Micro-Grants Help Rebuild Iraq’s Economy
By Seaman William Selby, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2008 Small grants to help businesses in Iraq get back on their feet are paying dividends, as the improved security situation has benefited economic recovery, a U.S. official aiding that effort south of Baghdad said.
Lou Lantner, the Mahmudiyah Provincial Reconstruction Team leader, told online journalists and “bloggers” during a Jan. 8 teleconference that over the past nine months, 128 micro-grants have been awarded to help Iraqi citizens start businesses in his PRT’s area of responsibility.
The PRT, embedded with the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, can grant up to $2,500 to individual citizens to open businesses ranging from coffee shops to farms, he said. The businesses often can get up and running on a little as $1,000 to $2,000, Lantner said.
“Even if they have no possessions and all their equipment is gone, for a small amount, … we can get them back (in business),” he explained.
Lantner said participation in concerned local citizens programs, similar to neighborhood watch programs in the United States, is part of the process for Iraqis to be considered for micro-grants. Concerned local citizens are screened and trained by the reconstruction team, then hired to work in security-related jobs, such as manning checkpoints along a road, for three to six months, Lantner said. “Then we want to see that person transition into a job,” he added.
“We are finding people who are talented, who can contribute, and who want to contribute, because now the security is at a point where they feel somewhat safe,” he said.
In addition to helping citizens, the PRT is working to develop critical infrastructure, such as water sources and power supplies, to support business and economic development. For example, the team recently provided new electricity generators “that not only run better, but put out more power,” Lantner said.
“No matter what we do, whether it’s farmers, or a metal factory, or any other enterprise, you need clean water, and you need electricity,” he said.
(Navy Seaman William Selby works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)