By Madeleine White, capacity building specialist and co-founder of Nina Magazine
Last month’s Middle East Congress held in London, cited the region’s richest oil resources as belonging to Iraq. I would argue strongly that in order to tap these amazing reserves another form of resource needs to be tapped also – that of its people. At the moment 50% of these reserves are not engaging within the country’s economic activity. Less than 1% of managers in Iraq are women, just 17% of women are engaged as entrepreneurs or employees.
Although important, it has become clear that is not enough to build strength from within. Calls for inward investment have to be matched by knowledge share and relevant capacity building activities. To be sustainable, motivation to support Iraq must be coupled with an understanding of the real business opportunities and challenges that exist. This growing outside awareness and interest must then be matched to a desire from within Iraq to embrace global economic and business practices, including inclusion and gender equity.
So, welcome to Nina, an entirely new tool Women’s Economic Empowerment tool for the Middle East that does just that. Launched last June in Iraq as well as England and Sweden, Nina is a bilingual women’s economic empowerment magazine that has been created to catalyse economic growth by allowing Iraqi women everywhere to be agents of change. Nina is community that links private and public sector to individuals through an online communications platform and directory and is also supported by a printed magazine. Published by the Private Sector Development Centre (PSDC) an Iraqi NGO, the World Bank funded the first issue of Nina and SIDA (via Chamber Trade Sweden) has contributed towards funding for 2015.
Nina’s living community is set in a ‘cyberspace Iraq’, directly juxtaposed to a space that has been hijacked by radical organisations. It offers positive content in Arabic – and with just 3% of internet content currently in Arabic this is an important consideration. Furthermore, interest in Nina’s offering is growing. User numbers show 20% month on month growth with 8k users Feb turning into 10.5 k March. 68% of English website users, and 82% Arabic site users are living inside Iraq. There are over 17k+ likes on FB (95% Iraqi) and we are regularly communicating with 1000 registered users. Almost 25,000 hard copies of Nina, print issues 1 and 2, have been distributed in Iraq over the last year.
Nina is focussed on building a positive environment women are able to participate in, whilst inspiring men to participate in the dialogue and follow-through also. In short, Nina is an exciting community which is connecting women and men who want to help entrepreneurial women in Iraq and beyond to unleash their potential and flourish in the marketplace and society. An increasing number of corporate volunteers are supporting as contributors; writing articles focused on empowerment journeys and recommendations such as Accenture’s Judith Jackson piece Gender as Strength.
Says Nina board member and CEO of Chamber Trade Sweden Charlotte Kalin:
“As Nina has developed over the last few months it has become clear that it offers a forum for women globally to share experience strength and hope with each other as well as direct business opportunity. Chamber Trade Sweden and many of our international partners as well as Nina partners such as Microsoft’s Aspire Women use Nina as place to connect and do business. “
For me, as a passionate advocate of women’s economic empowerment, the progress and impact of Nina is humbling. Maan Al Maree, representative of a key International Intergovernmental Agency, who is based in Baghdad shared with us that he delivered Nina magazine to most of his female staff, because Nina was the’ best publication in Iraq to deal with women`s issues’. In another communication, Ryan White of the Tasawi Programme tells us that his programme uses Nina to educate 2500 women across Iraq:
“The overall goal of our program is to give women skills so they can increase their chances for employment. Reading about successful women in business, entrepreneurs, and just overall empowerment is a perfect topic. We’ve gotten really positive feedback from the students about Nina articles so far.”
A recent feature we published around how to publish a children’s book, led to the author being approach by an Iraqi publishing house.
In hard business terms, there is an important case to be made also. Nina aligns export opportunities and trade links. Positive reach and corporate brand image is also strongly supported as shown by This first person account story for Nina from GE’s Noor, the female manager of GE’s healthcare service centre in Iraq. As well as providing a unique opportunity to link corporate social responsibility (CSR) and marketing budget, Nina is able to communicate best practice for equal opportunities within the workplace and indeed within the supply chain.
By creating a positive economic environment women can contribute to, the wider social and physical infrastructure of a country is impacted also (in terms of security and an effective civil society for example), allowing women to be peacemakers and nation builders. It is as much about winning hearts and minds and generating hope as it is a military activity. Nina plays an important role in this, creating pockets of hope and influence where none existed before.
Nina also directly influences and supports through physical presence. Building on the success of the launch events, Nina Magazine was delighted to be playing a pivotal role in Iraq’s International Women’s Day Celebrations in March. As media partner, Nina helped convene over 300 stakeholders and international delegates, sharing the discussions and concerns to an Iraqi audience as well as an international one, linking into the official IWD websites and forums.
For me, the importance of Nina goes beyond physical boundaries – it is a way of bypassing physical and cultural barriers by linking shared human experience in order to build economic opportunity. I tried to embody the value of Nina through a poem I initially presented at IWEC in Stockholm last November, which led to Irene Montes, a delegate from Honduras to call Nina
“A Milestone to Women’s and Community Empowerment across the World”Nina is timeless and placeless But holds also the heart of Iraq, A place for the woman who’s faceless To discover that the world has her back. A place for the woman who’s nameless To discover that things she has done Support the growth of a nation… Part of a global web being spun. By reflecting this voice in her pages And valuing truth above all Nina’s strength is the story of ages With hope as a clarion call. The voice of a nation united, that reflects both new and old ways By lighting a path for tomorrow, Nina connects our todays.
For Iraq to optimise its richest asset –human capital, women and youth must be counted among its vital resources. A pathway must be created which allows this to happen; with foundations that connect individuals and the private sector and places of learning and companies who wish to invest in Iraq. Ultimately a common forum that links Iraqis, the Iraqi diaspora and a global business community, will create sustainable growth and more stable and prosperous communities in Iraq and thus a new way forward. As one of our writer’s Nour called it – a Third Option.
I very much hope that you will join the Nina community also, making your voice heard and your presence felt. Everywhere women’s voices are heard embracing opportunity -above the clamour of anger and trouble – a light blazes forth. Nina uses the reach of technology and the power of relationships to create a candelabra of hope which inspires us all. So, get involved, register your business, share your story and make connections (or even help to fund us!) – at www.nina-iraq.com .