Innovating in Iraq - Profiling Wafa
In celebration of International Women in Engineering day 2019, we decided to interview our Iraq Innovation Advisor, Wafa Al-Attas, who is leading Field Ready’s work on GIZ’s ICT for Youth Program in Iraq.
Wafa describes herself as…
A social entrepreneur.
She started as a businesswoman in her native Yemen and moved into social enterprise supporting youth refugees and local community as the head of the Amel Association Community Centre in Beirut. After moving to Holland she continued working with refugees in Amsterdam to integrate refugees into local communities through helping them use Dutch systems to secure state services and jobs. Wafa is a passionate advocate for social enterprise as a gateway to community cohesion and prosperity.
Wafa works as…
Field Ready’s Iraq Innovation Advisor.
She describes the role to friends and family leading Field Ready’s Iraq Program. In this role she oversees the dynamic Iraq team in Mosul and Erbil delivering our groundbreaking ICT for youth program. Wafa works from the Erbil Makerspace, housed in the Re:Coded House co-working space as part of GIZ's ICT for Youth program, training young people to use digital manufacturing technologies to engage with the manufacturing economy. The innovative program is being carried out by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
Wafa is usually found hard at work in the Erbil Makerspace!
When describing her work…
Wafa finds that people connect with, and readily understand, the examples of Field Ready’s past successes like the Syrian search and rescue airbags, that have so far saved 30 lives, and the 3D printed umbilical cord clamps first used in Haiti. She uses these examples to engage with the general public and highlight how Field Ready meets the needs of local people more immediately using digital manufacturing technologies and our needs assessment methodology. Young people with an engineering or university background seem to be the most receptive to our program and Wafa tells them about how to equip themselves with the skills and tools they need to engage with the digital manufacturing technologies of the future and present-day challenges faced by the people of Iraq.
Why Field Ready?
Wafa was attracted to Field Ready because it is a non-traditional humanitarian organization. Field Ready’s methods mean that results come quickly and have more immediate impact for local communities in need. When a friend shared the role description for the Iraq Innovation Advisor role with Wafa, she did the research and decided to work with us.
A typical day at Field Ready…
Is very varied!
A typical day sees Wafa working alongside our team of talented designers and makers in Erbil and the Mosul Makerspace Manager, plus other local partners. So far Wafa has worked on developing the makerspaces and setting up the organization in Iraq. Now her role is shifting to developing the programming to successfully implement the ICT for Youth program in Iraq, working closely with Field Ready’s international team, especially Susan Long, Field Ready’s Regional Innovation Advisor for the MENA region.
The most exciting thing about the role is…
The talented young people.
Wafa says that she finds all of the work exciting and is especially inspired by the talented young staff in Iraq who represent the next generation of social entrepreneurs. These young people understand the need for an approach like Field Ready’s and over the coming months the team will be extending the work of the project from training and building the practical skills of young people to training them in a more entrepreneurial approach to problem solving, something that could make a big difference in Iraq. This approach could address challenges like under-resourced primary healthcare service provision or the lack of plastics recycling facilities in Iraq. Wafa cites the example of when Field Ready’s partners Mosul Space worked with a local hospital to repair their baby incubators using digital manufacturing technologies, solving year-old problems in a matter of days. Wafa believes that once people know how they can benefit from makerspaces and digital manufacturing then things will change and local solutions will be developed.
Wafa (second from left) and her fabulous colleagues in the Erbil Makerspace
Wafa sees the future being…
Digital fabrication technologies mean that prototyping and product development is faster, easier and cheaper. In Wafa’s experience, in the past a project would take a long time to create and prototype going from idea to physical reality in weeks or months. Now, we can get a working physical model in just a few hours using this suite of technologies. This is transformative for businesses and young entrepreneurs. The internet and this technology is also connecting people from around the world. If you, as a young entrepreneur, want to connect with this trend then you have to know about, and be able to use, these technologies. This is why the ICT for Youth project in Iraq is so important.
Four things that might surprise you…
Wafa regularly plays football and started a female football team in Beirut. She was the star striker and scored many goals. The team has grown and is one of Beirut’s leading female teams to this day.
Wafa also started Yemen’s first female owned and run computer shop – now youth in the community manage the shop.
Wafa also started a company in Holland with tiny amount of seed capital to make a small electric car called a ‘Waffie’. They have the benefits of bikes in that they are small, you can ride them in cycle lanes and keep you dry in the wet Dutch weather.
Wafa has travelled to almost all of the Middle East countries, including Turkey, all of Europe except Britain, and some of Eastern Europe, China, and America.
When she isn’t working Wafa likes to…
Spend time with her family and meet friends and socialize with dinners and visitors. Wafa has many international friends from her many travels and her house is very rarely empty.