Green Cities InitiativeIn September 2020, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched the Green Cities Initiative, a program that aims to build more resilient urban and peri-urban communities throughout the world. The FAO is aiming for this initiative to improve social, economic and environmental resilience in 1,000 cities by 2030.

The Urban Boom

The World Bank reports that 4.4 billion people, more than half of the world’s population, currently live in cities, a number on track to more than double by 2050. In the coming years, urban and peri-urban areas will need to respond to increased pressures on infrastructure, affordable housing and transportation systems. These areas will also need to create employment opportunities for a broadening pool of job seekers. With conscious investments in green infrastructure, reforestation and sustainable food systems, cities can increase their resilience in the face of extreme weather while also creating jobs in the process.

An Airborne Warning

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the already grim relationship between health and poverty in urban areas. The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (U.N.-Habitat) reports that health risks are already high for urban populations without access to basic necessities like clean air and water, adequate housing and waste management. These conditions aggravate existing inequalities, resulting in inequitable health and economic outcomes.

Globally, the pandemic and its associated economic devastation are increasing inequality and eroding the progress made on numerous Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the FAO, supply chain disruptions, particularly in food systems, and unprecedented demands on hygiene-related resources and services expose the need for city stakeholders to reimagine and rethink the future of their urban systems.

Building Urban Resilience

The Green Cities Initiative is a unique opportunity to take action on hard lessons learned from these ongoing health and environmental crises. Through site-specific strategies that ensure access to green spaces and nutritious foods, strengthen urban and rural connectivity and provide investments in green infrastructure, the Green Cities Initiative takes a holistic approach to human and planetary wellness.

As of November 2022, 80 cities are participating in the Initiative, including Tunisia’s capital of Tunis, Italy’s Bologna, Kenya’s Nairobi and Sri Lanka’s Colombo city. Here are three examples of programs FAO implemented alongside non-governmental and governmental groups in partnership with the Green Cities Initiative:

  • The Initiative helped reforest at least 1.6 hectares of mangrove forests in Quelimane, Mozambique, a project that mitigated flooding risk in the coastal city.
  • In Nairobi, Kenya, an initiative tackled the city’s prevalent food waste, lowering the amount of rotten and unsold produce that vendors leave behind or that people otherwise lose between production and consumption. Some measures included introducing technology and techniques for composting and “biogas digesters,” which turn produce into fuel.
  • Training for women working as street food vendors in Kisumu, Kenya, gave participants business-generating skills and created a ripple effect of positive hygiene and business practices in the city.

A Focus on Poverty

While the Green Cities Initiative is most obviously environmentally focused, the Initiative works to address poverty in a few unique ways, including:

  • Strengthening urban and rural connectivity. Though most of the world’s impoverished populations reside in rural areas, the FAO focuses on the fact that the majority do not live far from a city. By strengthening connections between rural and urban communities, (particularly via food processing and distribution industries) the FAO aims to create jobs and bolster the overall economy of a given region, thereby reducing poverty and poverty-induced migration.
  • Mitigating environmental catastrophe. Environmental risks associated with extreme weather are elevated in high-density urban areas, manifesting in loss of life and economic shocks. Creating resiliency through green spaces and green infrastructure mitigates such risks and their disproportionate impacts on impoverished residents.
  • Building healthy, sustainable food systems. Impoverished residents of urban areas, particularly those living in congested areas or informal settlements, often lack access to clean air, running water and healthy, affordable food. To curb the resulting prevalence of “nutrition-related and non-communicable diseases,” the Initiative aims to increase the availability and affordability of nutritious and urban-grown foods. Tackling food, water and agricultural waste is also a focus, with the Initiative pushing for circular economies overall.

Supporting Local Governments

In February 2020, the World Economic Forum reported that Africa was home to the 15 fastest-growing cities in the world. Across many regions of the continent, the climate crisis already applies particular pressure, namely in the form of an influx of climate migrants in search of stable incomes. In the coming years, urban communities of all sizes will need systems in place to adapt to, prepare for and respond to economic, social and environmental shocks. The Green Cities Initiative, by supporting “local governments in mainstreaming agriculture, food systems and green spaces in local policy, planning and actions,” offers one pathway toward global stability and sustainability.

