In 2019, we highlighted some of the most influential women in Iraq’s tech scene. The women on this list inspired us as they broke through stereotypes and created a movement in their respective cities. This was in a country rated by a National Geographic study as the sixth worst place in the world to be a woman. Unfortunately, little has changed in the international image of women in Iraq. In 2020, a report by the World Bank found that less than 15% of Iraqi women were employed, placing the country among those with the lowest female workforce participation in the world.
Little official data is available on female participation in the startup scene in Iraq in particular, but numbers from the Arab world give a good enough indicator of the need for progress. For instance, a report by MAGNiTT found that only 14% of startups are founded by women in the Arab world.
This is why we are showcasing five tech-based startups that are run by pioneering women in Iraq. These women use technology to increase female participation in the workforce and in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. They are examples of entrepreneurs who have capitalised on technology and the internet to create opportunities and provide scalable solutions through their ventures.
1. Zahraa Fadhil – FIX It
Frustrated with the difficulty of finding a plumber to get her sink fixed, Zahraa Fadhil figured it was high time people in Iraq had a platform that made accessing maintenance services a less painful process. An electrical engineer herself with experience in the field, she founded Fix It, an application that provides fast and safe maintenance services for homes and buildings – the first of its kind in Iraq.
For other women starting their ventures, my advice would be not to be disappointed by the first impediment because you will have many of them.Zahraa Fadhil, Founder of Fix It
Under the supervision of a highly qualified team, the application facilitates requests for maintenance services without having to chase plumbers to fix that kitchen sink that has been blocked for days. A problem solver herself who always loves a challenge, Zahraa launched the platform in 2019 in Sulaimaniya starting off with a shortlist of four services. Today, Fix It delivers more than 30 services from plumbing, electrical maintenance to TV and satellite set-up and maintenance services.
When I had a hard time finding a plumber to fix my sink, I was thinking why isn’t there an easy way to do this? How many people have the same problem?Zahraa Fadhil
Being a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated field is far from easy, but Zahraa’s passion for providing solutions to help people and her background as an engineer came a long way in launching her venture. Her attitude when facing challenges has been to look for the lesson she can learn from every challenge.
2. Marwa Ibrahim – MR Book
Based in Baghdad with a Masters degree in Physics, Marwa Ibrahim founded MR Book, an online store for books, gifts, and handmade decorations. Marwa didn’t launch the platform simply as an online library, but rather as a window of hope dispelling darkness. The online store plays an important role in reviving a reading and literary culture in Iraq through modern technology so that people can easily shop for books and other products from the comfort of their homes.
For any woman entrepreneur, my advice is believe in what you do, never be afraid of failure, be brave to try everything in your own way and having your own mistakes, and never give up.Marwa Ibrahim, Founder of MR Book
MR Book has also brought together a community of readers and bookworms through book reviews, encouraging others to browse and buy books in the genres they enjoy. In the process, higher rated books are highlighted provoking other readers’ curiosity to continue their book shopping sprees.
The main goal of the store is to make the book a friend we reach out to every time we want to be far from our world, or a lifeboat to anchor us at a port of hope if we are desperate and show human beings how strong they can be.
3. Ranoo Hiwa – Bina
An entrepreneur based in Sulaimaniyah, Ranoo Hiwa founded the application Bina after struggling to understand where she could find skilled workers without the hassle of asking around to get concrete answers (spot the pun!). A civil engineer herself with over six years of experience working in the field, she was well aware of the day-to-day hindrances with the lack of accessible information on resources and where to find them.
Her digital platform Bina was her answer to address this challenge, providing fast and easy means for people to get work in the construction market in Iraq. This meant that Bina not only solved a challenge for employers, but also made job opportunities easily accessible for workers – through providing links between workers and businesses alike.
I have learned from being an entrepreneur to be more patient and to believe in yourself. At a certain stage you might think this may not work, but if you believe in yourself and work hard for it you will achieve it.Ranoo Hiwa, Founder of Bina
Moreover, workers, as well as companies, can share their recent work and receive feedback from their customers to improve quality and expectations on both sides.
Customers and skilled workers can create their own profiles that include their profession and photos of their recent work. With the reference, feedback, and rating system, customers will have more information to choose who to work with.
My advice to any young entrepreneur is to work harder every day to reach your goal. The key to your success as an entrepreneur is to love your business and work hard every day. You can only compete with yourself and be the best you can do so you don’t have to regret it later.
4. Shahad Mohammed – LadyGo
A unique venture of its kind in Iraq, LadyGo is a transportation app that serves as the “uber” or “careem” for women passengers and women drivers. Founded by Shahd Mohammed in 2019 in Baghdad, the app focuses very much on its social and cultural impact.
As the “first-ever project in Iraq by women and for women“, Lady Go Transportation has been launched with the concept of not only being able to provide a livelihood for women but also provide other women with security while going about their daily activities.
5. Shaymaa Kodi – Codi
An information and communication engineer herself, 24-year-old Shayma Kodi launched her startup Codi when recognising companies’ needs for website creation, electronic, administrative and accounting systems integrated into existing infrastructure. The lack of software companies in the field meant that there was an opportunity to make a change through launching a business specialised in programming services.
Planning and studying before any step you take and taking direction from specialists is very important to save your time and money.Shaymaa Kodi, Founder of Codi
Codi also provides integrated services for companies, designing websites, smartphone applications and using the latest technologies to provide customers with high-level products. Codi also aspires to play a broader role in Iraqi society, inspiring young people to establish pioneering tech projects, and to help university students create software projects through training courses.
The startup scene globally has hardly progressed in terms of diversity and female representation. In the US, women-led startups only received 2.3% of VC funding in 2020. Such trends continue to bring about structural and social obstacles for female entrepreneurs to create and pursue ventures. The case in Iraq has been similar with little diversity in the tech market. This is why the above examples of pioneering startups that are led by Iraqi women are refreshing and promising. Not only are they real-life stories of women-led startups providing innovative value propositions, but they also help alter community attitudes towards the acceptance of women’s participation in the workforce and tech scene.
Tell us in the comments below! Who is your female role model?