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Walaa’s success story from Kirkuk, Iraq

Wandering the streets of Kirkuk there is a chance that you might run into a shop with an intriguing sign. You might be surprised at first, but ‘The BEST’ decoration shop is indeed promising you the best decoration and party planning services available in the northern Iraqi city. Upon entering, you will be greeted with tea and sweets – and the shop owner Walaa will ask you right away, what she can do for you. The fact that she owns and manages her business all alone speaks volumes about her dedication to this career path. For the knowledge, however, on how to run it successfully she thanks QUDRA II – a European programme jointly implemented by several organisations, among them Hungarian Interchurch Aid as well.

Walaa is not a veteran businesswoman, she used to be a photographer working at various events. Gradually, she became more and more involved in the organisational part of event management, and eventually she started a party planning service together with her Christian neighbours. When her business partners emigrated to Canada, she had to abandon the joint venture. However, even in this challenging situation she did not back down and in 2019 Walaa decided to open a new shop. This time it was just her.

A ‘rocky start’ is an understatement as in the beginning of 2020, the world went into pandemic mode. Obviously, it was impossible to be successful in that environment as an event planner, and she was no exception either. The loss of money and the unsuccessful period meant that her confidence was shaken. Was she a good businesswoman after all? Is this a sign for her to abandon this path? While the answer to the second question was a clear no, the answer to the first one was a yes – but a businesswoman that needed help and further training. She was lucky enough to find support through QUDRA II’s MSME development program, and got back on track.

Here, she regained her lost confidence – hearing lots of stories made her realise that such things happen. She also made lots of connections and met with people she could cooperate with – like the ladies in the sewing business. She learned how to do her own accounting, showing our colleague a perfectly neat book of records, with all the income and expenditure notes allowing her to have a clear picture of her cash flow situation at all times. As part of the programme, she also received a computer and a printer, which allows her to print decorative items for her clients and cutting the costs of outsourcing.

Thanks to the help in business knowledge, equipment and the grant received through the QUDRA II programme, Walaa increased her business by 30%. Now she can cover more of the requests and needs of the clients, and in general increase the number of events she does in a year. She even employs other women who can help her in her business. Her calendar is full with weddings, birthdays and graduations – for example, in graduation season (January to March in Iraq) she is booked for every single day. And not just in Kirkuk: she has gigs as far as Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.

It is unclear what the future holds for the Iraqi event planner, but she seems to be set up in the right way for the challenges to come. According to her, the most important lesson she learned by participating in Qudra II was the importance of having confidence in herself and moving forward – even after a setback or a business loss.

QUDRA II’s Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises development programme

The main aim of this program is to support MSME development through capacity development, resilience building and non-financial grant schemes. MSME development is grant-based, ensures ownership and commitment, even contribution from the beneficiary side as the participant needs to submit an elaborated business plan which will be evaluated. The goal is to enhance their self-employment skills in entrepreneurship, business development, or marketing. Grants cover the costs of setting up or developing a business: 2,000 USD for micro- (typically 1-2 employees/self-employment) and 10,000 USD for small & medium businesses (which have at least min. 3-5 employees). Besides in-kind grants provision of complementary training (“Know About Business”) takes place in areas such as accounting, marketing, professional skills; equipment, stocks, renovation, extension and/or rental of premises or other necessary means. Ownership and commitment are ensured by active involvement of the beneficiaries in the whole process. Special attention is paid to supporting various appropriate forms of employment for women, including home-based businesses (HBBs), which also take socio-cultural aspects into account. The MSME development program implemented by HIA is part of the employment promotion and income generation.

Walaa's success was made possible by the cooperation with