The UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, has announced the ten winners of its first ever Joint Innovation Challenge; a cutting edge competition to provide funding for social enterprises with innovative solutions that advance the empowerment of women and girls worldwide.
The challenge was financed by UNFPA’s Equalizer Accelerator Fund, and implemented in cooperation with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the International Trade Centre.
Entrants were given the incentive of a cash prize which would allow them to expand their ideas from the test stage, to full production, for the potential benefit of millions around the world.
The challenge received further funding from the Governments of Luxembourg, Finland, and Denmark. Launched in 2021, UNFPA’s Fund provides equity-free investments in social enterprises that are led or co-led by women, and can show evidence of the impact they will have.
Key to progress
Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA’s Executive Director said, in relation to the competition that “creative thinking and innovative solutions are key to accelerate progress for women and girls around the world.”
The 2022 challenge is awarding ten women-helmed organizations hailing from five different regions globally.
Initially, a panel of experts received 300 submissions from 61 countries. After 20 finalists pitched their innovative ideas to the panel, the eventual 10 winners then signed nine-month contracts with UNFPA and will be receiving an equity-free investment of $60,000.
The funding will allow winning organizations to transition away from the pilot stage, and begin manufacturing at scale.
UNFPA and its partners will also support the social enterprises with targeted mentorship, training opportunities, interactive workshops, and unique access to the global UN network.
The winning ideas varied in function, but were united in ingenuity, said the agency. Examples of winning designs ranged from a portable diagnostic system for pre-eclampsia, to a board game that disseminates information on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
See below for the full list of winners from around the world:
Foundation Paniamor, Costa Rica
Foundation Paniamor as developed a novel digital toolkit for adolescent girls to help prevent and respond to online violence.
GerHub reaches women and girls in remote areas with information and sexual and reproductive health services through mobile clinics and telemedicine.
The Global Pre-Eclampsia Initiative, Uganda
A portable diagnostic system that helps pregnant women with early detection, timely referral, and effective management of pre-eclampsia – a life-threatening hypertensive disorder causing up to 10 per cent of pregnancy-related deaths in Africa.
Hillspring Diagnostics, Nigeria
A revolutionary method for detecting ectopic pregnancy, a condition which can have dangerous consequences including death of the mother and baby, if not diagnosed and treated in time.
Impact Innovations Institute, Armenia
The SafeYou app, is a unique digital solution that provides women and girls with security functions to protect them against violence, and offers tools for survivors.
An immersive augmented reality experience that aims to stop gender-based violence by introducing users to simulations based on women’s real-life experiences.
Tirando X Colombia, based in Colombia
An AI-enhanced chatbot that provides adolescent girls with quality sexual and reproductive health information and services, helping to end the cycle of poverty generated by many teenage pregnancies.
A one-stop family health and wellbeing platform that provides access to family planning, reproductive health information, and services for young women and new mothers.
Urukundo Initiative, Rwanda
Urukundo Life Skills Board Game is the first ever licensed low-tech educational game in Rwanda that disseminates information on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Women in Entrepreneurship and Technology (WETECH), Cameroon
A community hub and women’s innovation centre, that offers a digital tool that connects survivors and persons at risk of gender-based violence via a secure and confidential messaging platform.
WFP: First Ukrainian humanitarian grain shipment leaves for Horn of Africa
The first vessel transporting Ukrainian wheat grain to support humanitarian operations run by the World Food Programme (WFP) has left the port of Yuzhny, also known as Pivdennyi, the UN agency reported on Tuesday.
This is the first shipment of humanitarian food assistance under the Black Sea Grain Initiative signed by Ukraine, Russia, Türkiye and the UN in July.
Feeding the world’s hungry
It marks another important milestone in efforts to get much-needed Ukrainian grain out of the war-torn country and back into global markets, to reach people worst affected by the global food crisis.
“Getting the Black Sea Ports open is the single most important thing we can do right now to help the world’s hungry,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.
“It will take more than grain ships out of Ukraine to stop world hunger, but with Ukrainian grain back on global markets we have a chance to stop this global food crisis from spiraling even further.”
WFP will use the wheat grain shipment to scale-up its efforts in southern and south-eastern Ethiopia, supporting more than 1.5 million people affected by drought.
