In 2016, old friends Babah Salekna El Mousapha and Mohamed El Moctar Abdelahi Khattar launched a start-up, the Mauritanian Typha Charcoal Manufacturing Company (SMICT), to convert Typha leaves and gum arabic into green briquettes. “Our business before was transporting charcoal and gum arabic from rural areas to the capital, Nouakchott. That’s how we got the idea to manufacture our own charcoal from gum arabic,” said Babah.
In Mauritania, many young, innovative people like Babah and Mohamed are looking at entrepreneurship as a source of employment and income: A 2013 study by the Mauritanian Center for Policy Analysis conducted among Mauritanian students found that 75% of them intended to start their own company. Despite the enthusiasm, however, just 22% felt adequately prepared to launch a business.
To help aspiring entrepreneurs match their ambitions with the skills and resources they need to start a company, last year, the World Bank Group in collaboration with Mauritania’s Ministry of the Economy and the implementing incubator Hadina RIMTIC launched the Entrepreneur’s Marathon — a business competition designed to identify and support a pipeline of new start-ups while also raising awareness of the opportunities that entrepreneurship can bring.
To promote the initiative, the Entrepreneur’s Marathon’s included an extensive outreach and communications campaign across the country — the Entrepreneur’s Caravan. The name “Caravan” was inspired by the historic trans-Saharan trade routes between the Sahel and the Mediterranean that propelled the entire region to great wealth in the Middle Ages. With the same entrepreneurial spirit and desire to open new markets, the Entrepreneur’s Caravan kicked off in the capital city of Nouakchott and continued across six regions of the country, including several stops in rural areas — Rosso, Aleg, Boghé and Kaédi — where traditional agricultural and pastoral practices have been under increasing threat from drought and desertification.
The Caravan targeted the communities most affected by climate change, encouraging them to identify locally relevant solutions to their most pressing challenges. In Aleg, for instance, the team worked with local women’s cooperatives and public institutions, including the Governor’s and Mayor’s offices, while in Rosso, the Caravan brought together local entrepreneurs, representatives from the Ministry of Youth, local radio, and a women’s rights organization.
The Caravan not only publicized the competition but also established local networks, for example at universities, to provide information to potential candidates and support them in the application process.
“The outreach campaign was really useful; the explanation, the workshops, the people who presented. It helped a lot,” said Babah Salekna El Mousapha from SMICT.
An extensive media campaign underpinned the Caravan’s series of public events and included advertisements in the country’s major news websites, radio, and television networks, as well as merchandise and social media marketing — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube — in both French and Arabic. The campaign created significant engagement among local entrepreneurs, with over 2,800 people attending the Caravan’s events, 50,000 people reached on social media, and over 20,000 views on the Marathon’s Facebook page — not a small number for a country of just 4.3 million people.
At the end of the Caravan, 21 start-ups were invited from a pool of over 200 applicants to join the Marathon and access training, coaching, and other incubation services. After eight weeks of incubation, four winners were announced and received an award of $2,800.
Given the country’s increasing vulnerability to the effects of climate change, many of the winners focused their efforts on addressing climate-related challenges affecting their own communities, particularly in the energy and agriculture sectors. The winning projects include a refrigeration system powered by solar energy, a solar lamp for rural communities made of recycled materials, a manual drill that can reach water up to 40 meters below ground, and innovative applications of local materials (including Typha) to reduce the cost of construction and farming.
Through the Marathon, the World Bank Group has been able to analyze the journey of these innovative entrepreneurs and gather crucial insights on the challenges they face and the areas where coaching and training are most needed. The lessons learned have informed the design of a second edition of the Marathon, which will be implemented with the incubator iLab under the Youth Chamber of Commerce. This year’s Caravan is set to kick off next week, with a launch event on July 4.
The Entrepreneurship Marathon was developed through the World Bank Group’s Green Competitiveness Launchpad, an initiative sponsored by UK Aid from the government of the United Kingdom to help design and implement activities focused on promoting growth-oriented enterprises and business solutions to climate change.
Millions in Yemen ‘a step away from starvation’
The crisis in Yemen, now in its seventh year of war, continues unabated, with thousands of people displaced and millions “a step away from starvation”, the UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator said on Wednesday during a high-level side event on the margins of the 76th General Assembly.
