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The journey of Samar, female entrepreneur in Iraq

Following years of displacement and uncertainty, Samar from Mosul has set up a business making and selling sweets and pastries. She talks about her journey of becoming a successful entrepreneur, with the support of an ILO financial inclusion initiative providing entrepreneurs with trainings and loans to start or expand their businesses.

Article | 07 March 2023
Mosul, Iraq (ILO News) When Samar returned to her home-city of Mosul, following years of conflict and displacement, she knew she had to rebuild her life from scratch.

With no home or a job to return to, Samar’s life was full of uncertainties.

“The first year we had nothing. We did not even have a proper home. We had to rent a place and buy things. And there were no work opportunities at the time for young women and men,” said the mother-of-five.

Despite the challenges, Samar was determined to set up a small business to help support her family. She slowly began operating a small home-based business of making and selling sweets and pastries to neighbours and friends, with the help of two other women who were also looking to generate some income.

“Making pastries and sweets was always a hobby of mine. I learnt it from my mother and my grandmother and I always loved it,” explained Samar. “I spoke to my husband about setting up a small business and he was very supportive. This way I would be able to fulfil my dream and at the same time, contribute to our income.”

Samar started building her client base, receiving orders for weddings and other celebrations, eventually allowing her to rent a small public space to display some of her products. “At the start, the work was modest but I got creative, and I started coming up with new ideas to make the products look good, with different designs, colours and packaging, based on my clients’ needs.”

In 2022, Samar found out about an ILO initiative supporting entrepreneurs to start or expand their businesses, through financial services and loan disbursement in partnership with local banks, and trainings on ILO’s business management and financial literacy programmes.

Samar attended a five-day Financial Education programme, which introduced her and other participants to various concepts aimed at enhancing their knowledge and skills in financial management. Topics included setting smart financial goals, managing money wisely, creating a budget to ensure prudent debt management, choosing saving products, and establishing good relationships with financial institutions. 

“This was the first time that I took part in a financial education training. I learnt about budgeting and ensuring that all my monthly expenses are calculated in terms of paying my bills and buying new products. And of course, I also have to make sure there is emergency money in case I need it.”

“What was also important is that we learnt that we should make use of every product and material we have, and not leave anything to waste, and that we should work hard and be proactive,” added Samar.

The initiative is implemented under the PROSPECTS Partnership, with the support of the Government of the Netherlands. The ILO launched a financial inclusion initiative with the Central Bank of Iraq and partner banks to facilitate access to affordable financial services for young Internally Displaced Persons and host community members in Dohuk and Ninewa. 

Through this initiative, Samar was able to secure a loan with the National Bank of Iraq, which has now helped her rent a bigger space and buy machinery to run her business at a greater scale. “Before, I would sometimes turn down orders which I could not accommodate because I lacked supplies. Now I can buy products and machinery to run my business, like this new juice and ice cream maker, which will be extremely popular in the summer months.”

In addition to helping the business grow, the loan has ensured more long-term jobs for three women who work with her.

Samar says she is proud of her achievements and hopes to be able to expand even further in the future.

“People congratulate me on my achievements and tell me how well my business has done. This means the world to me. So, I would like to tell other women not to give up on their dreams. Women have great business ideas, creativity and innovation. They should make use of those talents.”