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Meet the 100 Start-ups of the Arab World Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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The World Economic Forum and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, have partnered to bring together 100 Arab start-ups that are shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The start-ups were selected in collaboration with leading experts and successful entrepreneurs operating in the region.

Representatives of the selected companies will meet 1,000 leaders from business, government and civil society at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa at the Dead Sea in Jordan, on 19-21 May.

A vast majority of the 100 are building their business model, products and services on new technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and satellite technology – pioneering a generational transformation in the Middle East and North Africa – while at the same time serving basic needs such as transportation, communication or payment processing. With the help of these companies, it is possible to order food home-cooked by refugees, teach children to code, get medical support online, make payments securely, or chat with bots in Arabic. In fact, many start-ups are closing region-specific gaps in services and products, for example by providing telehealth services in Arabic, curating Arabic news sources, using GPS to guide product deliveries or facilitating hotel reservations by phone when many users are not comfortable paying with credit cards online.

Investors in the region have noticed and are eager to get involved. “You can see the impact and ingenuity of Arab start-ups everywhere in the Arab world. We see impressive momentum and – with sovereign wealth funds and traditional family businesses – the emergence of a whole new type of venture capitalist. For me, this is the biggest underreported story in the region,” said Mirek Dusek, Head of Middle East and North Africa at the World Economic Forum.

Entrepreneurs will be joining the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa from host country Jordan and from all economies of the region: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Many of the businesses have been founded under the most challenging circumstances – including Arabic voice-recognition software developed in Syria, the first e-mobile wallet in Libya, a labour marketplace in Yemen and mobile games produced by a team in Gaza. While the initiative seeks start-ups specifically in the Arab world, given the clear entrepreneurship imperative there, the meeting will also integrate select international start-ups from the US, France, Israel and elsewhere.

“It’s refreshing to hear the stories of entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa who are talking about hope, opportunities and are creating jobs for young people,” said Philippe Le Houérou, IFC Chief Executive Officer. “The region needs peace and security. It also needs a vibrant private sector – with dynamic entrepreneurs leading the way – to help create inclusive and sustainable growth.”

The members of the selection committee are Fadi Ghandour, Chairman, Wamda, UAE; Karim Kawar, President, Kawar Group, Jordan; Ahmed Alfi, Chairman, Flat6Labs, Egypt; Alexi Valls Chief Executive Officer, Mobile World Capital, Barcelona; Mouayed Makhlouf, Regional Director, MENA, IFC, Cairo; Atul Mehta, Director, Telecom, Media, Tech & Venture Investing, IFC, Washington D.C.; Mirek Dusek, Head of Middle East and North Africa, World Economic Forum, Geneva; Alan Marcus, Head of IT, Telecom, Entertainment, World Economic Forum, New York; Chris Schroeder, Advisor & Venture Investor, USA; and Hala Fadel, Managing Partner, Leap Ventures, Lebanon.

The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa is taking place at the Dead Sea in Jordan on 19-21 May. With the full support and presence of Their Majesties King Abdullah II and Queen Rania Al Abdullah, this year marks the Forum’s ninth meeting in Jordan and the 16th meeting in the region. More than 1,000 business and political leaders and representatives from civil society, international organizations, youth and the media from over 50 countries will participate under the theme, Enabling a Generational Transformation.

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Human Rights

ILO calls on Belarus President to respect workers’ rights and freedoms amid protests

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The Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Guy Ryder, has called on the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, to prevent human rights violations and “ensure full respect for workers’ rights and freedoms” during the wave of protests that have swept the country in recent weeks. 

In his letter to the Belarus President, Ryder urged President Lukashenko to release and drop charges against six trade unionists who have been detained by the authorities after participating in peaceful protests and industrial action.

He reminded the President that it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure a climate free from violence, threats or pressure against peacefully protesting workers and that any such allegations should be rapidly and independently investigated.

“I must urge you to do all in your power to prevent the occurrence of human rights violations and ensure full respect for workers’ rights and freedoms,” Ryder’s letter said.

