Thursday, August 6, 2009

Iraqi women take business into their own hands

by Spc. Stephanie Cassinos
MND-South

BASRA, Iraq (August 6, 2009) – More than fifty Iraqi women met with Soldiers and contractors recently at the Basra Airport to discuss opportunities in business development and business contracting.

A large portion of the conference was dedicated to explaining opportunities with Joint Contracting Command – Iraq's Women-Owned Business Initiative, a program that reserves Department of Defense contracts for businesses primarily owned by women.

"The target audience for the conference was educated women because contracting normally deals with a huge scope of work that requires specialties in engineering and business management," explained Capt. Ann Demapan, Women's Initiatives coordinator, Multi-National Division - South. "Programs like these can prove to both men and women that women are competitive and competent in almost any field of work."

Jasim Al-Sarraf, a business development consultant with Regional Contracting Center – Basra, concurred.

"Most contractors are men," said Al-Sarraf, a native of Baghdad. "We know for sure that there are many educated women in this society. The university is pumping students out every year."

"They need jobs. They need income," added Al-Sarraf. "And if they don't have it they'll end up sitting at home."

Civil Affairs and contractors such as JCC-I assist Iraqi women by introducing business opportunities as well as providing training along every step of becoming a contracted company. From filling out paperwork to learning the rules and ethics of contracting, these women are guided through the process of establishing and learning how to manage a DoD contract.

"It's our job to find them, get them out, encourage them to have a company, show them the way to do it and train them," said Al Sarraf.

In 2008, JCC-I awarded four percent of all contracting to women-owned businesses, totaling $187 million. Following successes in the past, this year the aspirations are even higher.

"Joint Contracting Command - Iraq has made it a goal to award 10 percent of its contracts to women contractors," said Demapan. "Women contractors will only compete amongst other women contractors. Past contracts done by women contractors resulted in quality, professional work."

Both Al Sarraf and Demapan believed the conference was beneficial for the women who attended.

"My objective is first encouraging them, stimulating them," said Al Sarraf. "Then to give them a general idea about the contracts and tell them that we are here to help you."

"From the questions asked by them, they were very eager of wanting more details in completing applications to become contractors," Demapan said. "And even before the conference took place, 40 women contractors applied to JCC-I to be added into their database system of contractors."

In addition to aspirations of becoming contracted, Iraqi women at the conference expressed a desire to give back to their communities.

"Some of the women were very passionate in wanting to help other women in rural areas," Demapan said. "Some spoke of outreach programs concerning health care and humanitarian assistance for women in rural areas."

Demapan, a mother, hopes to help women understand how their roles as business-owners can offer Iraq even more than economic development.

"The ladies and I share a commonality in that we are mothers. Mothers only want the best provided for their children. That entails building a strong Iraq for their children," said Demapan. "I wanted to convey to them that all Iraqis, men and women, have a stake in the future of Iraq. That the women of Iraq need to become and need to be recognized as major players in policy-making and decision-making for their motherland."

Source: CENTCOM.

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