– Hannah Carrigan
Photo: Flickr

Technology Access
All over the world, libraries provide the public with free resources in order to inform, educate, enlighten, empower and equip communities with the tools to succeed. Being such an integral part of communities, it is important that everyone has access to libraries or public spaces for educational purposes. Currently, most “economic, educational, health and social opportunities” are dependent on access to the internet. The Gates Foundation’s Global Library Initiative is working to expand technology access in public libraries around the globe.

The Global Library Initiative’s Strategy

The Global Library Initiative, which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has sponsored, works in partnership with governments around the world to expand technology access, foster innovation, train community leaders and advocate for policy changes that benefit public libraries. By investing more than $1 billion globally to enhance the power of libraries, the Global Library Initiative is improving lives. Over the next 10 years, the Gates Foundation plans on implementing:

  • New models of public library research, training and practice.
  • More collaboration across organizations that support public libraries.
  • More support for global connections between public libraries and library organizations.
  • Sustain existing global library programs.

The Significance

“Access to information is a great equalizer” reported the Gates Foundation in response to the significance of The Global Library Initiative. After the technology boom, economic, educational, health and social opportunities almost always depend on an individual’s access to resources found online. A lack of internet access can usually translate to a lack of opportunity.

The World Economic Forum reported that the pandemic exposed the true digital divide across the globe. It reported that almost half of the world’s population had no access to the internet and fewer than one in five people in countries that are least developed around the world were connected. Furthermore, women are 30-50% less likely than men to use the internet to participate in public life.

Because so many people are unable to access the internet that would otherwise provide them with useful knowledge, funding and supporting libraries across the globe provides a smart solution. However, even though many countries already have public libraries, the communities they support often overlook their use and importance and underutilize them. In sustaining these pre-existing libraries, The Global Library Initiative can train staff to provide services to users, supportive networks and broadband connectivity rather than construct new structures entirely.

The Global Library Initiative at Work to Improve Technology Access: Romania

Because the Global Library Initiative is not contained in a single country, the program works with libraries across the globe. One example of the benefits includes their partnership with Biblionet in Romania. In partnering with the Global Library Initiative through the Gates Foundation, the Association of Librarians of Romania, and local and national governments, Biblionet allowed librarians to inspire and “breathe new life into Romanian Communities.”

The Global Library Initiative equipped 80% of all of Romania’s libraries with tech tools that offered strong internet connectivity. Then, the program funded the training of just more than 4,000 librarians in using the technology in order to ensure its accessibility to the public. In doing so, more than 41,000 farmers were able to file online applications for agricultural subsidies through public libraries. This resulted in more than $63 million worth of subsidies granted to them from the Ministry of Agriculture. Without access to the internet through the public library system, the farmers would not have received their fair share of subsidies.

The Global Library Initiative is bridging the gap between access to the internet and connectivity. The program allows more individuals to access free online resources that they would otherwise not have access to. Now, the disadvantaged have access to opportunities previously only available to more fortunate individuals, thus helping bridge the poverty gap.

– Opal Vitharana
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Denmark
Denmark is well-known as an egalitarian society with a generous welfare system that provides equal opportunities for men and women to thrive. However, in recent years, the nation’s efforts in advancing women’s rights in Denmark have been progressing slower in comparison to neighboring Scandinavian regions of Sweden and Norway. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 report ranked Denmark 29th for gender equality out of 258 nations, down from 14th place in 2020.

Political Participation

In 1814, Denmark passed a law on “universal primary education,” granting children irrespective of gender the right to seven years of education. This was the beginning of gender equality efforts in Denmark.

