How to create opportunity for women business owners in Iraq

While microfinance has become a powerful tool to fight poverty around the world, it leaves out a critical category of businesses that have the potential to create jobs and breakout growth in developing economies: Small and medium enterprises (SMEs for short).

One country where this is especially true is Iraq. Still in the early stages of recovery from the war, the country needs SMEs to build a strong foundation for healthy economic growth. At the same time, cultural restrictions and domestic norms in Iraq have vastly reduced the number of career options for women -- effectively sidelining half of a productive workforce.

To tackle both of these challenges, Kiva is joining forces with Relief International and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. Together, we are launching a new program called WLIFT: Women Leveraging the Internet for Financial Transformation.

WLIFT combines customized technical assistance with loans for women-owned SMEs in Iraq to help them grow, increase profitability, and ideally create more stable jobs in their communities.

To start, Relief International -- an international humanitarian and development organization with microfinance programs that serve nearly 18,000 clients in four countries -- will select 50 high-potential women business owners. This remarkable group will receive a crash course in business development, budgeting, financial control, contract negotiation, effective marketing, resource management and more -- basically, everything they need to jumpstart and sustainably run their businesses. Taking it one step further, the Cherie Blair Foundation is also connecting these women with seasoned business executives who will provide e-mentoring, training and one-on-one peer support.

At the same time, Relief International’s microfinance program in Iraq will offer program participants loans ranging from US $5,000 to $20,000 to invest in growing their businesses. All of these loans will be posted on Kiva for our lenders to fund, and the first participant was posted today.

This announcement also kicks off Kiva’s new SME lending platform. Starting now, we’ll be posting an increasing number of loans for small and medium-sized businesses -- giving lenders the opportunity to fill this important gap in developing markets, empower small businesses around the world, and make positive change in communities worldwide.

Here at Kiva, we couldn’t be more excited to launch this effort with the WLIFT program. Its extensive evaluation plans will assess exactly how the women enrolled progress over time, including measurement of financial returns, profitability, and productivity -- as well as returns for employees in terms of wage growth, benefits and training. But it won’t stop there. WLIFT will also evaluate its impact on Iraqi communities in the form of taxes and revenue collection.

On Kiva’s side, we’re proud and dedicated to measure our lenders’ experience with WLIFT borrowers, closely monitoring repayment rates and how interest collected by Relief International will be used to deliver more value to clients.

We hope this campaign will raise awareness of the importance of SMEs, and why making affordable capital available to them can make a HUGE difference. The more money we can get flowing in that direction, the more global attention they’ll get, and the more sources of funding they’ll have to tap into -- from individual lenders like you to major financial institutions.

Together, we can make real change possible where it’s needed most.

Support women business owners in Iraq. Make a WLIFT loan today.

Have questions about this program? Lending to SMEs? Send them our way at Want to learn more about the challenges of running a small business in Iraq and how the WLIFT program will help participants meet those challenges? Visit the RI blog.

About the author

Camille Ricketts

Camille brings her passion for storytelling to Kiva, where she helps create and curate online content. A longtime journalist, she started her career reporting on arts and culture for the Wall Street Journal in London and New York. In 2008, she joined San Francisco-based blog VentureBeat, writing about  green technology, policy and finance. Most recently, she worked in public relations for electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors. Outside of work, Camille volunteers as a web designer for maternal health nonprofit Saving Mothers. She holds a B.A. in women's history from Stanford University, where she also served as editor in chief of The Stanford Daily.