PROSPERITY CATALYST IN IRAQ
In Iraq, Relief International estimates that over 1.5 million women (almost 10% of all women in the country) are widowed and that 56% of these widows are living in poverty and are unable to meet their monthly household needs.
Our work in Iraq has a special emphasis on supporting and providing economic opportunities for war widows, who are one of the most vulnerable populations in Iraq.
Our Work in Iraq
Just over a year has passed since Prosperity Catalyst launched its innovative and market-driven model in Baghdad, Iraq, with the goal of creating economic opportunity for hundreds of Iraqi women. What started as a successful pilot project run by our sister social enterprise Prosperity Candle in 2009 is now growing into a dynamic social business venture. Despite the incredibly challenging environment, Prosperity Catalyst is witnessing real progress toward the goal of launching a sustainable, women-led business and creating prosperity for hundreds of aspiring women entrepreneurs.
How it all began: 2009 Pilot in Baghdad
In 2009, our partner Prosperity Candle implemented a yearlong pilot project in which 50 Iraqi women were trained to make high-quality pillar candles from the safety of home. The pilot sought to determine if women could learn to operate candle-making businesses and produce candles to the standards of international retail markets.
The pilot was so promising that it caught the attention of the US Department of State, who sought out Prosperity Catalyst—which emerged from Prosperity Candle in 2012— to expand on the original vision four years later, and return to Baghdad with the intention of establishing a candle and artisan product export business, owned and operated by Iraqi women. They awarded Prosperity Catalyst a grant of $2 million, and the WEB program was launched.
Women’s Empowerment through Business (WEB) Program in Baghdad
In planning this program, we adapted our candle enterprise model to allow for home-based product creation, with centralized business administration taking place in an export hub, owned and operated by a small subset of women entrepreneurs. This model would allow for greater flexibility for women to safely participate in the workforce, while the export hub would provide entrepreneurs with raw materials, design inputs, and access to local and international markets.
We knew this would be no small feat. But in just over a year, we have laid the foundation for a thriving business:
- We partnered with local, Iraqi NGOs already working with at-risk women, and conducted a needs assessment of nearly 400 participants. We administered work readiness to 300 women, and then offered business management trainings, at which 110 women learned how to manage inventory, create budgets, market, cost, and price their products, and build sales relationships.
- We then reconnected with women entrepreneurs from the 2009 pilot, and provided them with intensive training in a new style of candle so that they could become trainers to program beneficiaries.
Beyond Trainings: Preparing the Business
No matter how intensive and business-oriented our trainings are, we know that long-term sustainability and scalability requires targeted investment in product development, marketing, and sales. And these efforts are ultimately futile without reliable import/export channels and a regional supply chain, without which raw materials are prohibitively expensive. These challenges exist for any international company, but especially for one operating in a location as challenging as Baghdad. Thus far, our team has:
- Identified a Turkish supplier for high quality paraffin wax and successfully importedan order to Baghdad.
- Collaborated with a sophisticated product development consultant to create a beautiful and unique line of Iraqi products inspired by ancient cultures in the region, known as The Akkadian Collection.
- Begun sourcing beautiful copper, glass, and ceramic vessels from artisans in Turkey and India.
- Booked several trade show events in the fall of 2015 in major US cities at which to present sample candles to retailers.