“The country’s economy has reached new depths of collapse, and a third wave of the pandemic is threatening to crash the country’s already fragile health-care system”, Humanitarian Affairs chief Martin Griffiths told world leaders at the meeting: Yemen: Responding to the crises within the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
Underscoring that the most vulnerable always “bear the highest cost” of the crisis, he said that females were more likely to be hungry, sick or exposed to gender-based violence and, with little access to essential services, millions of internally displaced people face “a daily struggle to survive”.
Cause for hope
In a positive development, the UN official credited the international community for stepping up support to the country’s humanitarian aid operation.
With over $2 billion received, the UN and its partners were able to “prevent famine and pull people back from the brink of despair”, delivering assistance to “every single one of the country’s 333 districts”.
‘Far from done’
Despite these important achievements, Mr. Griffiths acknowledged that the work there is “far from done”, as many sectors still face “alarming funding gaps” and humanitarians are working with less than one-fifth of the money needed to provide health care, sanitation, and shelter.
“Without additional funding, these and other forms of critical life-saving support – including food assistance – will have to be reduced in the coming weeks and months”, he warned.
The UN relief chief asked global leaders to continue generously supporting Yemen’s humanitarian operation; respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians; and address the root drivers of the crisis, including restrictions on imports, which elevate the prices of essential goods.
He urged them to do “everything in our collective power to stop this war”, saying, “at the end of the day, peace is what will provide Yemenis the most sustainable form of relief”.
The war has robbed too many of Yemen’s children of safety, education and opportunities.
“Each day, the violence and destruction wreak havoc on the lives of children and their families”, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told the meeting.
She painted a grim picture of 1.7 million displaced youth, 11.3 million youngsters depending on humanitarian assistance to survive and 2.3 million under-five “acutely malnourished” – nearly 400,000 of whom are at “imminent risk of death”.
“Being a child in Yemen means you have probably either experienced or witnessed horrific violence that no child should ever face”, said the UNICEF chief.
“Quite simply, Yemen is one of the most difficult places in the world to be a child”.
Millions ‘marching towards starvation’
In his address, World Food Programme (WFP) chief David Beasley said that in a nation of 30 million people, food rations are needed by 12.9 million; while 3.3 million children and women need special nutrition, together with 1.6 million school children.
“We’re literally looking at 16 million people marching towards starvation”, he said.
With one thousand people a week dying from a lack of food and nutrition, the senior WFP official warned that if $800 million is not received in the next six months, the need to cut rations could lead to the death of 400,000 children under the age of five next year.
“We have a moral, obligation, to speak out and step up”, he stated, appealing to the world leaders to “put the pressure on all parties…to end this conflict”.
“These are our children; these are our brothers and sisters we need the donors to step up immediately otherwise children are going to die. Let’s not let them down. Let’s do what we need to do”, concluded Mr. Beasley.
South Sudan ‘determined to never go back to war’
South Sudan is “ready to turn a new page” towards greater peace, development and prosperity, Vice-President Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior said in her speech in the UN General Assembly on Friday.
A decade after gaining independence from Sudan, the country remains “on a path of nation-building” and is working to implement a 2018 revitalized peace deal which led to the formation of a unity government last year.
“I want to assure our friends and partners that we are determined to never go back to war,” said Ms. De Mabior.
“We must replace the destruction of war with the productive use of our vast natural resources and national assets for the good of our people.”
The Vice-President recalled that when South Sudan became independent, the international community pledged to build capacity in nation-building, establishing a UN mission in the country, UNMISS, to support this process.
“However, after the outbreak of the war, that vision was abandoned, and priority was placed on protecting civilians and providing humanitarian assistance. As a result, support for capacity building of the State was terminated,” she said.
Ms. De Mabior stressed that supporting a State’s ability to govern responsibly and effectively is essential. It is also necessary to guard against what she called “the unintended consequences of dependency on humanitarian assistance.”
Given improvements in peace and security, she said it was now time to transition from emergency towards sustainable development.
“It is a painful and shameful situation for a country endowed with vast fertile land to be regarded as poor,” she added.
“We must ensure peace and security in the country and double our efforts to support our people who want to return, and are returning, to their areas of origin, for them to participate fully in nation-building and contribute to building food security in the country.”
