Chamber Trade Sweden ran its second challenging and exciting 2 day workshop in Erbil in northern Iraq, September 9-10, on private sector development, policy advocacy and women’s economic empowerment on the agenda. The workshop was held together with the Private Sector Development Center in Iraq which organizes the chambers of commerce and other member based business networks in the country. For the womens economic empowerment workshop we also had invited the key women networks from the region to participate.
One may ask why an oil rich country like Iraq needs government aid for building up its capacity in the private sector. One answer is that most industrial production has been destroyed during the many years of war and instability that the country has been through, and the private business organizations have not had a demand from their members to develop services in political advocacy, networking and other areas, although they may have many members and economic resources. Another answer is that that there traditionally is a strong state ownership in key sectors of the economy and a complex feudal related ownership of land and businesses, both factors being discouraging to the development of new private business. The government and private sector representatives like chambers of commerce thus have a joint challenge do develop Iraq’s industry.
Looking ahead to the future, the importance of the private sector for Iraq’s growth and jobs needs to be better recognized according to the different chambers of commerce in Iraq – especially with a focus on small and medium sized companies. The so called Dutch disease is an anxiety for the country, where the exploitation of the countries natural resources and a very narrow base for economic growth becomes a trade-off for a more diverse growth including the manufacturing industry.
One important opportunity identified in the women’s economic empowerment workshop is the important role that women can play as private entrepreneurs strengthening the private sector. There is great interest among women involved in family businesses to expand and grow. Chamber Trade looks forward to the new projects we will be running in 2013 on capacity building in policy advocacy, mediation and arbitration, green technology and womens entrepreneurship and empowerment.