Iraqi businesses are still recovering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a Panel Study conducted by The United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Iraq, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the International Trade Center (ITC), ‘Firms suffered large losses in revenue early on (an average decline of 67% by June 2020). Although revenue partially recovered between July and October 2020, it did not reach pre-pandemic levels (firms reported a revenue drop on average of 23% between February and November). Small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) also reported incurring new debt over the year due to the pandemic, primarily through informal means such as borrowing from friends and family.’
Even in 2022, SMEs are still struggling. UNDP-Accelerator Labs in Iraq supported Iraqi Innovators in partnership with GroFin to design, test and launch an online course to support Iraqi businesses recovering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns. The project included the following stages:
- The curriculum was developed based on global and local challenges faced by businesses throughout the pandemic.
- A pilot training was conducted over Zoom with 4 Iraqi SMEs from across Iraq to get feedback and improve the training material. The curriculum was to be used as a basis for the online learning course.
- The curriculum was updated and redesigned to meet the needs of an online learning environment.
- We prepared the online course by filming instructor videos and developing the script and methodologies.
- The instructor videos were edited and soon, the course will be uploaded to UNDP’s Iraq InPoint platform. InPoint is the first online platform that provides an innovative space for youth and Iraqi entrepreneurs to connect, learn and invest. The platform will be launched in July 2022.
A Vaccine for your Business
The five-day online Zoom training went through the following topics:
Day 1 COVID’s Impact on Small Businesses
The first topic examined Covid’s impact on business in Iraq and similar economies. The session helped business owners understand the challenges their business models faced and to explore their business assumptions in the face of the pandemic.
Day 2 Defining Business Models
The Business Model Canvas (BMC) is a common tool in entrepreneurship programs, however, it is most effective as an analysis tool for SMEs because it gives established businesses the chance to reflect and dissect their business. The BMC allows businesses to break down every aspect of their company and see where new opportunities may lie. This is a tool that participants of the training also took with them and use in the future.
Day 3 Revenue
The ability to generate revenue is critical to the success of every business. In this session we explored the activities that lead to revenue generation: sales, marketing, online marketplaces, and networking. Part of the training focused on understanding the value proposition of how to occupy a niche in the market and leverage the strength of a business to maximise profits.
Day 4 Financial Pro Formas
Many SMEs do not keep adequate financial records. This can cause business owners to misunderstand their costs and drive down their profits. This session described the basic financial records every business needs to keep and how they are used to make strategic decisions. Business owners were introduced to financial tools like cash books, financial income statements, and balance sheets to enable them to have more transparency in their operations.
Day 5 Leveraging Technology
The last day of the training was dedicated to showing the ways technology helps businesses in their operations and the most common tech tools that can ease their load. Technologies are available to SMEs no matter where they are in the world. This session helped business owners analyse their own “Technology Stack” in order to find new ways to improve customer experience, efficiency and profitability.
Testimonies of Participants
Ameera Ahmed, Owner of MEENA clothing factory in Mosul City
Ameera’s factory struggled during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially during the lockdowns. Workers were prevented from getting to the factory, and the uncertainty in the market and low revenues that followed made things worse. Ameera mentioned the following takeaways from the training:
1. I learned To record all incoming and outgoing (material and payments) either on the computer or in the records, and record all the details and not postpone logging.
2. To study policy changes to maintain the safety of the workflow and the continuity of work
3. To study and organise all inbound and outbound processes. Organise the available raw materials that we are working on during the days of high prices The use of modern equipment and mechanisation that operates electronically.Ameera Ahmed, Owner of MEENA clothing factory
Saba Yousif, Owner of a Beauty and Skin Care Centre in Baghdad
Saba’s Beauty centre was one of the many businesses hit by the lockdown in Baghdad and more so by the banning of festivities like weddings and parties, which constituted a key revenue source for her business.
Saba reported that she found the training extremely useful. Her three key takeaways from the training were:
1. How to deal with the external risks facing the company
2. The use of modern means in the management and control of work
3. The necessity of introducing technology into many work operations and improving their qualitySaba Yousif, Owner of a Beauty and Skin Care Centre in Baghdad
What We Learned
The effects of Covid-19 are widespread in Iraq, evident in the struggle faced by businesses to return to their pre-Covid profitability and growth. The pandemic has also changed customer behaviour, with online businesses experiencing an increase in demand due to the surge in popularity of online tools during lockdowns.
Throughout this project, we saw that although all businesses struggled, SMEs in particular need additional support to adapt to the changes in consumer behaviour and need to adopt more technological solutions. Tech-based startups did well to pivot to the changing environment, but traditional SMEs are slower to react and do not take a proactive approach.
The challenge is that SMEs in Iraq may not necessarily understand that they need help in this area. This was apparent during the project, as the participants were not aware of the gaps they had in their businesses.
Overall, all the participating businesses reported improvements in their work and an openness to change after seeing the potential that new technologies and business models can offer.
A video course of the training will be available on UNDP’s InPoint platform in the upcoming month. Sign up to our newsletter below to be the first to know!