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Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative Invests In Over 15,000 Women-Led Businesses

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The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) announced today its third funding allocation comprising $49.3 Million – expected to benefit over 15,000 women-led businesses and mobilize about $350 million of additional public and private sector resources.

We-Fi’s latest round of allocations addresses the needs of women entrepreneurs created by the COVID-19 crisis, and encourages innovation and digital development, partnership development and the use of results-based mechanisms to facilitate greater access to financing for women entrepreneurs.

The third round allocates funding for programs to boost women’s entrepreneurship that will be implemented by four multilateral development banks; the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for programs in Central Asia and the North Africa region, the Inter-American Development Bank for projects in Latin America, the Islamic Development Bank for entrepreneurship activities in fragile contexts in West Africa, and the World Bank Group for projects in the Sahel region, MENA and global programs. Over 65 percent of the most recent allocations will benefit women entrepreneurs in low-income (IDA-eligible) countries and countries affected by fragility and conflict. As a result of three financing rounds which now total almost $300 million in allocations, programs backing women-led businesses will soon expand to 61 countries.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, women entrepreneurs around the world are suffering large setbacks. New data about the disproportionate effects of lockdown measures on women-led SMEs are emerging; in several Sub-Saharan countries, about 60% of women-led small businesses have lost their sources of income, three times more than men-led businesses. Globally, women-owned SMEs are about 6 percentage points more likely to close their business than male-owned businesses, according to recent World Bank-led research.

“As we absorb the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, we need to take strong actions to build back better. Many women-led SMEs are disproportionally affected by the economic disruptions of the COVID crisis and many more women are losing their jobs. Entrepreneurship is central to the economic empowerment of women, especially in developing economies. Actions and support, such as by We-Fi’s recent round of financing, reaches women entrepreneurs in this time of need, and will help reestablish their roles as engines of inclusive economic growth”, says Mari Pangestu, Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships of the World Bank, which hosts the We-Fi Secretariat.

“We-Fi’s third round of allocations could not have come at a more important time. I am very pleased to see our Implementing Partners preparing such strong proposals to support women-led SMEs. Projects to leverage digital technologies, support digital skills-building, and identify new business opportunities that may arise as a result of the pandemic will benefit so many women-led SMEs during this crucial time”, says Mathew Haarsager, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Development Finance and Policy of the U.S. Department of the Treasury and chair of We-Fi’s Governing Committee.

Under the third round of funding:

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) was granted $7.36 million for its “Stepping Up for Women” Program which aims to rapidly respond to the disproportionate pressures WSMEs face in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 related crisis. The program will deploy innovative solutions for WSMEs that will contribute to (a) improving access to markets through more inclusive supply chains; (b) enhancing competitiveness, growth potential, and access to finance by strengthening their ability to leverage digital technologies and (c) leveraging sex-disaggregated data to inform more effective public and private sector interventions. Program activities will be implemented in Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, and Morocco.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) received $14.71 million for its program to support access to finance, markets, skills and networks for women-led businesses primarily in technology and science-supported sectors. The program will prioritize helping women entrepreneurs navigate the ongoing economic crisis, and also to identify new business opportunities that may arise as a result of the pandemic. The program will provide acceleration support as well as seed and venture capital to high-potential STEM women entrepreneurs.  The program focuses on countries in Central America, Ecuador and Guyana.

The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) received $11.25 million for its program which supports women in West Africa engaging in entrepreneurial activities in the rice value chain. While women are heavily engaged in the rice industry, the prohibitively high cost of borrowing, and the non-financial constraints which hinder access to resources, assets, and markets, prevent women entrepreneurs from improving their livelihoods.  Accordingly, the program will aim to support upgrading and advancing women-owned SMEs within the rice value chain in West Africa though capacity development and grant matching, as well as increased access local and regional markets. Activities for this program will be carried out in Guinea, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The World Bank Group (World Bank and IFC) received $16.01 million for a digitally enabled access to finance and markets program for women-led business in the Sahel region and globally, and an early-stage finance program supporting women entrepreneurs in several regions. The first program will foster market linkages between suppliers and buyers across the Sahel. It will provide services and training to women-led shea butter cooperatives on know-how, managerial capacity, networks, and marketing tools as well as support the digitization of payment systems. The second program seeks to create an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem, addresses financing gaps, and assists with skills-building and mentoring of women entrepreneurs. Activities for these programs will be implemented in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Jordan, Iraq, and globally.

