Zainab, 38, Baghdad.


To foster the growth of Micro, Medium and Small Enterprises (MSME) Iraq, UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Planning’s Central Statistical Organization and with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently surveyed more than 2,000 MSME owners in Iraq to better understand associated trends, challenges and opportunities.

One survey participant, 38-year-old Zainab, runs her own micro enterprise as a driver for school children and teachers in Baghdad. Fueled by a desire to give her two children the best start to life, hear what she has to say on the importance of the survey, the need to encourage more women-led businesses, and her general passion for driving.

What made you want to start your own business?

Living conditions are difficult in Iraq, and I wanted to earn an income to help my husband and cover the financial burden equally. I had to consider my two children's needs, education costs, electricity, internet, in addition to rent. It made sense to earn my own income, so I took the initiative to start my own business.

Why did you decide to start a driving service?

I learnt to drive and then started to pick my kids and their friends to and from school. And I enjoyed it. It became more and more regular, so I thought – why not make a living out of this? I started three years ago and am still going today, even with the challenges that COVID-19 presented over the past year.

Driving is not traditionally seen as woman’s job. How do people react when you tell them your profession?

People don’t really treat me differently. In fact, it’s the opposite, they feel safer with me! At the beginning, some of the mothers were hesitant as this job needs someone strong and confident to handle it (driving in Baghdad can be very stressful!), in addition to commitment and punctuality. But after I started with a few families, a lot of the mothers wanted me to drive their kids. And I take a caring approach. I am always 30 minutes ahead of time, just to make sure I am early enough so the kids don’t have to wait by themselves.

Aside from being a woman, what makes your business different from other driving services in Baghdad?

Commitment is the key to doing my job successfully. I am always on time and take full responsibility for the job, and I take it seriously because people are entrusting me with their children’s lives. Also, I am selective about my customers - I don’t just choose anyone. This means that I might not have a lot of customers, but the ones I do really trust and rely on me.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

My personal growth. I am independent now. I have my own identity and I don't have to ask anyone for help because I make my own money to support my family, along with my husband. I secure my children’s needs which is most important to me. I don't want them to miss out on anything or feel undervalued because they don’t have their basic needs. Everything I do, I do for my kids.

Why did you participate in the USAID-supported survey on MSMEs?

I wanted to give my opinion. Surveys like this where we are given the opportunity to speak our mind are rare, so it was important I took the opportunity. And I wanted to help other women like me. I hope they can take inspiration from me and develop their own businesses.

Why are MSMEs important for Iraq? What role do they play in society?

It’s a tough situation in Iraq. The economic situation has deteriorated rapidly due to COVID-19 and we are forced to pay for everything now, even water. Therefore, we need MSMEs to provide local services but also promote financial independence and help the average person earn an income.

Men and women need to collaborate, more than ever, and the good thing about running a small business is that it doesn’t discriminate against gender. Women can run them just it as successfully as men!

When you’re not out driving, what do you enjoy doing?

(Laughs) Besides cleaning and securing my kids’ needs?! Going out for dinner with friends and family!

You are obviously passionate about driving but what is your dream job?

I dream of getting an administrative or management job. Running my business has taught me so many skills that are transferable. I have strong leadership qualities, even in the presence of my husband. I always complete official paperwork and daily administration at home. Most importantly, I am really committed.

What role do women play in Iraqi society? What value can they add?

Today is the day of woman. Women have become the father and the mother, especially after all the wars experienced in Iraq. Women play a huge role. The success and happiness of any household depends on the woman of that house.

About the Survey

Funded by USAID, the Mixed Formal and Informal Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises Survey is designed to build a comprehensive picture on the MSMEs structures, trends, business dynamics, challenges and opportunities in Iraq through up-to-date, reliable, relevant market information and analysis. It will allow the Government of Iraq and other key stakeholders to design informed initiatives aimed at supporting private sector through MSMEs, job creation and inclusive growth policy. The survey is part of UNDP Iraq’s Funding Facility for Economic Reform – Federal project.

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