Mia Bella Beauty Lounge
NII COVID-19 SME Support Programme
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on economies around the globe – and the small business sector is taking the biggest hit by far. In northern Iraq, where conflict has battered the local economy and infrastructure, small businesses are finding it even more difficult to stay afloat.
Strict lockdown measures meant that trading and business activity in Iraq came to a complete halt at the end of March 2020. Although some measures were later eased, increasing infections forced the Iraqi government to impose a second lockdown at the end of July and to continue to restrict movement between provinces. As a result, small businesses have seen their income all but disappear, while also facing increased input costs. Many have been left struggling to cover operational costs, including salaries.
“Small businesses in northern Iraq were already in great need of support even before COVID-19 arrived. Many entrepreneurs lost their businesses and were displaced when ISIS took control of the region. They are still trying to rebuild – most often from scratch,” says Raed Adnan, Investment Executive at GroFin Iraq.
GroFin, with the support of USAID through a gift from the American people, is extending $1.5 million in financing to help small businesses in northern Iraq overcome the crippling impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
MIA BELLA BEAUTY LOUNGE
Shilan Azhgy and her family fled from Ninawa when ISIS invaded in 2014. She settled in Erbil, where she opened Mia Bella Beauty Lounge in 2018 with co-founder Julia Koliensikova. The salon started out focusing only on nails and employed four women. The founders continued to grow the businesses, adding hairdressing and other beauty treatments to its services.
Mia Bella was employing nine people and set to open a second branch in Mosul when the pandemic struck. Lockdown measures meant that Mia Bella had to remain closed for 75 days – generating no income. The business has received USD 50k in financing through the NII’s COVID-19 SME Support Programme. This funding will allow Mia Bella to continue operating and retain its staff, including 21-year old Harzhin who works there as a hairdresser.
According to a survey conducted in June this year by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), unemployment rates were already high among women (28%) and youth (42%) before COVID-19, especially in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Now, the pandemic is disproportionately affecting young workers in Iraq, with 36% of those in the age group of 18-24 reporting that they were permanently laid-off.
“It is very difficult to find a job here and unemployment is a serious problem especially for students. Young people often find themselves trapped between education and a fruitless job market,” Harzhin. This is her first job and she is thankful to be able to keep it. “My job allows me to pay for my college tuition fees and to support my mother. It gives me the self-confidence to know that I can face anything in this life.”