State of the state: small business gone global
Winter Park resident Susanne Jalbert is helping small business take root in a former dictatorship: barber shops, bakeries, clothing stores, restaurants and taxi services are a few Iraqi startups she's helped nurture.
On the ground full-time since January of 2006, Jalbert and her co-workers have opened 16 Small Business Development Centers in Iraq; they hope to have 22 centers up and running by mid- to late spring of next year.
Jalbert is the senior adviser of Business Development Services for Tijara (Arabic for "trade") with sponsorship from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She initially came to Iraq with funding to open three centers but was able to open five.
Each Small Business Development Center is staffed by about 10 locals and helps hopeful entrepreneurs in the area to start their businesses.
Jalbert, who operates an international business development practice and earned a Ph.D. from Colorado State University, spent her first few months in Iraq researching and giving seminars in an effort to understand the people and their business aspirations.
Given that Iraq was a dictatorship with a planned economy, "Our goal was to assist with the conversion to a free market and to identify community leaders," she said.
SBDCs focus on small to medium-sized businesses that are oriented to the community. Jalbert says she has seen ample headway.
"It's terribly important to know that there are good things happening in Iraq," she said. "There are lots of successful small-business stories."
For Jalbert, those success stories serve as a reminder of the people she has worked with and grown to admire.
"I move around. You can't know a country unless you know the people," she said. "Of course, you form strong relationships with the people you work side-by-side with, and I always keep in touch with them."
Jalbert has worked as an economic activist for 25 years in some 45 countries, completing 87 assignments. How much longer she will stay in Iraq is ultimately up to USAID.
Jalbert believes the Small Business Development Centers will continue to positively impact the Iraqi communities in which they were built, such as with religious tourism in Najaf or construction in Ramadi or agriculture in Hilla.
"Iraqis will work it out if we give them the tools to do so," she said.
ON THE WEB: More information about the Iraqi Small Business Development program can be found at www.sbdc-iraq.com. Information about Jalbert's work is available at www.jalbertconsulting.com.