About We-Fi:

The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) is a multilateral partnership supporting women entrepreneurs with access to finance, markets, technology, mentoring, and other services, while working with governments and the private sector to improve the laws and policies inhibiting women’s businesses in developing countries.

We-Fi is supported by the governments of Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, the Russian Federation, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Republic of South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The We-Fi secretariat is housed by the World Bank and its programs are implemented by six Multilateral Development Banks.

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Human Rights

Israel: ‘Halt and reverse’ new settlement construction

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A little boy stands on the remains of his family's demolished home in the West Bank. (File) UNRWA/Lara Jonasdottir

Israel’s decision to advance plans for some 800 new settlement units, most of which are located deep inside the occupied West Bank, has sparked the concern of UN Secretary-General António Guterres. 

In a statement issued on Monday by his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, the UN chief urged the Israeli Government to “halt and reverse such decisions”, calling them “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”. 

‘No legal validity’ 

Mr. Guterres reiterated that Israel’s establishing of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”. 

“Settlement expansion increases the risk of confrontation, further undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and further erodes the possibility of ending the occupation and establishing a contiguous and viable sovereign Palestinian State, based on the pre-1967 lines”, he said. 

Pushing forward 

Israel has given the green light to 780 new homes in West Bank settlements on Sunday in a move widely seen as being influenced by the imminent transfer of power in the United States. 

Breaking with decades of US diplomacy, outgoing President Donald Trump, in 2019 unilaterally declared that the settlements no longer breached international law. 

Against that backdrop, Israel has been increasing construction and either approved or made plans for more than 12,000 homes in 2020, according to news reports.

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Health & Wellness

WHO chief warns against ‘catastrophic moral failure’ in COVID-19 vaccine access

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A “me-first approach” to COVID-19 vaccines on the part of some countries and manufacturers is putting equitable access to these lifesaving treatments at risk, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday. 

Addressing the agency’s Executive Board, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed fear that “even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots.” 

Describing the rapid development of vaccines as a literal and figurative “shot in the arm” during the pandemic, Tedros reported that while 39 million doses have been administered in nearly 50 richer countries, only 25 have been given in one lowest income nation. 

A self-defeating approach  

“I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries”, he said, speaking from WHO headquarters in Geneva. 

Ensuring all countries will have access to any COVID-19 vaccines is the promise of a global mechanism established last April, known as the COVAX Facility. It has secured two billion doses so far, with a billion more in the pipeline, and deliveries should begin next month. 

“Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritize bilateral deals, going around COVAX, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue. This is wrong”, Tedros stated. 

Additionally, most manufacturers also have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries, where profits are higher, rather than submitting their dossiers to WHO for prequalification. 

“This could delay COVAX deliveries and create exactly the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid, with hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response, and continued social and economic disruption”, he said. 

“Not only does this me-first approach leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, it’s also self-defeating.” 

Change the rules of the game 

Underlining that vaccine equity also has economic benefits, Tedros urged countries to “work together in solidarity” to ensure inoculation of all health workers and older people at most risk worldwide is underway, within the first 100 days of the year. 

He pressed for action in three areas to “change the rules of the game”, starting with an appeal for transparency in any bilateral contracts between countries and COVAX, including on volumes, pricing and delivery dates. 

“We call on these countries to give much greater priority to COVAX’s place in the queue, and to share their own doses with COVAX, especially once they have vaccinated their own health workers and older populations, so that other countries can do the same”, he said. 

Tedros also called for vaccine producers to provide WHO with full data for regulatory review in real time, to accelerate approvals, and he urged countries to only use vaccines that have met international safety standards, and to accelerate readiness for their deployment.  

