AMSTERDAM – In 2020, a small pilot programme was initiated by SPARK, an Amsterdam-based non-governmental organisation to help struggling, young job seekers to gain work experience. Financed by Dutch Postcode Lottery, the programme matches youth to remote-working internships within Iraqi and international companies. Now, over 116 of Syrian and Iraqi youth have been placed in 3-6 month internships, many receiving permanent job offers as a result.
Throughout Iraq, pandemic-related job losses and shrinking employment opportunities have resulted in a spike in unemployment, from 12.76 percent in 2019 to 13.74 percent in 2020, according to World Bank data. Globally, remote working has become a norm for many workplaces. Despite some drawbacks, overall employers and employees have experienced multiple, mutual benefits. From cost savings on travel and office rent, to greater quality of life and even increases in productivity. For young people living in places with few job opportunities, remote working has opened up new job markets to them.
SPARK co-designed the remote internship programme alongside The Station, a leading Iraqi coworking non-profit, and Kiron, a higher education NGO operating throughout the Middle East. Companies from across the Middle East, Europe, Singapore, the USA and the UK have joined the programme, welcoming skilled Iraqi and Syrian youth to their digital teams within 3-6 month, remote-based internships in digital media, mental healthcare and consulting sectors. The impact of the pilot programme has been promising. A report by Catalyst Consulting on the pilot internship programme found that 16 percent of interns have been hired by their internship employers or found another job or internship within 3 months of completing their remote internship.
After assessing the needs of companies, SPARK and its partners carefully match interns to relevant positions within local or international companies. For those interns without access to laptops or stable internet, computers are provided and financial stipends for more than 50 interns in Iraq enable them to purchase data when needed.
The pilot programme has recently expanded to Lebanon, where 41 interns from Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian backgrounds have successfully completed their internships and over 50 percent of those have been offered further employment.