He expressed his deep concern at reports coming out of Belarus on the arrest, detention, imprisonment and mistreatment of workers’ leaders.

‘No one should be deprived of their freedom or be subject to penal sanctions for the mere fact of organizing or participating in a peaceful strike or protest,’ Ryder wrote.

The letter recalls that the ILO has been working with the Belarus government, and the national workers’ and employers’ organizations, for 16 years, helping to address issues raised by an ILO Commission of Inquiry in 2004  which was set up following serious infringements of trade union rights and freedoms in the country.

Ryder notes that while there has been some progress on these issues, “the Commission’s recommendations are far from being fully implemented.”

The intervention by the ILO Director-General follows a request made by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

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More can be done to ensure a green recovery from COVID-19 crisis

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Many countries are making “green” recovery measures a central part of stimulus packages to drive sustainable, inclusive, resilient economic growth and improve well-being in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. However some countries are also implementing measures that risk having a negative environmental impact and locking in unsustainable growth, according to new OECD analysis discussed by member country ministers today.

New OECD analysis, Making the Green Recovery Work for Jobs, Income and Growth, indicates that OECD member governments have committed USD 312 billion of public resources to a green recovery, according to a preliminary estimate that will be refined in the coming months. However, a number of other measures within broader recovery packages are going into “non-green” spending such as fossil fuel investments.

“It is encouraging to see many governments seizing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure a truly sustainable recovery, but countries should go much further in greening their support packages,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, during a Ministerial Roundtable to discuss the issue. “Climate change and biodiversity loss are the next crises around the corner and we are running out of time to tackle them. Green recovery measures are a win-win option as they can improve environmental outcomes while boosting economic activity and enhancing well-being for all.” (Read the full speech.)

The analysis finds that among OECD and other major economies, a majority of countries have included measures directed at supporting the transition to greener economies in their recovery strategies. These include grants, loans and tax relief for sustainable transport and mobility, the circular economy and clean energy research; financial support to households for improved energy efficiency and renewable energy installations; and measures to foster the restoration of ecosystems.

At the same time, some countries have unveiled measures likely to have a direct or indirect negative impact on environmental outcomes. Some of these are temporary and form part of emergency economic rescue plans; others risk having longer-term implications. Measures include plans to roll back environmental regulations, reductions or waivers of environment-related taxes or charges, unconditional bailouts of emissions-intensive industries or companies, and increased subsidies of fossil fuel infrastructure investment.

“Addressing global issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, ocean degradation, and inefficient resource use is more important than ever as we seek to rebuild our economies and enhance resilience against future shocks,” said Spanish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge Teresa Ribera, chairing the Roundtable. “Well designed and implemented stimulus packages can drive a recovery that is both green and inclusive, driving income, prosperity and jobs as well as accelerating action on national and global environmental goals.”

The meeting included ministers of environment, climate or ecological transition from OECD member countries and Costa Rica as well as the European Commission Executive Vice President. The Roundtable is part of the preparations of the OECD’s Ministerial Council Meeting, which will take place on 28-29 October under the chairmanship of Spain and with Chile, Japan and New Zealand as Vice-chairs. This Roundtable comes just before the OECD releases its Interim Economic Outlook on 16 September.

The analysis notes that a period of low oil prices offers an opportunity to scale up the introduction of carbon pricing and continue phasing out support for fossil fuels. Taxing environmentally harmful consumption and production can mitigate environmental harm while improving economic efficiency. It is crucial that energy tax reforms do not increase the share of “energy poor”, as good access to energy services is essential for good standards of living. The distributional implications of other pricing instruments, such as taxes and charges on vehicle and fuel use should be also addressed. Similarly, reform of fossil fuel subsidies, which amounted to USD 582 billion in 2019 according to OECD and IEA data, should be accompanied by transition support for industries, communities, regions and vulnerable consumers.

