Prime Minister Masrour Barzani’s speech at the 2021 TEDxNishtiman event
Let me begin by thanking you for inviting me, and thank you to the young organizers and volunteers whose hard work has made this event possible.
I’m here today to show my support, and that of my government, for the young people gathered here today and our youth more generally, from Zakho to Khanaqin, whose ideas and optimism I have felt personally in recent months.
Whether it’s the young man from Erbil working to expand his tailoring business and export to new markets, or the brave Yazidi survivor who has opened a small bakery in Duhok, supporting herself and her family.
They both have things in common. They have opened small businesses, hired locals, and sought to cultivate a new mindset based on entrepreneurship, not dependency; on creativity, not complacency.
And that’s why I’m here today; to start a page between my government and you all; a relationship that is based on the betterment of Kurdistan on the one hand, and that unlocks your true potential on the other. A relationship that brings us closer together.
I know the odds weighed against you are real. I know many are generational. But I also know that the opportunity you have today hasn’t been easy to bring about.
It’s an opportunity many of us have not felt at your age. I was born into a family always on the move. I grew up under the constant threat of fighter-bombs tracking our every move. I’ve felt the bitter realities of life as a refugee, longing to return home. And I know the difference that good-quality education can bring to everyone.
You’re lucky most of you haven’t lived through what your parents and grandparents have endured over much of the last century.
Now I know your expectations are different. My son, Areen, often tells me, "Young people’s expectations are different now, you’ve got to create more opportunities for them"
And I know that our past can't always be used to justify the vacuum between the youth and the government.
But to realize the true potential of this relationship, we must understand each other’s needs and responsibilities - ours and yours.
So let me be clear. I am personally committed to making opportunities available to our young people.
I know that the government has an important role to play in making that happen. We must develop the right legislative and economic conditions to encourage public-private partnerships, to ensure that entrepreneurs can flourish, and to help build opportunities for small businesses to grow.
I also know we’ve got to get the right training and education to make the most of the opportunities available to our young people.
Of course, though, we have a long way to go. These changes take time. And as I have discovered in my two years in office, what benefits the many inevitably undermines the few.
I know undoing that isn’t easy, but turning back isn’t an option.
We must build an economy that is much less reliant on public sector jobs; one that enables private-public projects to lead infrastructure improvement and that ensures small and medium businesses are not only able to make the most of the opportunities our region offers, but creates those very opportunities.
In the years to come, I am sure that SMEs will grow and thrive – driven by young people like you – and become part of a much-needed transition from an economy reliant on unstable oil prices to one which creates jobs in new and emerging sectors; from an economy based on dependence, to one that creates, grows and exports.
I am excited about what we can achieve in green energy, in green growth, in high tech industries, in tourism, in creative works, and in many other areas of our economy.
This transition will provide stable jobs in the long-term and help to ensure that our region becomes competitive regionally.
This is a long-term transition but I am confident that we are moving in the right direction. We are known throughout the world as a beacon of tolerance, a haven of stability in an uncertain region. Those values and qualities will help us give us an edge.
In short, I believe that Kurdistan, with its well-educated, young population will not only become a strong economic center in its own right, but also become a hub for businesses looking to trade and invest with the rest of Iraq and with our neighbors, and further afield.
I am particularly excited about Kurdistan’s digital potential. Digitalization is critical to most of what I hope to achieve in government. It is an essential component of my Cabinet’s reform agenda, that aims to bring fairness and transparency to government.
As a matter of fact, we have launched a fully digitalized system for the KRG’s public finances, fully developed by capable young Kurdistanis in the government.
We are also benefiting from the young developers to build other digital services, integrated with the government portal for the benefit of the public.
While this will vastly increase transparency and efficiency in public service, it'll also help you bring your ideas to the market, register your brand. Unfortunately for you, it’ll also make it easier to pay your taxes.
But you all have a much bigger role to play in this agenda. You have a far more important role to play in governance too. My government cannot do it alone. Kurdistan is blessed with a young and bright population and we need your support. We want you inside the tent; part of the dialogue aimed at making our home - Kurdistan - better and stronger. Doing so means you have to come together and organize yourselves at a grass-root level and join the political debate; bring in new ideas.
Don’t give into the unending cynicism that tells you that we’re not moving forward. Don’t listen to the doubters that tell you: you can’t do it. Don’t fuel the pessimists that suggest we’re prisoners of the past.
Time and again the critics have been proven wrong. It’s easy to critique the government when it gets something wrong. I want you all to take the long view, to believe in yourselves and your ability to make a difference.
Your impact can reach far beyond our government, however. In my recent meeting with a number of budding entrepreneurs, I was pleased to hear about their experiences of starting their own businesses, developing their own brands, and the challenges they have faced along the way.
I was humbled to hear both their enthusiasm but also the practical ways the government can do to make it easier for businesses to thrive.
To that end, I intend to build a bridge for young people’s voices to be heard even more clearly by the government. This is crucial. I want to hear from you. I want my government to learn from you; and more importantly to work with you.
I have asked for a youth representation group to be established so that your concerns and ideas come directly to my office. I am pleased that my team already includes so many bright, capable, young members, many of whom are here today, and who work incredibly hard to help realize these goals.
This is truly important to me. I am absolutely clear that without understanding young voices, we cannot deliver our vision.
I am confident that Kurdistan, and particularly young Kurdistanis like you, will be at the forefront of these efforts.
So I am delighted to have the opportunity to come here to speak to you here at TEDxNishtiman.
I look forward to hearing more from the attendees and organizers about how we, in government, can do more to help deliver your ambitious visions for your own future, and that of our region.
This region and its future belong to you, you are the driving force of the present and the future of our homeland. Please remember that no obstacle is insurmountable, and nothing can stop you from developing yourself and your nation.
I also urge you all to take public health instructions seriously and to follow guidelines to protect yourselves and your loved ones.
I thank you and wish you all success.