Basima Abdulrahman is a renowned climate trailblazer and passionately works on green building projects in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. She is a World Economic Forum Foundation Board Member, Cultural Leader, and a sought-after speaker at Davos, UNESCO and various international events. Basima was featured by TIME magazine as a Young Leader in 2019 and as a Visionary Leader by 100 Real Leaders in 2018.
Basima is a proud Baghdad-born Kurd. She resided in Baghdad until 2006 and was later forced to move to Kurdistan due to the Civil War. She moved to the US to do her Masters and holds a degree in Structural Engineering from Auburn University.
She revealed in an interview, “When I was doing my Masters, I was working a lot in doing buildings, structural design and I didn’t like it. When I came back to Iraq around January 2015, it was the peak time that ISIS came in, and all the military operations were happening and all the disruption happening across the country. It was a bit different.”
When she moved back to Iraq, the job opportunities at the time seemed bleak due to the ISIS invasion. That led Basima to explore her options and eventually led her to joining the United Nations. Here she was introduced to a new concept that instantly captivated her; she said, “I was introduced to the concept of green building, and at some point, I was interested to learn more about it. So I went on my own twice to the States to study it more. I got accredited in this area.”
Basima attended a program to study rating systems for green buildings to better understand the nitty-gritty of green buildings. The US Green Building Council soon accredited her to certify, design, and retrofit facilities to meet their rating system’s criteria after the program.
Basima said the main reason she chose to come back to Iraq after doing her Masters and did not settle in the US, despite the comfort and personal benefits it offered, is that she wanted to help build the country back up. She had a moment of epiphany while in the US, she recalled, “I remember that night I was following up with my family, and they were worried ISIS was very close, 10 kilometres away from Erbil city. I got really worried, and I felt sad and ashamed because I did not want to be associated with all this mess. Then I had this—I don’t know what to call it—moment of clarity, I guess. When you hit rock bottom and then the only way is to go up again. And that’s when I felt, You know what, maybe I can help somehow. I didn’t know what I was going to do, then I thought, I should go back. I should do something good. I was thinking more towards things related to how we can promote this region—as this very old historical region that is rich with all the knowledge, all the history, all the good things.”
She moved back to Erbil in 2017 and founded KESK. It is the only consulting and design company dedicated to green building in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). KESK provides certification systems, compliance verification, designing, constructing, and operating a green building.
The company has recently concluded a recycling project in Erbil and is also currently partnering with the UN-Habitat to turn a damaged building into a green building in Mosul. Implementing solar energy projects and training courses to the masses has been under its main activities in the past two years. KESK is also in talks with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to collaborate on green building projects in the KRI.
Green construction is a new concept in the Kurdish market. However, she foresees, slowly but surely, the adoption of green building practices will gain traction in the KRI. “Everything here is supportive for the implementation, and the process of such types of initiatives,” she said, adding that many initiatives come from the KRG to protect the environment.
Basima is currently at the forefront of creating awareness and driving dialogue on sustainable development in the region. However, she firmly believes large-scale workshops and seminars that bring people from different professions are needed to drive a concrete plan that will yield results.
Being a female entrepreneur, she revealed, “It’s giving me more power v. You’d be surprised. But people wouldn’t listen. They wouldn’t because maybe from the first side, they would think, Oh, that’s a female, going to tell us how we should do things. But then, when you’re talking from knowledge, from expertise, this mask just disappears—and they just see someone who knows what they are talking about and listen.”
She would like to set an example for other women currently paving their path to success; she says, “Surprisingly, I haven’t ever felt that I am judged or not heard because of being female. I think maybe that is giving me more power and setting a good example for other females to just step forward when they believe in and want to do something, they believe in something and they just step up.”
She thinks it is her responsibility to work on sustainable projects and get the dialogue going in the KRI. She envisions sustainable policies and a long-term sustainable plan for Kurdistan to have a resilient future against the ever-growing threat of Climate Change. Her ultimate goal is to build a green city in the KRI in the next ten years. “When I travel anywhere in the world, I feel like we can do this. We have the potential. There is so much to do here, we have this canvas, we can build something beautiful here.”
She truly believes that this new era will usher in peace and sustainability that has the potential to not only change KRI but the world as a whole. She said, “Peace is coming, peace is going to be the norm one day. I feel we are on the brink of this new era. And hopefully, the next years are just going to be about rebuilding and developing and advancing in all different sectors.”