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Much Hope for Jordan and the Region – Young People Are the Bright Lights

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The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa concluded today with strong expressions of hope for Jordan and the region, as well as recognition that investing in educating young people is critical.

Mirek Dusek, Head of Regional Strategies, Middle East and North Africa, and a Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum, pointed to the “amazing potential of young people and young companies” across the region who have had such a strong presence during the meeting. “We have seen pockets of excellence, but we feel a new economic model is emerging of entrepreneurship.”

Dusek noted that many of these young start-ups have succeeded despite their environment. “How can we help them to be more sustainable and put them at the core of what this region is about?” he asked.

The Forum has been working for many years facilitating dialogue on the crises facing the region to ensure the right stakeholders are sitting down to address fragility and humanitarian catastrophes and deal with the political picture, Dusek added. Leaders from different faiths also discussed the future of Iraq after the liberation of Mosul from Daesh, as well as the role of clerics in society.

Ghassan Hasbani, Deputy Prime Minister of Lebanon, said he took away ideas about how to continue creating hope for the young people in the region. “We need to show them examples of success and that we are taking the right action to create the right environment for them to stay in the region … and succeed,” he said. “The region is in turmoil and facing political, economic and social challenges,” he added, but young people are a bright light shining. “We want to give them hope by taking proactive action on the legislative and regulatory side, but also on the encouragement and support side, he said. Hasbani praised the Forum’s Global Shapers community, a network of Hubs developed and led by young people with exceptional potential who want to make a contribution to their communities, and the more than 100 Arab start-ups represented at the meeting.

“We need to keep focusing on entrepreneurship at all levels,” he added. “We need to move forward with supporting entrepreneurship and encourage bigger enterprises to be more socially responsible.”

Start-ups face many challenges in the region, but Ambareen Musa, Chief Executive Officer of Souqalmal, United Arab Emirates, said they struggle with two main areas: talent and regulations. “It is extremely hard to find local talent. We need a real investment in education. It is about educating from a young age about entrepreneurship,” she said. “There are new careers coming on board. Education is key to creating sustainable environment now and for the next generation of start-ups.”

The next challenge is regulations. Investors want to know how big the regional market is, Musa added. “There have been a lot of changes, but I would like to see them faster. The dream is one currency, one region and no borders from a talent and regulatory perspective. That will make the expansion of the region for us much, much easier. It will also attract foreign direct investment.” She pointed out that the region has been built on entrepreneurship. Musa noted that the meeting’s common theme was “reform” and a mindset that it is time to move forward and create a sustainable environment.

Sana Hawasly, Chief Executive of Daraty, Syria, works with children in the education sector. “We want education to empower young people to create a lifelong learning opportunity with no restrictions around their educational experience,” she said. “The best way to create this content is make kids feel free to express themselves and do the work they like to do.” Daraty started with electronics to prepare them to build technology. In 2020 and beyond, people will require technical skills. “We are giving them the tools for the next marketplace that will replace what we are facing now,” Hawasly added. “We were amazed at how kids were enthusiastic to do this.”

Hawasly’s main takeaway from the meeting is the enthusiasm venture capitalists and investors expressed and their interest in the Syrian people. “We should bridge the gap between how much technology is going into Syria and the excitement of investors. We have a powerful workforce in Syria and are strong in technology. We have a great lack of opportunity. I will go back with a great hope that the world is waiting for talent from Syria. We have to track the opportunities and do the hard work to get there.”

Khadija Idrissi Janati, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of KMK Groupe, Morocco, and a Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, told participants that digital transformation is here and we need to adapt. But with increasing use of digital, society needs checks and balances. Children need to be exposed to digital technologies and the internet, but there must be trust and the engagement of parents.

“Trust is one of the challenges of the use of society media,” she said. Responsibility is critical. It is also critical to verify the veracity of the information on social media. Idrissi Janati pointed out that Facebook just hired 3,000 people to verify information. “We are aware of the benefits [of digital media], but we also must be aware of the risks,” she said.

Seyed Salih Al-Hakim, Director of the Hikmeh Center for Dialogue and Cooperation in Iraq, pointed to the need to keep religion out of politics and the role of clerics in fostering values. “Today, people have recognized that religion cannot be pushed into politics. It has its own place and cannot be part of the political bazaar,” he said. Although religion is an integral part of people’s lives, “People want to have a civil state. We do not want a religious government; we want a civilian government that respects religion … we have tried political Islam and it was not helpful. In history, when the sacred came into politics, it ruined our politics.”

In post-conflict Iraq, there will be a need to create “a country of citizenship” as there is a need for true reconciliation. A dialogue among a group of clerics called for a review of religious and education institutions, as well as of religious curricula. It is time to pay more attention to youth and the role of women in the region. Al-Hakim called on entrepreneurs starting out to pay attention to values in addition to setting objectives and goals.

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Making the impossible possible

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photo: UN Environment

Sitting at a bus stop one day when she was 16, When Miranda Wang saw someone throw a plastic bottle into a trash bin, even though the recycling bin was right next to it.

“It just made me realize that the problem is so much bigger than the behavior of individual people,” she said. “Globally, only 9 per cent of plastics produced are actually recycled. That’s because as a society, we lack recycling technologies that can make virgin-quality products from plastic waste.”

“My project is a social impact startup developing and scaling up a new technology to recycle unrecyclable plastics. Over the past year, the project has snowballed, and we are seeing massive interest in this area,” she said.

Since starting up her company BioCellection, and winning the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Young Champions of the Earth prize in 2018, twenty-five-year-old Wang and her team have invented a US$ 5 million technology that breaks down plastics into chemical building blocks, upcycling them into higher value materials for manufacturing.

