A few things that jumped out during our third day here in Baghdad:
– Not surprised to see Windows XP on all machines being used at various government offices, but was surprised to see that they were all running in English language mode.
– Way too much focus on custom proprietary software projects VS using off-the-shelf available tools. This is because of how gov’t grants and budgets work here. Lots of parallels to western giov’t as well unfortunately.
– Strong belief out here that you need to host you own, and run your own email system at great cost. Data centers alone are very expensive, not to mention the constant power outages and grid issues. The Iraqis we met seemed embarrassed to admit that they use Yahoo mail and Gmail — while I encouraged them and told them just the opposite — that hosted services were a smart way to go about this and a cheap/free and robust way to get up and running quickly.
– Very clear that Iraqis living in the West right now could play a big role in helping Iraq – with funding and by moving back. Examples include the fact that 10K Iraqi doctors work in the UK, and that an Iraqi billionaires living in the West has so far been reluctant to invest until clear rules and regulations, transparency, and ease of doing business are a reality on the ground.
– 99.% of mobile users in Iraq are on pre pay. Payment gateways, banks, etc are all behind — it’s a cash society right now. But mobile companies are setting up mobile banking, and many agencies and companies are using mobile banking to speed up payments and deal with corruption ( since direct payments skip the middleman ).
– To get decent internet access to the home right now can cost around $400/month for VSAT – Satellite internet.
– Very clear that Iraq gov’t plans on putting guidelines in place, but will also run and operate many new state owned companies. Not that surprising given the petro state dictatiorship that has been in place here until very recently. US Model is for gov’t to set guidelines and perhaps regulation, but have private companies do the actual work in most sectors. Huge difference in thought here and potentially a real barrier to improving the private sector.
– We met with some of the top students of Iraq, many who had studied in the US or were planning on attending US universities this fall. Overall they were great and really inspiring and impressive in their own right. A very high percentage of them, when asked what they dreamed of doing, responded that their ideal job would be to work for the Iraqi government. Only a couple of them had interest in working in the private sector, let alone starting their own companies. The feedback we heard was that private sector jobs are perceived as ones where you work in a shop or “for your uncle” — where a gov’t job provided stability, even at a lower salary in some cases, and a big gov’t pension.
– Along the same lines as the gov’t jobs, many students and others blamed the government for almost every issue from power, to internet access. Every problem, in their minds, had a government solution. Yet the perceptions for the students in particular, was that the gov’t was not responsive, didn’t listen, and wasn’t open to any feedback. Nearly nobody had faith or energy in seeing the private sector here tackle these issues.
I’m uploading a few new photos to my flickr, including a few shots from the recently opened Iraqi Museum.