In Denmark’s 1849 and 1866 constitutions, “political engagement was reserved for men over the age of 30 who headed their own households.” In 1871, the Danish Women’s Society emerged to promote social change for women through advocacy and legislation. In addition, in 1915, Denmark through the “democracy constitution” granted women the right to vote and run for the parliamentary election.

Then, in 1924, Denmark appointed Nina Bang as minister of education, becoming “the world’s first female minister in a country with parliamentary democracy.” Women’s rights in Denmark have continued to evolve and advance over the years considering the increased level of women’s involvement in social causes and politics. Denmark elected the country’s first female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, in 2011. In addition, Denmark elected Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen as the second female prime minister and current Danish leader in 2019.

Gender Equality

The 1999 Amsterdam Treaty of the European Union influenced the gender equality legislation in Denmark. The Amsterdam Treaty “promotes respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms into the formal structure of the EU. It also strengthens and focuses the European commitment to gender equality and extends the equality principle beyond the workplace.”

Efforts to achieve gender parity in Denmark have focused for many years on women’s participation in public life and the decision-making process. The traditional independence of Danish women influenced women’s integration in the decision-making process. In 1999, the Danish government, in its effort to strengthen and promote equal gender participation, appointed a minister for gender equality to advance women’s rights in Denmark.

In furtherance of these efforts, the Danish parliament amended provisions of the Act on Gender Equality. The legislation “provides for promotion of gender equality, including equal integration, equal influence and equality in all functions of society on the basis of women’s and men’s equal status.” ​​

Gender Wage Gap

In 2020, out of 3 million people who registered in the Danish labor force, females made up 47%. The increased influx of women’s participation in the workforce demonstrates that females have strong representation in the labor market.

Despite this increase in labor participation, Denmark has stalled in its efforts to reduce gender wage gap differences. The Global Gender Gap Report for 2021 revealed a 38% income gap between men and women.

Experts attribute inequality in pay to gender segregation in labor participation. Danish women are more likely to hold public-sector jobs “while men are more likely to work in the private sector” and in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs.

The Public Servant Reform Act of 1969 paved the way for an unequal labor market as well. This law assigned job sectors that female employees commonly dominate, such as nursing, childcare and education, to lower wages than jobs that are more male-dominated, such as law enforcement. Furthermore, working long hours and employment pressures exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the disparity in income and the gains achieved in enhancing women’s rights in Denmark.

Parental Leave

Denmark has a flexible parental leave system as do neighboring Nordic countries Sweden and Norway. In 2019, Denmark’s Parliament expanded parental leave to “24 weeks of leave per parent, 13 of which are transferable, for a total of 48 weeks of leave combined.” This is a significant departure from the previous policy of 32 total weeks of paid leave. Parents receive entitlements to a combined parental leave benefit for 52 weeks. To qualify for parental leave benefits, certain employment duration requirements are necessary. The expanded parental leave will provide equal opportunities to integrate work and life balance for parents.

Looking Ahead

Danish society places a high value on equal opportunities for women with the election of two female prime ministers, but the work to achieve complete gender equality in Denmark is far from accomplished, more so with the income inequality challenge. The Danish government, in cooperation with civil society and the private sector, can improve women’s rights by creating safe spaces and repealing the 1969 Civil Service Reform Act to ensure equal pay for equal work. It is important for countries to leverage policies and programs that provide equal opportunities for men and women to achieve gender parity for a peaceful and prosperous world.

– Sylvia Eimieho
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in South Korea
In 2020, the South Korean
 Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) introduced the 9th Basic Plan for Long-Term Electricity Demand and Supply 2020-2034. In this plan, MOTIE sets a goal for renewable energy in South Korea to account for around 40% of the energy mix by 2034. Impressively, 100% of all South Koreans have access to electricity, however, most of the nation’s energy comes from non-renewable sources, which are not only expensive but are also unsustainable. 

