MIT Lebanon Challenge seeks solutions to country’s crises

A view shows the skyline of the Lebanese capital Beirut at dusk on June 17, 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 June 2020

MIT Lebanon Challenge seeks solutions to country’s crises

  • Global initiative seeks to gather diaspora, locals from various backgrounds, specialties

When Jad Ojjeh started his MBA at the Sloan School of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) two years ago, he never expected to find himself leading an initiative to try and find ways to save his home country Lebanon from collapse.

Today, he and a team of compatriots and colleagues from all over the world have organized the MIT Lebanon Challenge, an event that brings together Lebanese from different backgrounds and specialties to focus on finding solutions to the country’s biggest problems.

“There are thousands of Lebanese abroad who are skilled, have time and resources, and who want to help, but they don’t know how to. There’s no single place where they can all get together and help,” Ojjeh, 27, told Arab News.

“Another side is that there are a lot of Lebanese in Lebanon who are skilled, who have time, but don’t have the resources to put something together and who haven’t done it before and need a little bit of help,” he said.

“So the problem really was how to get the diaspora to collaborate with each other and with the locals to set up businesses for themselves.”

The past year has proved to be catastrophic for Lebanon, which is in the midst of an economic crisis.

While the country has fared better than others in the region in tackling the coronavirus outbreak, the enforced lockdown and curfew have taken a significant toll on the economy.

The MIT Lebanon Challenge aims to split 600 applicants, 20-30 percent of whom are from the diaspora, into groups of seven that try to find solutions to problems arising from one of three main tracks: Basic needs, the industrial economy and the knowledge economy.

Teams will have access to expert mentors and a repository of resources throughout the event to “set them up for success,” Ojjeh said. These include more than 30 how-to guides on such things as pitching and using Zoom.

“We’re making an additional effort to reach the northern and southern areas (of Lebanon), where a lot of these problems exist. The issue of agriculture isn’t prevalent in Beirut, for example. We can’t work on agriculture solutions without involving the communities that are going to be implementing them,” Ojjeh said.

“At the same time, issues of food, shelter and water exist in Beirut and a lot of other communities, so they have intimate knowledge of what’s happening on the ground, what it takes to implement the project … We need them to be part of the solution,” he added.

“We want more non-business, non-engineering, lawyers, artists, designers. It’s all about bringing this different perspective to the table and looking at the problem from a different angle. If we continue looking at it from the same angle, we’re going to end up in the same place we started.”

The MIT Lebanon Challenge is set to kick off on June 26 and run for 48 hours. The teams will present to a panel of judges whose expertise is in the field for which they are finding a solution.

Proposals that make the cut will be given support from the MIT Lebanon Challenge organizers and partners.

Ojjeh said the focus will be on solutions that the teams can implement themselves rather than rely on heavy public sector intervention.

“This is an apolitical, non-sectarian, independent event working toward a better Lebanon for everyone in Lebanon,” he added.


Coronavirus cases soar as Israel prepares tighter measures

Updated 20 sec ago

Coronavirus cases soar as Israel prepares tighter measures

  • Israel, a country of some 9 million people, now has one of the world’s highest rates of coronavirus on a per capita basis
  • The government reopened the economy too quickly, and a new outbreak has quickly spread throughout the summer

JERUSALEM: Israel on Wednesday reported a new record level of daily cases of the coronavirus, shortly before government officials were to meet to discuss tightening a new nationwide lockdown.
The Health Ministry reported 6,861 new cases on Wednesday as a raging outbreak showed no signs of slowing. Israel, a country of some 9 million people, now has one of the world’s highest rates of coronavirus on a per capita basis, and health officials say hospitals are quickly approaching capacity.
The government last week imposed a nationwide lockdown that closed schools, shopping malls, hotels and restaurants. The coronavirus Cabinet was to meet later in the day to discuss further tightening the restrictions.
Ahead of the meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in light of the rapid spread of the virus, he would seek a “a broad general closure and significant tightening of restrictions immediately,” including the closure of large parts of the economy, his office said.
Israel won international praise for its handling of the outbreak last spring, moving quickly to seal its borders and impose a lockdown that appeared to contain the virus. But the government reopened the economy too quickly, and a new outbreak has quickly spread throughout the summer. The economy, meanwhile, has not recovered from a serious downturn caused by the first lockdown, and the new lockdown has led to a new wave of layoffs.
A new poll released Wednesday by the Israel Democracy Institute, a respected think tank, found that only 27% of Israelis trust Netanyahu to lead the country’s effort against COVID-19. That compares with 57.5% who trusted him in early April. The survey interviewed 754 adults and had a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.
The Health Ministry has instructed hospitals to delay non-essential surgeries and to open additional coronavirus wards as the number of serious cases continues to rise.
Beyond further limiting economic activity, officials have been discussing shuttering synagogues and clamping down on protests — both of which risk sparking a public backlash.
The limits would come at a time when Israeli Jews are celebrating the High Holidays and when weekly demonstrations have been held against Netanyahu and his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The ongoing protests have bitterly divided the country, with religious leaders saying their public is being unfairly targeted by restrictions on public prayer while Netanyahu’s opponents continue to hold large public demonstration. Demonstrators say Netanyahu’s supporters are using the outbreak as an excuse to muzzle their democratic right to protest.
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said restrictions would have to be tightened in the near future.
“Educational institutions will be closed, the economy will be limited to essential work, synagogues will have no indoor prayers, with arrangements for outdoor prayer, and demonstrations will be allowed without protesters traveling between cities,” he told Channel 12 TV. “Everyone will demonstrate where he wants, will pray where he wants and will stay at home. That is what is required now.”