“My challenge to all Member States is to ensure that by the time World Health Day arrives on the 7th of April, COVID-19 vaccines are being administered in every country, as a symbol of hope for overcoming both the pandemic and the inequalities that lie at the root of so many global health challenges”, he said, adding, “I hope this will be realized.” 

‘Vaccinationalism’ threatens recovery: UN chief

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has again stressed that COVID-19 vaccines must be a global public good, available to everyone, everywhere. 

Speaking in New York at a ceremony for the world’s developing nations, he underlined the need for funding for medicines and diagnostics to defeat the virus. 

“We need manufacturers to step up their commitment to work with the COVAX facility and countries around the world, in particular the world’s leading economies, to ensure enough supply and fair distribution,” said Mr. Guterres. 

“‘Vaccinationalism’ is self-defeating and would delay a global recovery.” 

The Secretary-General said recovery also represents a chance to “change course”, away from the old “normal” of inequalities and injustices, and he continues to advocate for greater support from developed countries and international financial institutions. 

“With smart policies and the right investments, we can chart a path that brings health to all, revives economies and builds resilience,” he said. “But developing countries must have the necessary resources to do so.”

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Health & Wellness

UN agencies supporting mammoth India COVID-19 vaccine rollout

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Health workers pose with a vial of COVID-19 vaccine after receiving their shots at a hospital in India. UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

India has begun what is the world’s biggest COVID vaccination campaign so far, deploying hundreds of thousands of health workers, with the training and support of the UN World Health Organization (WHO). 

On 16 January, the first day of the campaign, 207,229 vaccine shots were given across the country, one of the worst-hit by COVID-19, with over 10 million COVID-19 infections and 150,000 deaths. 

“[We] provided technical assistance to the Government of India for the development of operational guidelines and other training materials for state and district programme managers and vaccinators, and establishing tracking and accountability frameworks”, Roderico H. Ofrin, WHO Representative in India said. 

“WHO field officers have facilitated the highest-level oversight through regular task force meetings at state and district levels, which are chaired by the Principal Secretaries (Health) at the state level, and District Magistrates at the district level”, he added. 

According to media reports, an estimated 10 million health workers are targeted to be vaccinated in the first round, followed by other front-line workers such as police, security forces and municipal staff, with plans to inoculate 300 million people by August. 

Supporting preparations 

Prior to the start of the campaign, UN agencies help with detailed preparations. 

For its part, WHO participated in dry-run simulations and provided feedback on management of vaccines, registration of beneficiaries, as well as reporting on vaccination coverage and adverse events following immunization. 

It also worked with the Government and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) on real-time reporting and problem-solving when issues arose at the vaccination sites, according to Dr. Ofrin. 

At the provincial level, WHO also supported implementation and monitoring of health policy, such as developing standard operating procedures, preparing technical briefs, and providing best practices from other parts of the India as well as other countries. 

Reliable information 

Similarly, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supported communication and advocacy efforts to ensure the dissemination of factual information to stakeholders and communities. The agency also helped train healthcare staff in infection control and prevention, and psychosocial support to children and caregivers.  

Aside from directly supporting vaccine rollout, UN agencies continued their programmes to assist the most vulnerable communities impacted by COVID-19 and its socio-economic fallouts.  

For instance, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) supported NGOs in order to identify and register some 19,000 vulnerable households and distributed food packets; while the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) conducted awareness raising programmes on sexual and reproductive health, and prevention of gender-based violence, on behalf of some 30 million vulnerable individuals.  

The three W’s  

Though vaccination programmes are underway, continued vigilance against COVID-19 and preventing its spread remain as important as ever. 

WHO’s Dr. Ofrin urged continued vigilance over tracking cases, cluster investigation, isolation and clinical care, and quarantining to break the chain of transmission. 

Alongside, he also highlighted the “three W’s – wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance.” 

“These efforts must continue to stop the spread of COVID-19. We as individuals and communities must work with the Government to save lives and the economy by protecting health and livelihoods,” he added.

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