A script writer, photographer, producer, and entrepreneur – Ranja Ali wears a lot of hats and now he’s using his experience through wedonet to help others achieve their ambitions.
There was very little money to shoot Where is Gilgamesh? and for a while, it seemed the feature would never get made. “Unfortunately, no one offered to sponsor it, so the director Karzan Kardozi decided to invest his savings,” says Ranja Ali, the production manager for Where is Gilgamesh?, a Kurdish feature film about the titular hero of the Akkadian epic written in the 2nd millennium BC.
Making a film of this scale on a shoestring budget hasn’t been easy. The team cuts costs at every opportunity, hiring rather than purchasing equipment, using accessible locations and even getting family members to cook lunch. “We are breaking the rule of needing a lot of money to make a movie. This production will inspire other young people in Kurdistan to make films without needing lots of investment,” says Ali, who is also a photographer and award-winning scriptwriter.
Wedonet, a freelance network!
To bypass budget restrictions, he harnessed his extensive network of contacts to drive the project forwards. When he’s not filming, this is what Ali does best, bringing people together and providing them with the support they need to collaborate – a service he is now formalizing through his freelance network Wedonet.
Though just 22, he has already accumulated five years of experience with contacts across the film industry, arts, media, business, politics and the development sector. Having dropped out of school at 17, he knows the challenges young people face to carve out a career in Kurdistan, and he’s determined to make it easier for others to achieve their goals. “The mindset here sets people up to fail, but if they have good advice and strong support, they can do it,” he says.
A graduate of Five One Labs, a well-known startup incubator in his hometown Sulemaniye in East Kurdistan, Ali has also traveled abroad and experienced the benefits of working in different environments. It’s one of the opportunities he advocates when working with people at the beginning of their careers. “The problem is they don’t travel, they stay in one circle, and you can’t expand your vision that way.”
Currently, he has around 65 freelancers in his network and clients ranging from international media outlets and NGOs to private businesses and politicians. “I might get a call from a journalist asking for a contact, or maybe someone needs a German translator for tomorrow or a photographer for a last-minute event… I put the request into Wedonet and make the best match.”
The company takes a small commission for this service, but Ali is keen to expand the offering and create more opportunities for young people in Sulemaniye. “Wedonet is growing really fast, and we want to help as many people as possible,” says Ali, who plans to provide workshops and mentorships through Wedonet to help more freelancers boost their careers. “I want to provide the client, bring the freelancer, develop the freelancer and then they can work together,” he says.
Ideas Beyond Borders has awarded Wedonet an Innovation Hub grant to fund workshops and buy several laptops for the business. “Ranja represents the exact kind of person the Innovation Hub was created for. He knows that you don’t need a degree, investors, or an established network. As long as you have the vision and drive, nothing is holding you back,” says Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, founder and president of Ideas Beyond Borders.
In the future, Ali wants Wedonet to be more international, with clients from all over the world investing in Kurdish and Iraqi talent. For now, though, his focus is on Sulemaniye and helping young people make a success of their lives there while putting his city on the map for employers investing in the region’s youth. “I really want Suli to grow. It could be a good place for freelancers and entrepreneurs, and I want to help make that happen.”
Just three hours from Kurdistan’s business capital Erbil and with an emerging startup scene complemented by a comparatively liberal lifestyle, Sulemaniye has the potential to be a hub for Kurdish talent. “There’s a kind of freedom here that you don’t see elsewhere. It’s a good place for young people – you can be you,” Ali adds.