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UCL International Development Hub (ID Hub)



Creating a New Narrative for Iraq

By ID Hub, on 9 December 2022

Iraqi Innovators is a social innovation startup, founded by Zahra Shah and Amara Bandukada. Its mission is to nurture and develop local talent, business, and technology in Iraq through quality content, community, training, and women-only spaces. Their current plans are to tackle digital poverty in Iraq and understand more about the extent of digital literacy in the country.

Zahra has an MA in International Relations from Leiden University and for the past six years, has worked in growing start-ups and tech ecosystems in conflict-affected countries, including Gaza and Iraq.


Iraqi Innovators

Having spent two years in Iraq running coding bootcamps, accelerators, and co-working spaces, Zahra went on to launch a joint venture with Amara in 2018. Iraqi Innovators is a women-led, 7-person team located across Iraq and in London.

The team has a vision to build an Iraq with ample job opportunities, for a highly skilled, local workforce in a flourishing tech and startup sector. Their impact to date has led to over 200 tech and start-up related published articles, 19 live sessions and a community of over 10,000 people across Iraq.

In partnership with ‘We Are Digital’, who have been tackling Digital Literacy in the UK, Iraqi Innovators is launching a digital literacy training program in Iraq. The aim will be to increase digital connectivity amongst the general public and to help grow the tech and start up ecosystem. In order to help achieve this, the team are looking to the UCL community to support their pilot study in Baghdad. Extensive research is needed to better understand the scale of digital exclusion.

Through the UCL ID Hub, Iraqi Innovators are looking for an Arabic-speaking UCL student to join them on a part-time, placement opportunity from the end of January 2023. The placement will not only provide experience of working in the edtech sector, but contribute to a real-world challenge. ID Hub placements are acknowledged formally by UCL as a HEAR activity. To find out more about this placement or how to apply, please visit the ID Hub SharePoint site: https://liveuclac.sharepoint.com/sites/UCLInternationalDevelopmentHub

Thinking about pursuing a career within International Development? Zahra shares some advice:

Think about why you are interested in this field, and then pick your niche. What country or issue are you really passionate about? What work has already been done to solve the challenges faced? Is there another way to solve this issue that ensures sustainable impact? Is your intervention necessary, or are local initiatives already solving the problem that might value your expertise?

The sector needs to change a lot regarding the power dynamics between western donors and ‘recipients’. The next generation of people going into International Development needs to be aware of this and consider whether they will uphold existing power dynamics or challenge them.

With thanks to Zahra Shah, Founder of Iraqi Innovators.



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