From June 2004 to March 2006, Eileen Padberg led a unique effort to provide career training and small business development programs as part of the U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq.
Women were 62% of the population in Iraq and an important part of the economy and the workforce. Iraqi women could not be ignored with regard to opportunities – career-training programs for the ministries and small business development for women owned businesses. Decades of bloodshed had left many women widows, with no men to care for them or their families. Iraqi women wanted and needed to work, develop careers, advance in leadership positions in their government and build and expand new businesses.
Career Training Programs
Women are attracted to government jobs because they feel protected, the work is stable, and the work and the benefits are reasonable. Approximately 46.7% of the Iraqi women that make up the workforce in Iraq work in government. The Ministry of Municipalities & Public Works (MMPW) had 45,000 employees – approximately 60% were women. The Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) had 16,000 employees – approximately 31% were women.
Women represented a significant portion of the mid and junior level engineering and professional workforce in both government utilities. Providing training programs that allow women to advance within government not only offers added value to the Ministries by providing equal opportunities for women in the job market, but it also ensures an inclusive and well-trained workforce. Career training seminars were provided to mid and senior level women in both government utilities in such disciplines as Leadership/Management; Basic Computer Technology; Public Speaking; Budget & Finance, Auto Cad and Gender Leadership. Over 60 seminars were conducted with 99% of the training completed in Iraq. A typical seminar included 20 women. Through March 2006, the Women’s Initiatives was responsible for training more than 1,900 senior women in the Iraqi government.
In addition, as part of the Capacity Development Team, Eileen’s efforts also ensured that women of both government utilities were included in the technical and leadership training that was being provided for sustainability purposes – and often for the first time, women were given the opportunity to participate in Operations & Maintenance workshops, which were required for advancement in their jobs.
Small Business Development
To further the economic empowerment of women, Eileen helped Iraqi women-owned businesses understand the bidding process, which enabled them to bid and win some of the many U.S. government reconstruction contracts. Two opportunities were developed, the Bidding Seminars for Women-Owned Businesses and the Business Roundtable Discussions provided mentoring and confidence building skills as well as teaching women business owners how to complete and submit a Request for Proposal (RFP) that was being provided online by the U.S. government (in English) for the $18.4 billion dollars in reconstruction contracts.
Seminars for women-owned businesses were held throughout Iraq – in Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk and Diwaniyah. Each Seminar attracted 20-50 business owners – women who were eager to build and expand their businesses and their future. In addition, smaller group meetings of 10-15 women business owners were implemented when travel and security became a problem. These Business Roundtable Discussions featured more in-depth one on one discussion of specific problems with completing a proposal.
In addition to the Bidding Seminars and Roundtable Discussions, Eileen also established a database of qualified women-owned businesses and distributed that database on a regular basis to contracting authorities including the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Joint Contracting Command, and to various contractors and U.S. command officers that had contracting authority. As of March 2006, the database contained over 300 Iraqi women-owned businesses that were willing and able to bid on U.S. reconstruction contracts. This successful program led to the development of several new Iraqi women-owned businesses and most importantly, the awarding of more than 500 contracts to women-owned businesses. Eileen considers her most important accomplishment was providing the Iraqi women-owned businesses with opportunity, hope and confidence.
Eileen also worked with contracting officials to develop a comprehensive policy to provide the Iraqi women-owned businesses with “voluntary set-asides” and to add “women-owned business” as a fifth category to the evaluation criteria when awarding contracts which was designed to level the playing field. She helped raise the level of discussion about hiring women-owned businesses in all sectors of the reconstruction effort. According to the Small Business Administration, women-owned businesses in the United States were the fastest growing segment of the economy. That opportunity existed in Iraq as well. History has shown that in emerging democracies, when women have a stake in the economy, democracy prevails. Helping to expand and build new businesses will provide the Iraqi women with a stake in the economy and in their future. This program continued through March 2007 and was managed by Eileen’s Iraqi-American associate.