Spring break in Iraq: Professor Cliff Shultz and the opportunity to rebuild civil society
Over spring break, Professor Cliff Shultz traveled to Iraq to immerse himself in the culture and to be part of the conversation on how to rebuild civil society in the aftermath of devastating war.
Shultz writes, "Regardless of one’s position on the Iraq War, we owe these people the resources to help build a sustainable and peaceful Iraq. Peace is a good investment."
Read his reflections on his trip below. This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
Spring Break – in Iraq
By Cliff Shultz | Professor and Charles H. Kellstadt Chair of Marketing
What inspires a professor in Chicago to travel to Iraq, over Spring Break? In my case, opportunities to begin a compelling field study, and to work with students, faculty and key players responsible for the recovery and sustainable well-being of a country and its people. An invitation and logistical support were also helpful, moving me from interested to "all in."
So off I went, first to Erbil, then over hill and dale – and through armed checkpoints – to Sulaymaniyah, also known as Sulaimani or Slemani, depending on one’s ethnicity and politics. Sulaymaniyah is home to the American University of Iraq (AUIS), which hosted the Sulaimani Forum, an assembly of various political, religious and community leaders, investors, lawyers, journalists, scholars, and representatives from NGOs and multilateral agencies to discuss challenges and opportunities in Iraq and the region.
In addition to participating in the Forum, I spoke on “Sustainable Peace, Prosperity and Well-being: Comparative Lessons from Recovering Economies,” to explore potentially useful ideas for rebuilding civil society in the aftermath of devastating wars. The presentation and discussion seemed to resonate, and several students kindly offered to help with a rapid market appraisal (RMA) – essentially some field work to lay the foundation for a more rigorous research project.
So off I went, again, this time in the good company of new friends, those enthusiastic students. We immersed ourselves among Iraqis, most of whom are Kurds in this largely autonomous area recognized as the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. We walked streets; visited parks and museums; sipped tea and coffee at cafés, and ate at restaurants and food stands; we wandered through the bazaar, perused mom-and-pop stores and malls, and strolled through various communities. The students thoughtfully translated questions and comments; thanks to their sensitivity and interpretive skills, conversations organically flowed. We were able to acquire some depth and breadth of understanding about the Iraqi people regarding their challenges, concerns, hopes, dreams, and their thoughts on policies and practices that must change or be implemented to move the country forward.
Iraq clearly has many challenges, but it also exudes enormous potential; real opportunities, right now, to affect wise policy, benevolent business practices, and sustainable peace and prosperity for Iraqis, their families, their neighbors and other stakeholders. I will address some of these challenges and opportunities in more detail, elsewhere, but I must mention now the many Iraqis I met and with whom I interacted were extraordinarily kind and gracious. The dynamic in the Kurdistan Region is different from other parts of Iraq, to be sure. I might have been treated differently in Baghdad, Mosul, or Basra – and I intend to find-out during a future visit – but my initial visit left me cautiously optimistic. It also impressed upon me that Iraq remains fragile and that we have much work to do, if we expect a peaceful, inclusive, just and sustainable Iraq to blossom further and to be sustained.
My optimism is buoyed by students, especially those who so thoughtfully and energetically assisted with translations and transportation; who were candid about their own lives and visions for the future. Many of them and their families have personal experiences with the atrocities of war and genocide, yet despite all the suffering, they remain enthusiastic, magnanimous, and altruistic; hungry to learn, to embrace participative democracy, and to build a new Iraq for the 21st Century.
Regardless of one’s position on the Iraq War, we owe these people the resources to help build a sustainable and peaceful Iraq. Peace is a good investment. I must admit to not knowing what that investment will cost in/for Iraq; I just know more war will be immeasurably more costly and is wholly unwanted, as I was frequently reminded during my visit, including by these Peace Murals.
Props to the artists and curators, the optimistic entrepreneurs and investors, courageous civic groups, the students, my Forum friends and the leadership at AUIS who work each day to bring sustainable peace and prosperity to Kurdistan, broader Iraq, and the region.
What a thought-provoking and invigorating Spring Break.