively difficult.

However, interests, offerings and potential are opening up in new areas of business, some of which operate outside the traditional competitive parameters: This includes the ICT sector, which is much less affected by the negative framework conditions due to its flexibility and decentralized exercise. For example, digital business can also operate without space-intensive production facilities compared to classic industry. Similarly, trade in digital goods is much less affected by trade barriers, such as a lack of transport infrastructure, poor security or unfavourable import and export regulations. Iraq’s good access to the Internet through mobile broadband enables almost all social groups in large parts of the country – even in rural areas and camps – to participate in digital activities. A growing sense of participation through improved (socio)economic opportunities for participation, especially among young people, can have a preventive effect on violence and promote peaceful coexistence. The potential in the ICT sector is recognized, yet the employment prospects related to information and communications technologies for young people are still inadequate.

This is largely due to the university curricula, which are largely not geared to the needs of the market and provide graduates with very inadequate social and methodological skills.

Our approach

The Digital Transformation Center Iraq addresses these challenges. Unlike most digital centers in other regions, the focus here is less on advising the government and more on promoting training and employment opportunities in the digital sector. The goal is not only to create sustainable jobs, but also to develop young people’s skills in such a way that they see long-term professional and private prospects in their home country.

Therefore, the Digital Transformation Center offers training (also for civil servants or university teachers) and works together with a local network of so-called Maker Spaces – a kind of a digital workbench. These spaces are spread across several major cities in the country. Through these collaborations, young and well-educated graduates have the opportunity to integrate themselves into a global trend and future topic of digitalization and to gain permanent employment.

Success stories

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lack of face masks not only in Europe, but also in Iraq and on the African continent that could limit the spread of the virus. Through Maker-Spaces’ expertise in 3D printing, digital assembly instructions for face masks were developed. Once designed, these instructions have been not only distributed digitally, but also printed simultaneously in the various centers in Iraq. In addition, the building instructions were also sent to other Digital Transformation Centers, such as in Tunisia, which was also able to begin producing these masks immediately.