As We Pause Our Jobs Empowerment Program in Iraq*, A Legacy of Family Lives On

In a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Iraq, many parents struggle to meet their children’s basic needs. When emergency situations become long-term displacement, relief aid funding dries up, and people have to fend for themselves.

We met Khernof, a widow with four children, in an IDP camp we support. When we first approached her, Khernof thought we were going to provide her with food for a week. She was shocked when we offered her the opportunity to participate in our jobs empowerment program and open her own convenience store in the camp. That way, she could feed her family, not for one week, but for years to come. 

Khernof couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She couldn’t believe that someone had chosen to invest in her future, which would restore her dignity and agency. Not only would she receive an entrepreneurship grant to open a business she chose, she’d also receive a full year of one-to-one coaching to help her business thrive. 

Seeing this mother’s immense relief, our team was filled with inspiration. They vowed to continually find new ways to support entrepreneurs, always striving to make a bigger difference. “I love this work because it’s something that you will be happy when you are going to the field, and see the family [ ] are waiting for someone to help them, and you are going to help them, like maybe for many years…” The jobs empowerment team manager said. The satisfaction from being able to make tangible change in people’s lives fuels the team’s passion for their work.

In the humanitarian aid and peacebuilding sector, we announce our projects and share our impact. Less often do we talk about a project’s sunset. In our merger with Search for Common Ground, not all our projects have been acquired because they run in a location where Search does not work, or a project does not fit with Search’s current funding portfolio. After almost 5 years of empowering entrepreneurs in Iraq, our latest cohort of small business owners has received their full year of personalized coaching, and for now, our Iraq jobs empowerment program is hibernating.

Our team looked back on the last five years supporting jobs empowerment with great love and appreciation for the people they have  met and coached along their incredible journeys. Thanks to the generosity of our community of peacebuilders and our staff’s dedication, over 1,101 entrepreneurs have opened small businesses, regaining dignity, hope, and joy since 2019.

Living by our values of loving anyway, acting from empathy, and creating meaningful long-term relationships with the people we serve has yielded something truly beautiful: a family. Through this program, our staff have developed deep friendships not only with our incredible entrepreneurs but also with staff working in IDP camps. On the strength of our relationships, we’re able to hear the community’s needs and implement programming based on those needs. 

Our community of peacebuilders has stood with these communities for five years and witnessed the incredible fresh starts your generosity has brought to life. But investing in small business owners has impacted local communities beyond the quantifiable. By opening over a thousand businesses, families gain self-sufficiency because they can provide for their loved ones. Our community’s support has resulted in parents being able to send their children to school. Your support has instilled a sense of community amongst people who were once divided. You saw the importance of empowering both male and female business owners and made sure that 444 of the 1,101 businesses opened were female-owned. Our coaching to women entrepreneurs means that women do not have to choose between caring for their family and pursuing their dreams

Your support as a member of our family of peacebuilders has meant the world to our team and our entrepreneurs. We thank you and look forward to finding new ways to uphold human dignity and build peace in the year ahead.

*While our jobs empowerment program in Iraq has finished, our other programs in Iraq live on. Meanwhile, our jobs empowerment program is thriving in Venezuela, and we hope to introduce it to new countries where we currently operate in 2024.