JumpStart laborers are paid $4.80 a day, and a foreman makes $12.50 a day about 20 percent above the going rate in Iraq these days. Operating with just more than $7 million in donations, JumpStart has made a significant contribution to rebuilding efforts in Baghdad and Fallujah, and has given thousands of Iraqis a concrete investment in their country’s future.
O’Sullivan’s commitment to working in a dangerous place has impressed JumpStart’s employees.
“He has a brave heart to be here,” Muthanna Harith Al Kenani, a site engineer and foreman, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in March. “It is dirt and damage everywhere. When you see it clean you will have hope. He is helping us do something good for my country. It is the first step to rebuilding and rehabilitating Iraq.”
The Road to Baghdad
But the software world still beckoned. In 1995, O’Sullivan started NetCentric, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that developed software for faster, more efficient Web communications, and for faxing over the Internet. While that company grew rapidly to about $6 million in revenues, it eventually became what O’Sullivan calls a “dot-bomb,” so he decided to enter the film school at University of Southern California to focus on documentary filmmaking. His studies for a master of fine arts, which he was awarded this year, took him to Iraq in the early days of the war last year. Making a documentary while the Saddam Hussein regime was still in power proved difficult, but O’Sullivan found work as a freelance journalist in the country, eventually returning to Los Angeles in May. There, with the memory of Iraq fresh in his mind, he conceived the idea of JumpStart based on the principle that helping people become self-sufficient is the long-term solution to global political and economic instability.
His first trip to Iraq left O’Sullivan with the impression of the Iraqis as “strong, independent and free-spirited people,” who were hoping for a better future. Building on this hope, he created JumpStart to spur employment and generate private businesses and public opportunity for the Iraqi people. “Many of them were already entrepreneurs, and thousands of businesses were already thriving in Baghdad,” he says.
O’Sullivan raised more than $2 million from colleagues in the software industry to kick off his efforts, which initially focused on clearing damaged buildings. He donates his labor, figuring he could give a year to the project. “I view it as a Peace Corps year. I’m a volunteer,” he says.
While the CPA reconstruction projects focused on rebuilding the infrastructure, O’Sullivan says he believed Iraqis needed to see tangible evidence of progress in their war-scarred country. “The Iraqis have noticed a big change in Baghdad in terms of the cleanup work that JumpStart has done and it has made possible the reconstruction of government ministry campuses.”
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