Support youth and women
South Sudan is also “a youthful country”, and the Vice-President called for continued efforts to develop the skills of its youth and women “to provide an alternative to picking up the gun again and engaging in destructive behavior.”
Encouraging developments have included joint efforts by the national security forces and their UNMISS counterparts to promote rural peace and security, while the Government is set to unveil a national youth service programme.
“To fulfill the vision of our liberation struggle, we must use our oil revenues to fuel economic growth through investment in agriculture,” she said.
“We will invest in infrastructure to connect our rural communities to the markets. We need the public and private sectors, including foreign investors, to join hands in turning South Sudan’s potential wealth into a reality.”
Ms. De Mabior reported progress in implementing aspects of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, particularly in the creation of state and national bodies and public financial management reforms
However, “the glass remains half-empty” in implementing a permanent ceasefire and transitional security arrangements, she said, noting the urgency for a unified army.
“The security sector reform is the most challenging part of the Agreement as it contains elements at the center of the violent conflicts in the country,” she said, calling for continued dialogue.
“Building sustainable peace requires inclusivity, collective investment, determination, diligence, and patience.”
Meanwhile, relations with Sudan have also improved, though outstanding issues remain over the oil-rich Abyei border area.
Ms. De Mabior stressed her country is determined to learn from the past.
“We must make the Revitalized Peace Agreement succeed, and we can only do that with the support of our regional and international partners. Simply stated, South Sudan desires and is ready to turn a new page,” she said.
WHO backs Regeneron COVID-19 drug cocktail – with equal access, price cut
The Regeneron antibody drug cocktail – casirivimab and imdevimab – has been added to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of treatments for COVID-19 patients, the UN agency said on Friday, before underscoring the need for lower prices and equitable distribution.
“This is a major breakthrough in the care of COVID-19 patients”, said Dr. Janet Diaz, WHO head of clinical care. “This is our first recommendation for a therapeutic for those patients with mild, moderate disease,” she said, because it reduces “the need for hospitalisation if they are at high risk”.
Effective ‘reduction in mortality’
WHO’s conditional recommendations are for use of the drug combination on patients who are not severely ill, but at high risk of being admitted to hospital with COVID-19, or those with severe cases of the disease and no existing antibodies.
“Giving them this additional antibody seems to show an effect. And what effect is that? A reduction in mortality” Dr. Diaz told a briefing in Geneva.
The antibody therapy was granted emergency use authorization in the United States November last year after it was used to treat former President Donald Trump when he was admitted to hospital with the virus. The United Kingdom has also approved Regeneron, while it is under review in Europe.
The WHO recommendations were largely based on data from a British study of 9,000 patients in June which found that the therapy reduced deaths in hospitalised patients whose own immune systems had failed to produce a response.
“We are taking the information (from the UK study) and generalizing it to other persons,” said Dr. Diaz. “We saw there was a benefit we thought was meaningful.”
The treatment has been on the market for decades to treat many other diseases, including cancers. It is based on a class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies which mimic natural antibodies produced by the human body to fight off infections.
Equity, price cut call
Swiss drugmaker Roche, has been working in partnership with Regeneron, which holds the patent, to produce the antibody treatment.
Dr. Diaz urged Regeneron to lower the drug’s price and work on equitable distribution worldwide: “We know that the life-saving benefits and the benefits for patients with COVID-19 is significant and requires action.”
She added that WHO-hosted health agency UNITAID, has been negotiating directly with Roche for lower prices and equitable distribution across all parts of the world, “including low and middle-income countries”.
WHO has also been in discussions with the company for a donation and distribution of the drug through UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, following an allocation criteria set by the health agency. “We are working together with the company so we can address these very important issues so we can have equitable access” she said.
Call to manufacturers
In a statement, WHO said in parallel it had “launched a call to manufacturers who may wish to submit their products for pre-qualification, which would allow for a ramping-up of production and therefore greater availability of the treatment and expanded access.
ACT-A partners are also working with WHO on an equitable access framework for recommended COVID-19 therapeutics”. On that subject, Dr Diaz added that “there are bottlenecks and we are aware of those.
WHO has launched the pre-qualification expression of interest call so that the manufacturing companies can start to submit their dossiers to WHO”.
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