Globally, a record 345 million people in more than 80 countries are currently facing acute food insecurity, while up to 50 million people in 45 countries are at risk of being pushed into famine without humanitarian support.
The current hunger crisis is being driven by several factors including conflict, climate impacts, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The war in Ukraine is another catalyst as the country is a major grain exporter. Ukraine was exporting up to six million tonnes of grain a month prior to the start of the conflict in February, but volumes now are at an average of one million tonnes per month.
More action needed
WFP said that with commercial and humanitarian maritime traffic now resuming in and out of Ukraine’s Black Sea Port, some global supply disruptions will ease, which will bring relief to countries facing the worst of the global food crisis.
Crucially, Ukraine will also be able to empty its grain storage silos ahead of the summer season harvest, the agency added.
However, despite these developments, the unprecedented food crisis continues.
WFP stressed the need for immediate action that brings together the humanitarian community, governments, and the private sector to save lives and invest in long term solutions, warning that “failure will see people around the world slip into devastating famines with destabilizing impacts felt by us all.”
New WEF ESG initiative looks to improve socioeconomic conditions in Northern Central America
The World Economic Forum announced a new initiative in three Central American countries that will support the private sector apply Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics and better environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting to improve local socioeconomic conditions and environmental resilience.
The announcement was made at events convened by the Forum with CentraRSE in Guatemala, COHEP in Honduras and Fundemas in El Salvador. These were attended by leaders from the public and private sector, civil society and international organizations who discussed the benefits and opportunities of implementing structured ESG reporting metrics, practices and global corporate trends. National and regional efforts and best practices were also showcased.
The Measuring Stakeholder Capitalism initiative has identified a set of 21 core and 34 expanded universal metrics and disclosures drawn from existing standards. The metrics and disclosure seek to improve how companies measure and demonstrate their performance against environmental, social and governance indicators and consistently track their positive contributions towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Strengthening sustainability credentials and building the capacity to report this information will represent a significant advantage for businesses and the economy as a whole, particularly to attract foreign investment and integrate into regional and global value chains.
“Amid an increasingly challenging context confronted with overlapping global crises, public-private collaboration and the decisive action of local leadership are even more necessary to improve economic, social, environmental and governance conditions. All sectors must work together to build a prosperous and resilient ecosystem, offering hope and real opportunities for people in the region to develop their potential at home,” said Marisol Argueta, Head of Latin America at the World Economic Forum.
The initiative is a response The initiative is a response to US Vice President Kamala Harris’s Call to Action, which calls on businesses and social enterprises to promote economic opportunities for people in the region as part of a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of migration. Vice President Harris has announced a total of more than $3.2 billion in new commitments to the region in coordination with the Partnership for Central America since the effort was launched in May 2022.
“As we look to multi-sector approaches to solve the social challenges facing our communities globally, the World Economic Forum’s ESG framework provides a structure for businesses to drive greater economic development. Working with public and private sector partners, this can translate into quality jobs, environmental protections and better lives for families,” said Jonathan Fantini-Porter, Executive Director of the Partnership for Central America.
The areas of focus, led by the Partnership for Central America (PCA), intend to support the region’s long-term development through digital and financial inclusion, food security and climate-smart agriculture; climate adaptation and clean energy; education and workforce development; and public health access. The planned ESG metrics and corporate reporting activities also aim to motivate local leaders to take measurable action on their contributions to enhancing socioeconomic conditions and environmental resilience in the region.
Based on existing standards, this framework provides a set of metrics that can be reported by all companies, regardless of industry or region. These metrics also offer comparability, which is particularly important for creating a systemic and globally accepted set of common standards for reporting corporate sustainability performance.
As part of the activities carried out in Central America, the Guatemalan company, Grupo Mariposa announced the adoption of the global metrics framework promoted by the World Economic Forum (Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics) and declared its commitment to include them in future reporting cycles. Grupo Mariposa is the first company in Central America to incorporate the metrics in its reports.
‘Immensely bleak’ future for Afghanistan unless massive human rights reversal
The international community must dramatically increase efforts to urge the de facto authorities in Afghanistan to adhere to basic human rights principles, a group of UN independent rights experts said on Friday.
