5 Ways To Build A Resilient Business In Iraq

We get it. Launching a startup is quite difficult in Iraq. But making sure your startup is resilient and won’t collapse in the midst of quarantine restrictions and other implications of the global pandemic makes the word ‘difficult’ a total understatement. 

In 2019, the government of Iraq imposed internet shutdowns in response to protests demanding an end to corruption, unemployment and inefficient public services. As a result, Iraq’s private sector paid the price with an estimated $2+ billion loss in GDP.

Like much of the world, 2020 has posed further challenges forcing Iraq’s nascent private sector to adapt to Covid-19 and adapt to an uncertain and fragile economic climate. A 25% increase in internet supply capacity has relieved some of the burden on internet service providers. At the same time, those virtual team meetings are still full of WiFi disconnections, awkward pauses, and “you’re on mute” one-liners. The lockdown has also meant inefficiencies in maintenance and tech support for people working from home. 

So long as we continue to face the pandemic, ever-changing rules and disruptions are likely to stay. So how is your business going to survive? If you’re a startup or company in Iraq, here are five tips to help you build a resilient business that will persevere through an uncertain future. 

For tech-enabled startups and companies relying on the internet, we recommend the following to minimise disruption and enable contingencies for any future ‘difficult’ scenarios. 

1. Always Have a Plan B (and C, D, E…)

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If it was ever on our hierarchy of needs, WiFi definitely now qualifies as the most fundamental. Pulling out your hair trying to respond to customer requests because your internet has decided to act up is a scene most businesses today cannot afford to see regularly. If your business relies on any type of online process then create an offline alternative.

For example, if your customer service team communicates online then have a back-up phone number ready for customers to call instead. If you’re in e-commerce, customers at home also means they’re likely to do more online shopping. Having a back-up phone number can save those customers trying to get to you on that bad internet afternoon.

2. Scrutinise Your Finances

The Iraqi dinar has been severely devalued, so it’s time to keep your finances in check. Make sure you have USD saved up for the rest of the year and always keep USDs in reserve. This means being extra careful with whatever USD you currently have and saving them for any mandatory foreign payments. If you have the potential to sell online to a global customer base, push for generating more sales in foreign currencies.

This is also a good time to cut out any unnecessary subscriptions and monthly payments. Remember, the aim is to save every USD you can so you want to pause any foreign purchases you can do without. 

3. Become Location-independent

Since the beginning of the pandemic, most employees around the world haven’t seen their desks. Iraq has been no exception. However, even before the pandemic, a growing number of online businesses were seeing a surge in activity. Put simply, quarantining or not, online services are more convenient, easier to transact and with lower running costs. 

remote-working

Office space, furnishings, heating and cooling, water and electricity…the costs are never-ending. Is your business still pure brick and mortar with a bulky server sitting in an office that has probably been deserted for most of the past year? It may be time for a permanent walkout. Join us on the cloud. Literally. Save the money going on the expensive office space.

When restrictions ease and you’re sick of your living room, you can always spend your working day at a co-working space closeby. Baghdad’s The Station and Erbil’s Erbil Innovation House are a couple of examples of such spaces that are growing in popularity in Iraq.

4. Culture Deserves Your Attention

Financial resilience is important, true, but building resilience most of the time is about fostering the right culture in your company. You can either let your employees bottle up their problems and gossip behind (virtual) closed doors, where issues will cause resentment and demotivation. Or you can open your (yes, also virtual) door and provide outlets for employees to voice their concerns and have them addressed. For resilience, transparency is key because transparency builds trust on your good days, which you’ll find yourself needing on your not-so-good days. 

Some of this transparency and trust can be built through making simple choices, like using communication tools that encourage more openness and collaboration. An example is using tools like Slack where both employees and managers can answer more frequently and easily, instead of a whole company email that feels too formal.

More crucial to building a transparent culture is being comfortable sharing information on business successes, concerns, and challenges with your employees to build more trust in the future. A culture of transparency means that you’re likely to get more buy-in from your people when rough days and difficult decisions come your way. This also helps build trust if you decide to work remotely and ditch the office.

5. Get Comfortable With Taking Decisive Action

A recent report by Deloitte found that organisations resilient in response to Covid-19 were able to take decisive action, even when this meant prioritising speed over elegance. This means continuously revising assumptions about customers, products or your employees that you may have previously considered ‘facts’. Continuously collect data and listen to it, experiment with new ideas, keep the ones that work, and be quick to abandon those that don’t. In times of crises, speed and flexibility is key. With a culture of transparency and trust, the need to execute under pressure becomes less daunting because risk-taking and failure is truly seen as part of the job.

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By embracing trial and error, listening to feedback, and acting accordingly, a company will find it easier to prepare and adapt quickly.

Political unrest followed by the pandemic has meant that the ecosystem for businesses in Iraq is shaky, to say the least. But, several examples have illustrated quick responses in Iraq to the challenges of the pandemic. Startups are uniquely endowed to survive and thrive when the physical world crumbles. What are you doing to build resilience?

Khamael Al Safi

Khamael is passionate about understanding the work of startups and the stories of entrepreneurs, particularly those in Iraq. She is also passionate about helping young people build employability skills for the job market and has taught subjects in entrepreneurship, organisational behaviour and psychology to undergrad and postgrad students in London and Dubai. Having worked in consulting for both the private and public sector in the Middle East, she has been involved in training and advisory on corporate governance and accountability, as well as building open, trustworthy data ecosystems.

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