Samar Rassam-Whitticombe writes for nina-iraq.com
An introduction to our new columnist, Samar Rassam-Whitticombe
I am the founder and director of Somer Industrial Project (SIP). I was born in Iraq and graduated from the University Of Technology with a BSc in control and system engineering from Baghdad.
One of the advantages for Iraqi women is that we have always welcomed and pushed for improvements in our education and, where possible, to go to university to get a higher education, a quarter of my class were women. In fact, Iraq is one of the few countries where there are more women civil engineers than men! I am delighted to be writing a regular column for Nina, but am sure, in this first issue, you’d like to know a little bit about me also.
My experience of the industry is vast. After graduation, I was fortunate to join Iraq’s Ministry Of Oil (MOO) and worked for the State Company Of Oil Projects (SCOP) as a general instrument engineer.
After a three-year training period, I was selected from a short list of three (two men and myself) on the Rashidia project (East Baghdad Field), to take on a management role. As a bit of background on women in the industry – any company wishing to work within Iraq should be prepared to deal with a higher percentage of women than would normally be found in the oil and gas industry. A high percentage of the workforce is female, many holding the positions of project managers, department heads, lead engineers, etc. Currently, SCOP’s Director General is Ms Nihad Moussa, a graduate from the University of Technology. The history of this actually goes back to the Iraq /Iran war, where there simply weren’t enough men.
My life changed on 2nd August 1990. I was at the airport and was unable to return to Iraq due to the invasion of Kuwait. I was paged at Heathrow airport by the British Embassy. They had been contacted by my fiancé in Iraq and advised me not to board the plane. From that day, my life took a new path and I remained in the UK. London became my home.
My career in London started with Bechtel as a Design Engineer, until 2002, and I have been involved with Amec Oil for many years. I have found that my Anglo-Arab experience is very useful in bridging the gap that sometimes exists between our societies, so eventually I decided to start my own company in order to work in Iraq again.
What is the picture at the moment? Well, there are a few visits by Iraqi (MOO) delegates that have been organized to the UK to discuss front-end engineering design (FEED). The purpose of these visits is with reference to two major new refineries – (Karballa refinery at Technip (Ex Shaw) and Nasiriyah refinery at the Foster Wheeler offices. The team includes women from various disciplines (process, civil electrical instruments, telecommunications, legal, costing).
This reflects what is happening in terms of women in the industry as a whole. Many more of us are branching out on our own, making an entry into a growing private sector. Their acquired skills, hard work and dedication are having an impact on the Iraqi economy. This is also an inspiration to other women, despite the variety of obstacles that can be sometimes faced. I personally think that companies should start concentrating their efforts on growing their own talent by attracting more women and investing in skills development programmes.
Women have an important role in industry. Hard work and perseverance are effective. Passion is power!
I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions for this regular column. Please get in touch either by Email [email protected] or on our website.