UNDP’s initiative Innovation for Development (Inno4Dev) has engaged young people (ages 16-30) in the field of innovation and entrepreneurship, and it has provided opportunities for youth to transform their ideas into businesses and social projects in support of the SDGs. The initiative offers a successful and practical mechanism to increase the skills and networks needed to promote youth entrepreneurship, to empower youth, and to engage their vast creative potential to advance local area development.

Inno4Dev was designed to enhance the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Iraq, to address the lack of specialised institutions in the field, to improve the enabling environment for small business and entrepreneurship, and to help shift the culture of dependency on public-sector work for employment. Activities were also designed to promote social cohesion among young people across Iraq. The initiative has been implemented in cooperation with central and local governments, the private sector, Universities, youth-led and youth-focused CSOs, and volunteers.

At the core of Inno4Dev are the youth-to-youth approach to youth networking, engagement, skills training and capacity building, and the Innovation Team of volunteers. The team work to spread awareness of the SDGs and social good through innovation; to promote a culture of youth voluntarism, community engagement and youth leadership; and they support Inno4Dev events organisation. As part of the team, trained youth mentors (mainly young professionals) are the main interface for participants in Inno4Dev activities; they impart their knowledge and skills to peers, design and deliver trainings, and they support participants to develop their ideas into SMART projects linked to the SDGs which can be presented to investors.

Youth participants are engaged in (1) Innovation gatherings – hands-on learning events involving hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs, and (2) Innovation workshops – coached development of SMART projects for selected participants. At these events, participants learn to develop viable solutions to identified problems, based on up-to-date methodologies (such as Design Thinking, Business Model Canvas, Lean Startup, etc.); they learn strategies to connect with investors and partners; they learn about local mechanisms and financial, logistical, and technical support opportunities they can utilise to start up their projects; and they form connections and exchange ideas. Finally, (3) Innovation forums provide opportunity for participants to showcase their projects, attract investors and build partnerships to realise their projects; they also provide opportunity for various stakeholders (Local Authorities, Chambers, Banks, companies, donors, Universities, etc.) to interact, share experience and identify productive ways to support and engage youth innovation and entrepreneurship.

Inno4Dev activities implemented by LADP culminated in Innovation Forum II (Feb 2017, Suleimaniah).

  • In 2016, the initiative attracted 800 young people to join as volunteers; 35 youth were trained as youth mentors (40% female); over 500 youth from across Iraq (30% female) were engaged in 6 innovation gatherings in 5 governorates; out of 2000 applicants, 200 youth (36% female) were selected to participate in the final stage of coached development of projects. Identifying, contacting and coordinating with potential investors was an ongoing activity during 2016 and 2017. From 866 applications received to participate in Inno4Dev Forum II, 182 projects were selected based on a set of criteria.
  • At the forum event, 24 teams of young entrepreneurs presented their projects in front of a panel of judges and audience of ca. 350 people from government institutions, NGOs, companies, banks, international organisations, universities and media); announced partnerships between entrepreneurs and investors will result in 17 start-ups that will generate 2000 job opportunities. In the follow up, 4 Universities expressed an interest in establishing partnerships with the initiative to introduce the concept of entrepreneurship and innovation to their students and to bridge the skills-to-market gap.
  • Through online and offline activities, the more than 200 000 people across Iraq were engaged in promoting youth innovation and entrepreneurship to support service provision and jobs creation.