“The future is immensely bleak for Afghans if more is not done by the international community to ensure the Taliban changes its modus operandi and complies with its human rights obligations,” they said in a statement.
The experts recalled that following the Taliban takeover last August, they had appealed for the international community to take “stringent actions” to protect Afghans from violations such as arbitrary detention, summary executions, internal displacement, and unlawful restrictions on their human rights.
Failure to deliver
“One year later, we reiterate this call,” they said. “Despite making numerous commitments to uphold human rights, the Taliban have not only failed to deliver on their promises, they have also reversed much of the progress made in the past two decades”.
Moreover, the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan, which has already caused immeasurable harm to millions, shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it is predicted to worsen, they added, partly due to the interruption of international assistance and the freezing of Afghan assets abroad.
Attack on women and girls
The experts said the Taliban have committed a “plethora” of human rights violations, with the virtual erasure of women and girls from society, as well as their systematic oppression, being particularly egregious.
“Nowhere else in the world has there been as wide-spread, systematic and all-encompassing an attack on the rights of women and girls – every aspect of their lives is being restricted under the guise of morality and through the instrumentalization of religion. Discrimination and violence cannot be justified on any ground”.
Regrettably, there is little indication that the human rights situation is turning a corner, they said.
“Indeed, the daily reports of violence – including extra-judicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, heightened risks of exploitation faced by women and girls including for the purposes of child and forced marriage, and a breakdown in the rule of law – gives us no confidence that the Taliban has any intention of making good on its pledge to respect human rights.”
Citizens now have no means for redress as the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has been abolished, along with other independent oversight mechanism and institutions.
The administration of justice has also been compromised. The applicable law is unclear, and judges and other officials have been replaced, which has especially affected women.
Peace prospects dim
The experts pointed to other violations, such as the curtailing of press freedom, and the rise in attacks on religious and ethnic minorities, some of which were claimed by the ISIL-KP terrorist group. They also and highlighted how journalists, activists, academics and artists have either left the country, quit their work, or gone into hiding.
Furthermore, in the absence of an inclusive and representative government, prospects for long-lasting peace, reconciliation and stability will remain minimal.
“The de facto authorities seek international recognition and legitimacy. Regrettably, they continue to abuse almost all human rights standards while refusing to offer even a modicum of respect for ordinary Afghans, in particular women and girls,” said the experts.
Most recently, the Taliban appeared to have been harbouring the leader of Al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed last week in a US drone strike, which the experts said also raises concerns of a violation of international law.
“Until it demonstrates significant steps towards respecting human rights, including by immediately reopening girls’ secondary schools and restoring their access to a quality education, they should not be on a path to recognition.”
Action by the authorities
In addition to honouring their international obligations, the experts have called for the Taliban to fully implement human rights standards, including respecting the rights of women and girls to education, employment and participation in public life.
The de facto authorities should immediately open all secondary schools for girls, and lift restrictions on women’s mobility, attire, employment and participation. The rights of minority communities must also be upheld.
The Taliban are also urged to “respect the general amnesty and immediately stop all reprisals against members of the former government’s security forces, other officials and civil society, especially human rights defenders, including women”.
Furthermore, human rights monitors and humanitarians should be allowed free, unhindered access throughout the country, including to sensitive locations such as detention facilities.
They also called for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, bar associations, and other relevant unions, to immediately be reinstated and allowed to operate freely and independently.
The experts also outlined steps the international community should take.
They include insuring civilians have equitable access to humanitarian aid, and supporting ongoing initiatives by Afghan women towards a strategy to promote the rights of women and girls, with clear benchmarks and expectations.
Countries are also urged to maintain and/or adopt sustained and robust humanitarian exemptions within sanctions regimes to ensure compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.
“Such measures should be fit for purpose, ensure that sanctions measures do not interfere with protected humanitarian action under international law, and function to remediate the current humanitarian crises and to prevent sanctions from continuing to exacerbate the humanitarian human rights crises being faced by the Afghan people,” they said.
Role of UN experts
The 20 experts who issued the statement were all appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.
They include Richard Bennett, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, and other Special Rapporteurs who monitor and report on issues such as the situation of human rights defenders worldwide.
These independent experts receive their mandates from the Council and operate in their individual capacity. They are neither UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
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