The first engineering drawings for the technology scale-up have been completed, and multiple materials from the resulting purified compounds from breaking down plastics have been tested.

The company has already completed two thirds of a pilot programme to test the technology at scale with the City of San José, California, United States, and other tests have already been completed with Google among others.  

The team has expanded, with eight new hires instead of the projected four, winning grants and prizes including the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, Pritzker Environmental Genius Award and MIT Solve.

In addition to refining the recycling technology, Wang has appeared in magazines including TIME, the New York Times, Monocle, Marie Claire, National Geographic and many others over the last 12 months.  

Why not become part of a global movement, and tell us what you are doing to turn the tide on plastic pollution. Take the Clean Seas pledge!

Do you have what it takes to be a Young Champion of the Earth? Stay tuned here to follow stories of previous winners and changemakers.

UN Environment

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AfDB hosts talks with ICRC on making an impact through collaboration

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The African Development Bank held talks with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Vice-President Gilles Carbonnier at the Bank’s headquarters in Abidjan on furthering their shared development goals.

The main purpose of the meeting, held on 20 January, was to discuss collaboration between the institutions and share the progress made since the signing of a Bank-ICRC memorandum of understanding to explore partnership opportunities.

“It is mainly through operation and cooperation that we are going to learn exactly how best to work together to be more relevant, more impactful,” Carbonnier said.

The Bank-ICRC collaboration centers on working in areas of fragility in Africa, with special emphasis on building resilience, particularly among women and girls.

Representatives from the Bank’s Gender, Women and Civil Society Complex, the Bank’s Transitional States Coordination Office and the Bank’s Regional Development, Integration and Business Delivery Complex were present. The talks were facilitated by Catherine Cudré-Mauroux, Bank Executive Director for Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal.

Calling the Bank-ICRC partnership “a natural fit”, the Bank’s Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, Dr. Jennifer Blanke, said: “There’s a recognition that if you look at humanitarian work that might be in the same region year after year, you cannot deal with that, without some development element, which we can bring in. From our perspective, there are a lot of places in Africa where we want to be working on development impact.” 

Another area of interest is investing in vulnerable women in the Sahel Region and North Africa.

“We know that we reach higher returns when investing in women. Studies demonstrate that women reinvest most of their income (up to 90%) in providing a social safety net for their families, with a ripple effect on health, education, nutrition and youth empowerment. Investments today will yield tomorrow’s returns,” said Vanessa Moungar, Director for the Bank’s Gender, Women and Civil Society Department.

Moungar’s department spearheads the Bank’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) initiative, which the Bank sees as a key component of improving women’s access to economic resources.

Participants also agreed to focus on internally displaced persons and their host communities.

“The idea is to scale up our work in the field,” said Patricia Danzi, ICRC Regional Director for Africa. “We want to be able to do more than what the Bank or ICRC would have done alone.”

The ICRC and the Bank say future discussions will address technical, legal, financial and field aspects, with an eye toward accelerating the partnership implementation.

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ILO: Employment policies are key to address the challenge of migration

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photo: ILO

Employment policies and strategic alliances to seek effective and sustainable solutions are key to address the challenge of international migration, said the ILO during the 12th Summit of the Global Forum on Migration and Development  that concluded today in the capital of Ecuador.

“Most migration is directly or indirectly related to the world of work, where there are now 164 million migrant workers or 70% of all working age migrants, and nearly half are women”, recalled the ILO Regional Director a.i. for Latin America and the Caribbean, Juan Hunt, speaking Thursday night at the closing plenary session of the Forum.

Hunt stressed that “As we look to the future, we can recognize that International migration is a reflection of global shifts, challenges and transformations, including in technology, in the world of work”.

The meeting in Quito this week brought together some 1300 delegates from 150 countries, international organizations, civil society, workers’ and employers’ organizations, and local authorities, among others. The Global Forum was created in 2007 to facilitate discussion on how to generate better policies for international migration, develop innovative ideas and build partnerships.

“The ILO shares the view that partnerships among Governments, academia, media, mayors and migrants, as well as with world of work actors –business, employers´ and workers organizations and trade unions –are critical in shaping evidence-based dialogue and public perceptions,” said Hunt.

He added that “ILO encourages social dialogue in the development and implementation of labour migration policies. This brings durability and legitimacy to programmes that support decent work.”

The ILO Regional Director reminded the plenary that “decent work deficits, humanitarian issues and other challenges such as climate change exacerbate these situations and will continue to drive migration across the world.”

ILO’s standards are particularly important in this regard as they lay the foundation for achieving decent work for all, including for realizing fundamental rights and freedoms, reducing vulnerability and exploitation, he explained.

“When migration and employment policies are well coordinated, we can make progress in eliminating recruitment fees and costs for migrant workers which reduce their savings and, in worst cases, lead to human trafficking and debt bondage,” he added.

Regarding the meeting in Quito, the ILO Regional Director considered that it has been an intense and rich summit that touched upon many aspects of the migratory phenomenon, included new actors in the discussion such as local authorities.

In his speech, he stressed the importance of countering at the international level “the negative rhetoric surrounding migration” and of increasing “the capacity of response” to the challenges posed by the mobility of large numbers of human beings from one country to another.

“A human-centred approach to the future of work is crucial if we are to continue to meet labour markets needs while also ensuring workers are protected and can fulfil their potential without discrimination or exploitation,” said Hunt.

The ILO delegation to the XII Summit of the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Ecuador was headed by the Regional Director and the Director of the ILO Labour Migration Branch, Michelle Leighton.

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