The Youth – and Future – of Iraq

Today’s Guest Post comes from Raymond Mendenilla, the director of Iraqi Youth Initiative (USAID-Tijara), a private sector initiative designed to create employment opportunities for young Iraqis in post-war Iraq. Mendenilla, a graduate of RPI and a former US Naval Officer with an impressive track record in project management, business development, and public service, is at the helm of a program that has trained over 5,500 young Iraqis, disbursed over $4.5 million of loans, and created over 3,000 jobs.     

When most people hear or think “Iraq,” it’s never with a positive spin.

Because of it’s unfortunate recent history, in the minds of many, Iraq might always be associated with a drawn-out, costly, and unpopular war; with failed foreign policies or soured international relations; with suicide bombings, terrorism, collateral damage, and human loss.

But the Iraqi Youth Initiative is transforming this stereotype, and has been doing so since May of 2010, when we first implemented the innovative youth-focused program to promote job creation and employment. The program promotes a vibrant entrepreneurial culture, establishes apprenticeship opportunities, and incites employment generation by matching services that link employers to potential youth employees, and giving youth access to financial aid and business training.

Youth like the young man from Wasit province who had lost his legs in an explosion, and came to us having always wanted to own his own barbershop, only he was too poor and not knowledgeable enough to do so. We helped him procure the loan he needed, develop a business plan, understand financial statements, and think creatively as all decent entrepreneurs must. Now, he is running a successful business, having gone from jobless to job creator (for he has hired an assistant since then). Now, he is successful.

Abdul-Ameer, Iraqi Youth Initiative Beneficiary
Mohammed Abdul-Ameer, age 18, from Babil province, completed the Youth Initiative training course “How to Start a Business” and received a $2,500 loan to start his own supermarket in Hilla.

Our youth-focused program is having an impact like this in communities all throughout Iraq, and on multiple levels. It has expanded the capacity for business partners to conduct business training, enabling them to implement a rigorously documented, monitored, and evaluated program. It introduced microfinance institutions into the youth-lending market, which, in the past, was deemed too risky an investment. Furthermore, the program is inclusive, providing all youth—including the poor, underserved, handicapped, and internally displaced persons (IDPs)—with nationwide services that were previously unavailable in Iraq.

Two years since its inception, our program has really hit its stride, performing above and beyond expectations. Program deliverables are ahead of the 2012 work plan schedule, allowing partners to produce results beyond their initial targets. This USAID program, funded by then-US Ambassador to Iraq Christopher R. Hill, has had an impact in 14 out of Iraq’s 18 provinces, helping over 5,500 youth beneficiaries create new businesses through microfinance loans, as well as providing youth apprenticeship positions and permanent jobs—regardless of their skillsets—with local business sponsors.

A total of 3,627 youth have received training to become business entrepreneurs, of whom 1,338 (12% female) have utilized over $4.5 million in microfinance loans to start new businesses.  1,669 youth participated in employability skills training, of whom 863 (35% female) have been placed into apprenticeships.  So far, 37% of the young apprentices have sustained their jobs. At this time, over 800 business sponsors are still seeking more than 3,000 apprentices to fill job openings. The cross-cutting efforts of the Iraqi Youth Initiative had resulted in the creation of 3,125 direct jobs (14% female) and 1,377 indirect jobs as of May 21st, 2012.

The sheer number of people we’ve been able to help is just a grateful bonus; the fact that my team and I are able to have any real, measurable impact on an Iraqi’s life means everything to us. Echoing the ‘Everyday Ambassador’ mantra, the youth program is about establishing real relationships and providing people with real help. The stronger our relationships with people like the barber of Wasit, the hopeful youth of Iraq, the brighter their future will be for generations to come—in more ways than one and in more countries than Iraq.

Someone we find an opportunity for today can very easily take that opportunity to become an “Everyday Ambassador” tomorrow. I take this very seriously, and will do my part to make as many potential “Everyday Ambassadors” as possible.

On the 31st of May, the Iraqi Youth Initiative will hold its first Showcase Award Ceremony where nominees chosen from over 5,500 beneficiaries, 800 business sponsors, and more than 150 trainers will be formally recognized and honored for their achievements under the program. “LIKE” the Iraqi Youth Initiative on Facebook, Twitter  (@YouthIraq@RayMendenilla), and don’t hesitate to contact Raymond ( if you would like to learn more!


  • I am very proud to be part of this program. Which contributed significantly to support the youth sector and the significant achievements in Iraq. I am also proud of my work with such an outstanding staff and with the Director of like you.

  • kateotto

    Shwan, Mustafa, Haneen, Aladdin66, Daniya, Raymond — Thank you SO much for sharing your work with the EA community, and expressing your sentiments about the program. Please keep us in the loop on your progress and success, as we are very proud to promote such amazing work. Thanks again!!

  • I’m so happy being one of the Program coordinators whom meeting face to face with the youth and follow them day by day until they settle up to their business they like and report their impact about the program and what development they have seen, wish this program can extend much more so that other youth get benefit as other youth.


    Awesome IYI.
    I am so proud to be one of the team members. ( Iraq Youth Initiative ), I wish my country will be the best of the best one in Arab Region. I wish all youth people in Iraq gets job and moving forward for building our great country ( IRAQ ). To be number ONE in the region.
    Unfortunately, am leaving the team at 31-May-2012, but I had great time with them all, they are so friendly friends, wish all the success and the prosperity for the program in Iraq, and we will be in touch.
    Thank you

  • Haneen Nabeel

    It is really such a great program, leading Iraqis’ future to a shining way fulling by hopes.
    Hoping to have an awesome event soon :)

  • As a member of Youth Initiative Program team work, I am so proud to be a member of this team. The secret of success for the Youth Initiative Program implementation and achievements in Iraq were: The integration roles and responsibilities between the main 2 partners (Microfinance Institutions and the Business Development centers/NGOs), Well trained and grassroots oriented professional field staff, and the professional management strategy and planning.
    Finally I am sure Youth Initiative program in Iraq had been achieved a great touchable CHANGES on Iraq’s youth economical lives.

  • Daniya

    Really I’m proud because I’m working in this program and we are proud to have director like you.

  • i would love to be involved i such proudly to join in programs, its a great efforts that you have paid, good luck

  • Anonymous

    good for Iraqis to have this chance i wished if have the same program, it would make changes, wishes the best

  • Thank you for the support for the Iraqi Youth Initiative of USAID-Tijara as it is greatly appreciated! This is a great program that my team is very proud of where we are building relationships that will benefit generations to come.

    I do want to clarify that this is “foreign aid from USAID” where collaboration with in-country leaders both American and Iraqi (not in the US but boots on ground in Iraq) designed and implemented this Initiative throughout the country funded by then-US Ambassador Christopher Hill in 2010. Our upcoming Showcase Award Ceremony this 31st of May 2012 is in collaboration with USAID-Tijara, USAID/Iraq and the Iraqi Ministry of Youth & Sport.

  • More people need to see what an insanely great initiative this is! What Iraq needs is economic progress built up by a vibrant Iraqi civil society, and not fueled by foreign aid/investment. Follow their Facebook updates!

  • I’m so thrilled about this initiative. What Iraq needs is economic progress, built up from the inside, not as foreign aid/investment.

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