How Middle East social enterprises proved their mettle amid the pandemic

How Middle East social enterprises proved their mettle amid the pandemic
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C3 runs accelerator programs on sustainability in 11 countries across the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey. (Supplied)
How Middle East social enterprises proved their mettle amid the pandemic
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C3 runs accelerator programs on sustainability in 11 countries across the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey. (Supplied)
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Updated 11 December 2020

How Middle East social enterprises proved their mettle amid the pandemic

How Middle East social enterprises proved their mettle amid the pandemic
  • Impact investment has become more attractive to venture capital firms in MENA since the pandemic began
  • Social enterprises have delivered emergency relief to areas underserved by governments and the market

DUBAI: Throughout the Middle East and the world, social enterprises have been among the first to respond to the significant challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

In Tunisia, the Banque Alimentaire Durable dispensed food aid to needy families during the month of Ramadan and beyond, while in Lebanon, the non-governmental organization Abaad fielded nearly twice as many calls on its domestic abuse helpline in the first four months of the year than it did over the whole of 2019.

This ability to deliver emergency relief to areas underserved by governments and the market could see investment in social enterprises remain relatively steady and perhaps even grow, a June survey by New York-based Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) revealed.

Impact investment, valued at $715 billion worldwide, is defined as the funding of projects that generate a positive social or environmental outcome.




C3 runs accelerator programs on sustainability in 11 countries across the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey. (Supplied)

The GIIN survey, which polled 294 leading investors with $404 billion of impact investment assets, saw the majority (73 percent) say they would maintain or increase their planned outlay for 2020.

“COVID-19 has increased the need for impact investment and augmented investors’ interest in impact-driven firms,” said Medea Nocentini, co-founder and CEO of C3 (Companies Creating Change).

“Most social enterprises not only survived during the COVID-19 pandemic but also thrived. This proves that companies creating change are the future.”

C3 runs accelerator programs on sustainability in 11 countries throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT). It aims to help entrepreneurs working toward realizing at least one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to maximize their social impact and ensure their financial stability.




Medea Nocentini, co-founder and CEO of C3

Nocentini noted that there had been an increased interest in regional companies creating a positive impact and a better understanding of their business models.

“Investors used to view these companies as small initiatives or non-profit organizations. However, the pandemic made them realize that companies who are seeking to create a positive impact are scalable, sustainable, resilient, and indeed investable,” she added.

Startups that sit at the intersection of technology, development, and social impact could benefit from this increased interest, particularly healthtech, edutech, and agritech within the MENAT region.

IN NUMBER

10,000 - Saudis for whom there is one non-profit social organization.

As the co-founder and CEO of Nabta Health — a hybrid healthcare company focused on diagnosing underlying health conditions in women — Sophie Smith has noted an increased interest since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Until COVID-19, there was little or no interest among Middle Eastern venture capital firms to invest in life sciences and healthcare. Today, we see several of the big venture capitalists (VCs) pivoting away from e-commerce, marketplaces, logistics, and fintech (financial technology) to focus almost exclusively on healthtech,” she said.

“VCs are recognizing the need to invest in accessible and affordable healthcare for people across the region, to enhance overall population health and protect against future pandemics.”

The general consensus among social impact companies, she added, was that the COVID-19 pandemic had made it easier to attract investment, not the other way round.




Sophie Smith, co-founder and CEO of Nabta Health

“The closing of borders and suspension of trade has made governments realize the importance of building local, sustainable businesses, with a particular focus on food and population health security. This is good news for social impact companies that nearly always have a sustainability mandate and a desire to uplift the local community,” Smith said.

Beyond their micro-level impact, social enterprises could also play a larger, national role. For example, financially sustainable social enterprises in Saudi Arabia could contribute an additional 2.5 percent to gross domestic product (GDP) per year and create more than 250,000 jobs by 2030, according to September estimates from PwC. By contrast, in the UK, the sector accounts for 3 percent of GDP.

At present, there is just one non-profit social organization for every 10,000 people in Saudi Arabia, compared to about 50 in Canada and the US, and 200 in France, PwC said. The consultancy sees social enterprises as a promising way to help the Kingdom achieve the ambitious economic transformation outlined in its Vision 2030 development plan.

Whether in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, impact investing can lead to a more equitable distribution of resources, while generating social, environmental, and economic returns.

 

• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.

