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Market Research In Iraq: New Member Company Accesses Silenced Opinions

Wednesday, July 11, 2012  
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When asked of the challenges performing market research in Iraq, Halah W. Hamdi, CEO of Baghdad-based ALMOASHIR Company, recently approved for CASRO membership, wasn't at a loss for words.

"The idea of research is relatively new for Iraqis and it is difficult to convince them to participate," Halah, 34, explained. "It is difficult to meet a study's time limit because we rely on in-person interviewing and some areas are hard to reach because of stringent security and traffic jams." She also noted rising prices-especially transportation costs and difficulty finding specialized researchers for medical and other studies. Halah, who has more than a decade of experience as a statistician and project manager and has worked with Gallup and YouGovme in Iraq and Al Bilal group in Jordan, is undeterred.

"Most businesses operating in Iraq suffer from a lack of data and information on their clients, suppliers, and competitors. We are here to change that," she says. ALMOASHIR has 15 professionals on staff and more than 65 part-time interviewers and supervisors. The company recently completed projects for Nestle, BMW and Toyota, among others. It boasts a wide range of qual and quant research services for a variety of industries, as well as the capability of performing tracking studies, coding, tabulation, and analysis. "Our aim is to help clients using the wealth of detail provided by large quantitative and qualitative studies," Halah says. "This data can provide many answers about strategic business insights, which empower decision making to move in the right direction."

With improved security and progress evident on major projects, Iraq's overall economy and the viability of its consumers shows promise. Much work is to be done after decades under the rule of Saddam Hussein and the physical and emotional devastation of war.
"There is an urgent need to recreate all services, as Iraq witnessed a significant decline in the 'wheel of life'," Halah explains. "Life is returning to normal since the last quarter of 2010 as the government begins the confirmation of contracts for investments in all fields and with many large companies from around the world again looking to enter the Iraq market."

Iraq has become more stable than many neighboring countries, Halah notes. She is optimistic about the future of her nation's consumer market. Iraq's oil exports are increasing,
she said, and there already is purchasing power and many high income families.
Still, operating a research business here is, literally and figuratively, a rough road to traverse. Life expectancy and purchasing power in Iraq ranks among the lowest in the region. Unemployment, officially pegged at 15%, is widely believed to be twice that rate. Infrastructure remains poor and there are ongoing terror attacks. Following the exodus of U.S. troops after nine years, instability and uncertainty remain as attention has shifted to the many ethnic and sectarian factions competing for power and a role in the next chapter of the nation's history.

There is no doubt, however, that more freedom exists here now than during the near quarter-century rule of Hussein. And with that, there is opportunity for market research.

Although ALMOASHIR has the ability to do CATI and web surveys, these are not viable solutions currently in Iraq, where people rarely accept to be interviewed by telephone. This is because of security reasons, according to Halah, and because of customs and traditions that do not allow (especially women) to speak by telephone with strangers. With internet usage still low, web surveys also are not an option. Face-to-face interviews are the only method to garner sufficient survey completions.

It is complicated and exhausting work to navigate past such infrastructure, security, and cultural obstacles. Halah is energized by the challenge. She earned a BS and MS in statistics from Baghdad University and before starting ALMOASHIR prepared data requested by the UN and worked on studies that provided important analysis on such subjects as baby measurements, internal migration movement and housing shortages in Iraq. She also has lectured at Al-Balqa' Applied University in Amman, Jordan.

Halah is hopeful that outside investors and corporations that now put Iraq "last on their lists" due to lack of knowledge and poor publicity, will warm to the potential of her nation. She also looks forward to the day that her fellow Iraqis will embrace their freedom of speech and grow to appreciate the value of surveys and public opinion polling.

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