The OECD analysis underlines the need to monitor and evaluate the impact of recovery measures on environmental outcomes, something that was lacking after the 2008 financial crisis. It presents 13 environmental indicators that can be used to measure the impact of stimulus measures, including carbon intensity, fossil fuel support, exposure to air pollution, water stress and environmentally related tax revenue.

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Environment

10 years to restore our planet. 10 actions that count

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Against a backdrop of environmental crisis, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is a chance to revive the natural world that supports us all.  A decade may sound like a long time. But scientists say that these next ten years will count most in the fight to avert climate change and the loss of millions of species. Here are ten actions in the strategy of the UN Decade that can build a #GenerationRestoration. 

  1. Empower a global movement  

The UN Decade aims to stop and reverse the destruction and degradation of billions of hectares of ecosystems. It is a daunting task, made more complicated by the diversity of ecosystems and the threats they are facing: from lush forests threatened by wildfires to agricultural soils so eroded that they may only carry a few more years of harvests. No single entity can steer the course in this endeavour. The UN Decade thus connects and empowers the actions of the many. Groups and individuals can get informed about restoration opportunities in their area, joining initiatives already underway, or start their own.  

  1. Invest in restoration

Restoration takes resources. Organizations driving activities on the ground are often underfunded and face financial insecurity. While the benefits of restoration far outweigh the costs, it can only happen with long-term financing. Governments, international lenders, development agencies, the private sector and individuals will have to ramp up their support. 

  1. Set the right incentives  

In the long-term, healthier ecosystems can produce bigger harvests, more secure incomes and a healthier environment. But caring for nature can also mean foregoing some of the financial gains of less sustainable practices. There are ways to change this by incentivizing restoration activities and reducing subsidies that finance harmful practices, in the agriculture and fishing industries, for example.

  1. Celebrate leadership  

Over the past years, we have witnessed incredible momentum around restoration. Campaigns to plant trillions of trees have captured the imagination of many communities. Under the Bonn Challenge, more than 60 countries have committed to bringing 350 million hectares of forest landscapes back to life. Indigenous peoples have acted as defenders of their ecosystems for generations. The UN Decade will celebrate leadership and encourage others to step up.  

  1. Shift behaviours  

Deforestation, the depletion of fish stocks and the degradation of agricultural soils are all caused by global consumption patterns. The UN Decade will work with all partners to identify and encourage restoration-friendly consumption. This can range from changes in diets to promoting restoration-based products.  

  1. Invest in research  

Restoration is complex. Practices that work in one ecosystem may have adverse impacts in another. As the climate changes, new uncertainties arise. Returning to a former state may not be desirable as hotter temperatures or shifting rainfall call for more resilient plants and crops. Scientific understanding of how to restore and adapt ecosystems is still developing. Considerable investments are needed to identify the best practices to restore our planet – one plot at a time.  

  1. Build capacity  

Thousands of conservation and restoration initiatives are already underway. The UN Decade will be fuelled by their vision, expertise and dedication. However, practitioners often face barriers that keep them from taking their projects to scale. Other critical sectors, such as finance, require more data and insights to make informed decisions. The UN Decade’s strategy seeks to build the capacity of marginalized groups that stand to lose most from the destruction of ecosystems – such as indigenous peoples, women and youth to take an active role in restoration. 

  1. Celebrate a culture of restoration 

The power to revive our environment does not lie only with governments, experts and practitioners alone. Healing the planet is a cultural challenge. The UN Decade’s strategy therefore calls on artists, storytellers, producers, musicians and connectors to join the #GenerationRestoration. 

  1. Build up the next generation 

Youth and future generations are most impacted by the current rapid destruction of ecosystems – they also stand to benefit the most from a restoration economy. The UN Decade’s strategy links the wellbeing of youth and the goals of restoration. Education for restoration will turn today’s children into ecosystem ambassadors and provide skills for sustainable jobs.

  1. Listen and learn 

We would like to hear from you. Take a quick survey to help us learn more about you and how you want to be involved.  

UN Environment

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