 


US defense secretary in Israel amid Iran nuclear talks

US defense secretary in Israel amid Iran nuclear talks
Updated 9 min 14 sec ago

US defense secretary in Israel amid Iran nuclear talks

US defense secretary in Israel amid Iran nuclear talks
  • Austin’s visit comes days after Washington said it had offered “very serious” ideas on reviving the hobbled agreement that is opposed by Israel
TEL AVIV: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Israel Sunday on the first high-level visit from the new US administration, after talks restarted on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Austin’s visit comes just days after Washington said it had offered “very serious” ideas on reviving the hobbled agreement that is staunchly opposed by Israel.
Austin’s first scheduled stop on the two-day trip was a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
Israel under hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a fierce critic of the Iran nuclear deal, dating back to when it was being negotiated during Barack Obama’s administration.
Netanyahu applauded when Trump withdrew from the deal and imposed sanctions on Tehran, which responded by stepping back from several of its commitments under the deal.
In the latest breach of its undertakings in the troubled agreement, Tehran announced on Saturday that it had started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges.
President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated a cascade of 164 IR-6 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium, as well as two test cascades — of 30 IR-5 and 30 IR-6S devices respectively — at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant, in a ceremony broadcast by state television.
An “accident” took place at Nantaz on Sunday but caused no casualties or damage, the Fars news agency reported.
In an address marking the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu said on Wednesday that Israel would not be bound to a nuclear deal that would enable the Islamic republic to develop nuclear weapons.
“An agreement with Iran that would pave the way to nuclear weapons — weapons that threaten our extinction — would not compel us in any way,” said the veteran right-wing premier.
Biden has said he is prepared to return to the agreement, arguing the deal had — until Washington’s withdrawal — been successful in dramatically scaling back Iran’s nuclear activities.
But Washington has demanded Iranian movement back toward compliance while Tehran has insisted on an end to all US restrictions, with each side demanding that the other make the first move.

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility
Updated 11 April 2021

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility
  • Behrouz Kamalvandi said there were no injuries nor pollution caused by the incident
  • Iran later called the incident sabotage

TEHRAN: Iran's Natanz nuclear site suffered a problem Sunday involving its electrical distribution grid just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges that more quickly enrich uranium, state TV reported. It was the latest incident to strike one of Tehran's most-secured sites amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers.
State TV quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran's civilian nuclear program, announcing the incident.
Kamalvandi said there were no injuries or pollution cause by the incident.
The word state television used in its report attributed to Kamalvandi in Farsi can be used for both “accident” and “incident.” It didn't immediately clarify the report, which ran at the bottom of its screen on its live broadcast. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the civilian arm of its nuclear program, did not immediately issue a formal statement about the incident on its website.
Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Israel, Iran's regional archenemy, has been suspected of carrying out an attack there, as well as launching other assaults, as world powers now negotiate with Tehran in Vienna over its nuclear deal.
On Saturday, Iran announced it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges at the plant, injecting them with the uranium gas and beginning their rapid spinning. Officials also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which they say will enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran's first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1. The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only IR-1s for enrichment.
Since then-President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has abandoned all the limits of its uranium stockpile. It now enriches up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran maintains its atomic program is for peaceful purposes, but fears about Tehran having the ability to make a bomb saw world powers reach the deal with the Islamic Republic in 2015.
The deal lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for it limiting its program and allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to keep a close watch on its work.


Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays
Updated 11 April 2021

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays
  • The country's healthcare system has been strained by years of political turmoil and violence
  • Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh called it a "blessed day" in the fight against COVID-19 after receiving his shot

TRIPOLI: Libya's new unity government launched a long-delayed COVID-19 vaccination programme on Saturday after receiving some 160,000 vaccine doses over the past week, with the prime minister receiving his jab on live television.
While Libya is richer than its neighbours due to oil exports, the country's healthcare system has been strained by years of political turmoil and violence, and it has struggled to cope during the pandemic.
Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh called it a "blessed day" in the fight against COVID-19 after receiving his shot, without saying which vaccine he had been given. At least 100,000 of the doses that arrived this week were Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.
Dbeibeh's interim Government of National Unity was sworn in last month after emerging through a UN-facilitated process with a mandate to unify the country, improve state services and oversee the run-up to a national election in December.
Dbeibeh's government has framed the delivery of vaccines and the national roll-out as evidence that it is improving the lives of ordinary Libyans after replacing two warring administrations that ruled in the east and west of the country.
"Through the political consultations and the efforts of the prime minister, the vaccine is available," said Health Minister Ali Al-Zanati, who has said previously the government had so far ordered enough doses to inoculate 1.4 million of the country's more than six million people.
Libya's National Centre for Disease Control has said more than 400,000 people have registered for vaccination in more than 400 centres around the country.
Libya has recorded more than 166,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, though UN envoys have said the true figures are likely far higher.
"I feel sorry that the vaccine arrived late in Libya after thousands were infected. But better late than never," said Ali al-Hadi, a shop owner, adding that his wife had been sick with COVID-19 and recovered.
Many Libyans fear the vaccination campaign could be marred by political infighting or favouritism after years of unrest.
"We hope the Health Ministry will steer away from political conflicts so that services can reach patients," said housewife Khawla Muhammad, 33. 


Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger

Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger
A file photo shows a dredger trying to free the Panama-flagged MV Ever Given long vessel across the waterway of Egypt's Suez Canal. (AFP)
Updated 10 April 2021

Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger

Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger
  • Its maximum drilling depth is 35 m and the dredger has control, safety and security systems matching the latest standards of international supervisory bodies

CAIRO: Egypt has welcomed the largest dredger of its kind in the Middle East, the “Mohab Mamish,” on board the heavy transport vessel Xiang Rui Kou.

Dredgers are advanced drilling equipment used by the Suez Canal to cleanse the waterway of sand and mud deposits, contributing to its expansion and deepening.

The Suez Canal showed its reliance on dredgers in the rescue and re-float operation of the giant container ship “Ever Given,” which ran aground in the shipping course on March 23. The incident caused the canal’s closure for six days.

Sources said that the dredger, inaugurated by the Dutch IHC Shipyard, would begin its new duties within the Suez Canal fleet soon.

The “Mohab Mamish” has a length of 147.4 meters, a width of 23 m, a depth of 7.7 m, and a draft of 5.5 m. It has a productivity of 3,600 cubic meters of sand per hour over a length of 4 km.

Its maximum drilling depth is 35 m and the dredger has control, safety and security systems matching the latest standards of international supervisory bodies.

The head of the Suez Canal Authority, Osama Rabie, said the “Mohab Mamish” was one of the vessels used to boost the canal’s development and that the dredging fleet was the main pillar in the strategy for developing the canal’s shipping course.

It provided the best guarantee to maintain the canal’s 24-meter depth, allowing the crossing of giant ships with large submersibles.

Rabie added that the canal’s dredging fleet had recently expanded its work, joining in with the development of Egypt’s ports and the disinfection of lakes.

IHC is working on launching another dredger for the Suez Canal called “Hussein Tantawi.” The two dredgers have a combined value of €300 million ($357.06 million).

Rabie also said the authority’s machines would be developed and the tensile strength would be adjusted to carry 250,000 tons, in comparison to the current 160,000 tons to match the tonnage and size of ships crossing the shipping course.


Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US

Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US
Updated 11 April 2021

Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US

Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US
  • President Hassan Rouhani inaugurates cascades of 164 IR-6 centrifuges and 30 IR-5 devices at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant
  • The new move is a direct challenge to the US, after talks began last week aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN/JEDDAH: Iran on Saturday started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in breach of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to curb its nuclear program.

The new move is a direct challenge to the US, after talks began last week aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Washington said it had offered “very serious” ideas on rescuing the agreement, which collapsed in 2018 when the US withdrew, but was waiting for Tehran to reciprocate.

Tehran’s response came on Saturday, when President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated a cascade of 164 IR-6 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium, as well as two test cascades of 30 IR-5 and 30 IR-6S devices at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, in a ceremony broadcast by state television.

Rouhani also launched tests on the “mechanical stability” of its latest-generation IR-9 centrifuges, and remotely opened a centrifuge assembly factory to replace a plant that was badly damaged in a July 2020 explosion widely attributed to Israel.

Rouhani again underlined at the ceremony, which coincided with Iran’s National Nuclear Technology Day, that Tehran’s nuclear program is solely for “peaceful” purposes.

Under the 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers, Iran is permitted to use only “first-generation” IR-1 centrifuges for production, and to test a limited number of IR-4 and IR-5 devices.

When the US withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, Donald Trump reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran, which responded by stepping up its nuclear enrichment to levels prohibited under the JCPOA.

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Iran’s latest move follows an opening round of talks in Vienna Tuesday with representatives of the remaining parties to the deal on bringing the US back into it.

All sides said the talks, in which Washington is not participating directly but is relying on the EU as an intermediary, got off to a good start.

However, US allies in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, believe any revived deal should also cover Iran’s ballistic missile program and its regional meddling through proxy militias in Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere.

Iran has demanded that the US lift all sanctions imposed by Trump before it resumes compliance with the JCPOA. The US insists that Iran must act first.

“The United States team put forward a very serious idea and demonstrated a seriousness of purpose on coming back into compliance if Iran comes back into compliance,” a US official said.

But the official said the US was waiting for its efforts to be reciprocated by Iran.

Iran is also demanding an end to all US restrictions, but the JCPOA covers only nuclear sanctions and not US measures taken in response to human rights and terrorism issues.

(With AFP)