Heightened focus comes on the heels of Mosul visit


Crossing the border from Erbil into Mosul is a harrowing experience. Not because you’re hiding something or your intensions are sinister. No, it’s mostly the fact that you sit, sweating in a hot car as a multitude of armed men bearing austere facial expressions judge whether or not you are worthy to pass through today.

It’s not an exact science, crossing this border. In June 2021, we were unsuccessful. No real explanation, just turned away. These memories came flooding back as we pulled into the same checkpoint on our recent visit to Iraq to develop our plan to establish a business hub in the western part of Mosul.

We planned this trip back in the summer of 2022. Over the course of 3 weeks in late November / early December 2022, seven of us traveled into Iraq with the goal of developing relationships and gaining insight that will direct our next steps. Part of our process for creating businesses in underserved areas of the world is on-the-ground research. We need to figure out the needs, opportunities, and potential pitfalls for future business, and the best way to do this is in person.

The Need for Rebuilding

This building has been checked for IEDs and is now marked as “Safe”

The city of Mosul is divided East and West by the River Tigris. East Mosul suffered far less in the ISIS fighting and is mostly running as a bustling city now.

Cross the river using one of the 5 bridges into the Western part of Mosul and you’ve landed in a different world. Yes, families are living and working. Some shops and schools are open, and small cafes and kebab eateries are doing business.

But you can’t overlook the fact that most of West Mosul remains in ruins, and renovations are slow.

Sadly, one of the legacies of ISIS is that of unexploded bombs, booby traps, and IED’s (improvised explosive devices). Specialist de-mining and UXO (unexploded ordnance) agencies go from building to building searching for remaining devices that could be accidentally triggered by someone entering.

Often, families who return to their home to find and gather remaining belongings will unintentionally set off one of these lingering IED’s, causing serious and sometimes fatal injuries. Buildings that have been checked and cleared are marked “safe” like the one in the photo above.

Sitting at the border of Erbil and Mosul this time in November 2022 was different. We didn’t have paperwork. Mainly because it seems that the border is easier to cross these days. This was good because somehow we ended up with a driver who drove a bright yellow Dodge Charger, not exactly the low-key entrance we were thinking of. Nonetheless, we were granted entry and our research began!

Over the next 2 weeks we encountered and built relationships with the warm, friendly, and generous people of Mosul, Iraq. On many occasions we were surprised to find that our cafe bill had been paid by complete strangers!

Finding New Friends

One day, our journey took us to “Mosul Space“, a creative and cool shared workspace and startup incubator. We met the man behind the whole operation and gleaned insights about the business landscape in Mosul, and the challenges he has faced. This is a great relationship for us to continue building and a potential business to look to for future collaborations.

As Mosul Space builds, we see the opportunity for business within the city. We want to come alongside more people like this so we can share mutually beneficial ideas and continue to learn from each other. West Mosul is a tough place to do business due to limited markets and infrastructure, but as we walked through the streets, we felt a shift on the horizon. Soon these streets would come alive with commerce and community. We felt a sense of hope and expectancy.

Mosul Space is a hip, modern shared workspace and startup incubator.

One idea we wanted to put to the test on our trip was whether or not it would be beneficial to install a language school for the specific purpose of teaching English. Our visit certainly unveiled a felt need for this in Mosul, especially English courses facilitated by native speakers. This is something we can accomplish. There is more work on that to do now that we are back, but it will be interesting to see how language fits in to the overall plan.

Reuniting with Old Friends

Standing in the bakery you can see the rebuilding efforts at the mosque across the street.

One of the earliest business creation projects in Mosul after the fighting ended in the summer of 2017 was the re-generation of a bakery in West Mosul. The bakery stands across the road from the famous al-Nuri mosque. This is where the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, gave his (in)famous speech announcing the caliphate.

Amazingly, the bakery survived despite the mosque being destroyed and many neighbouring buildings coming down as well.

During the conflict the bakery was used as an ISIS field hospital for its fighters. As a focus to reopen a once thriving business, and a means to provide free bread to the hundreds of families in dire need, the bakery was given enough flour, water, and gas for the oven by the very NGO that Des, one of our team members, headed up at that time, so they could bake for 6 months.

The goal: for families in the area to collect bread for free, whilst families living in other, less-affected areas of the city could purchase the bread, providing some income to the baker and his staff.

Fast forward 5 years, you can see Des showing the baker and his staff some of the photos he had taken years earlier of the bakery and some familiar people. This proved to be a great way to renew and re-establish connections and start conversations again.

Des and Nick chatting to the baker and his staff as Des shows them photos he took years earlier in that very bakery with familiar faces.

Next Steps

During our recent visit we uncovered loads of interesting information that will possibly shape some of our business ideas as we move toward establishing a physical presence in the city. While you are able to rent nice accommodations in the western part of Mosul, they are few and far between. There are no 5-star holiday or retreat rentals at all. However, an airport is being built in Mosul. This is certainly something of interest to our work and to the future of Mosul, Iraq.

We still have work to do, however our focus is much clearer now on the heels of this recent trip. With that focus in mind, we are planning another trip into Mosul for the 5th-16th of June 2023. We have limited spaces available for this trip, so if it interests you, please email beckydm@vitalia.org to get more details and signup for our upcoming information meeting.

Published by Justin Thomas

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