Updated: Apr 14, 2021
Business incubator and accelerator programs are becoming more and more popular and for those who don’t know what they are, I’d like to fill you in on the amazing concept. For many entrepreneurs they are so much more than a place to learn about starting and scaling small business. They are a training ground to trial concepts or develop a pitch and most of all build a network. These programs are found at universities and non-profits across America. Programs are popping up around the globe as well.
That brings me to Five One Labs and the Kurdish Region of Iraq. In November 2020 I posted Together with Five One Labs – a story about being discovered. There is nothing better than collaborating with an organization whose mission aligns so closely with Flore Foundation. Five One Labs developed business incubators and accelerators to serve the local population in conflict-affected areas, including refugee entrepreneurs. Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf, Five One Labs founders, believe that economic development focused on small business is an essential element of post-conflict reconstruction. With the large number of internally displaced people and refugees from Syria, the Kurdish Region of Iraq provides a landscape ripe with entrepreneurs suitable to Five One Labs’ approach. Five One Labs serves local men and women through training programs, opportunities to grow their network and improves access to finance.
Women’s role in reconstruction following conflict is especially critical to restore economic prosperity for their families. Yet, women do not have equal opportunity to pursue professional aspirations as men. Legal and cultural barriers often exist for women that make them a riskier investment than a male counterpart. These prohibitions have precluded women from partaking in business throughout history. In a post-conflict climate, wellbeing for their families may be at stake. In response to the obstacles for women entrepreneurs, Alice and Patricia created the Female Founders Fellowship. The program focuses on developing business skills, building networks and improving access to finance. Outcomes of the program include empowering women to take business risks equal to men and leveling the playing field. Female Founders Fellowship finalists included Znara Ahmed and Zainab Akram Mohammed, both displaced due to war. Working with Alice and Patricia, we selected Znara and Zainab as Flore Foundation grant recipients, each receiving funding to support a growth initiative for their business.
Znara Ahmed, owner of Sêv Gallery, is an artist originally from Syria who focused her career on ceramics. Prior to the Syrian conflict she served as faculty at the Art Institute in Damascus. After moving to the Kurdish Region of Iraq, she became the executive manager of Kurdistan Little Village, supervising an art program for children. She identified a need in her new community and choose to open Sêv Gallery. According to the Kurdistan Regional Government in 2019, this region of 1.5 million people live as refugees and internally displaced people where everyone is touched by war. Znara recognized the impact that art has on survivors as a medium for healing and relationship building.
The second recipient is Zainab Akram Mohammed. She escaped conflict first in Baghdad and then Mosul, finally settling in Kurdistan Region. As a fashion designer, she sought to create a store called Daisy Boutique in her new community. She noticed that women did not have access to local fashion designers and most of the clothing they purchased were imported. For that reason, her business model focuses on supporting merchants in the community and affords young women access to appealing designs. Zainab built a presence in Erbil and expands her reach selling online. She is most interested in broadening her social media marketing skills to achieve her ambitions to scale her business and promote designers in the region.
Congratulations to Znara and Zainab! Flore Foundation is excited to partner with Five One Labs to support Sêv Gallery and Daisy Boutique. The benefits to the economy and community are exponential. Moreover, their tremendous courage and perseverance serve as a model for the rest of us. We are truly inspired!