Training a New Generation of Leaders for Iraq

November 22, 2021

Iraq Leadership Fellows

by Stephanie Haase, Global Program Manager

What does leadership look like for a generation that grew up with war and uncertainty? How do you support youth to rebuild a country through a leadership fellowship? Amani Institute was invited to reimagine the curriculum of the Iraq Leadership Fellows (ILF, a program by the American University of Iraq Sulaymaniyah (Institute of Regional and International Studies), the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, and DT Institute.

“We expect the young people to clean up the Iraq we have created over the last few decades. But we give them no guidance on how to do this.” One of the ILF program trainers told us. Young people in Iraq are currently under a lot of pressure: communities want them to lead the change that will bring about a better future for the country. But change takes dedication, failure, support, and a lot of time. And, while there is a collective passion among many Iraqis to be part of the change, they are not set up for success. The systems they grew up with were equipping them with neither role models, nor the tools needed to make an impact and have their voices heard. Until now.

Change in disruptive environments

One of the ILF trainers shared with us that older generations were brought up seeing leadership successes, resilience, and an understanding of the legacies generations before them left – this is not the case for young people, grown up in war since the Gulf War in 1991 and the 2003 invasion. They grew up seeing the world through polarized social media and disillusioned older generations, leaving them with a lack of understanding of how they fit into the culture of the country they were born in and why you want to change it: your purpose.

Knowing what guides you

Daniel Bennet, the Amani Institute CEO and I spent a week in Sulaymaniyah, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), with the trainers who are leading the Iraq Leadership Fellows in July, and then online in September, and again in person in October. ILF is running for the fourth time right now. Each year, about 40 young leaders committed to positive change who work either in the NGO space or in politics, go through three multi-day workshops introducing them to a variety of topics around leadership. The female and male participants come from all over Iraq and the KRI, varied social and religious backgrounds, and are between 24 and 32 years old.

It was an intense training of trainers that centered around facilitating the understanding of what shapes us as leaders, how this affects our leadership of others, and how we can align that with leading change where it is most needed. We covered topics such as adaptive leadership, immunity to change, trust, and communication, always putting purpose and the internal drivers people have at the center of the conversation.

Operating from an understanding of one’s own strengths and values will be important as the fellows navigate the difficult environment that are the political and civil society landscapes of Iraq in pursuit of change. As one of the trainers put it: “I want fellows to know who they are, deep down, that they learn from their goodness within. I want them to learn from each other and support each other. These young people are the future of Iraq, and all of them have it within themselves to make a change. Now it is on us to support them to get them to be the leaders our country needs.”

The trainers have already had opportunities to implement the curriculum Amani Institute had designed and test its efficacy with the fellows.: “We are really the leaders of Iraq in the future. This (…) commitment and creativity, (…) indicates the existence of an integrated and very capable team of leaders. God bless these efforts. I am grateful for what I’ve learned and will put this into practice in order to serve our beloved country.”, commented one of the participants

We can’t wait to run further workshops and witness the change the Iraq Leadership Fellows will make in their lives, communities, and country.

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