Statistics on Energy in South Korea

In 2021, South Korea’s price of electricity increased “for the first time in around eight years” due to global fuel spikes. In June 2021, South Korea’s cost for energy for its citizens stood at $0.103 ( KRW123.02) per kWh (kilowatt-hour). On September 23, 2021, MOTIE announced that the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) intends to raise the rate per kWh to KRW3 by October 2021, meaning citizens can expect to pay another $0.88 (KRW1,050) monthly per household.

In comparison, in the United States, energy rates for households in November 2021 stood at $0.1412 per kWh. While South Korea’s energy rates per hour are cheaper, taking into account the vast number of people in Korea and the proportion of the population earning low wages, these rates are still costly. Energy rates could become more affordable with the use of renewable energy.

In 2020, crude oil was responsible for most of South Korea’s energy requirements, covering 35% of the country’s energy demands while coal covered 25% of energy requirements. Renewable energy in South Korea made up 1% of energy in 2020, with gas and nuclear covering the remaining energy needs at 17% and 16% respectively.

South Korea’s Poverty Rates

Between 2018 and 2019, South Korea’s poverty rate stood as the “fourth-highest” across 39 Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member states. This 16.7% poverty rate equates to one in every six Koreans living in relative poverty,  according to the Korean Herald. Korea’s unemployment rates are low, however, many employed citizens do not earn adequate incomes. This, combined with an aging society, contributes to the impoverished circumstances of many households and individuals.

How Renewable Energy Can Reduce Poverty

In 2015, South Korea’s capital city of Seoul implemented the Energy Welfare Public-Private Partnership Program to address issues of energy poverty among impoverished city dwellers. The project constructed a virtual power plant “through which 17 municipal buildings and 16 universities save electricity consumption during peak hours and donate profits from saved power back to the program to finance energy welfare.” The virtual power plant has led to “annual profits of more than $180,000,” which goes to the Seoul Energy Welfare Civic Fund. With this funding, more than 2,000 low-income households received retrofitting of “LED light bulbs, energy-efficient windows and solar panels” to reduce energy costs and harmful greenhouse emissions. The Seoul Energy Welfare Civic Fund also prioritized training the unemployed as community energy consultants, which led to 180 new employment opportunities.

Why Renewable Energy is Important

Renewable energy could increase access to energy for those living in poverty and reduce production costs and the selling price of electricity.

According to the World Economic Forum, in 2020, renewable energy stood as the most affordable energy source and the costs of renewable energy technology continue to reduce each year. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “emerging economies will save up to $156 billion over the lifespan of the renewable projects added in 2020 alone,” which would help to significantly reduce global poverty.

With South Korea as the “ninth-largest energy consumer in 2019,” the use of renewable energy can reduce the price of energy for citizens living in poverty.

Future of Renewable Energy in South Korea

Renewable energy can make electricity more affordable for all citizens, allowing them to focus finances on other basic necessities, investments and welfare programs. With the future increase of renewable energy, a decrease in air pollution and carbon emissions is also a significant positive benefit.

– Kyle Swingle
Photo: Flickr

Gender Wage Gap in IcelandIceland is a small island nation, home to about 366,000 people, situated in the North Atlantic Ocean between Greenland and Norway. Owing partly to its small size, Iceland has become a world leader in various social indicators, such as gender equality and poverty reduction. For the 12th year in a row, Iceland was crowned the most gender-equal country in the world by the World Economic Forum in its 2021 Global Gender Gap Report. Despite this top ranking, it is still necessary to fully close the gender wage gap in Iceland, and in turn, alleviate remaining poverty within the nation.

Poverty in Iceland

The gender wage gap, no matter how small, can have a significant impact on one’s vulnerability to poverty. The gap between the earnings of men and women means that pay cuts, unemployment and economic downturns more dramatically impact women, which can and have historically led to increases in poverty in Iceland.

The poverty rate in Iceland is much lower in comparison to its Nordic neighbors, with about 9% of Icelanders earning an income that falls below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold in 2018. In other Nordic countries, this figure sits “between 12% and 16.4%” while the average in the European Union stands at 21.9% in 2020.

Another indicator of poverty, the unemployment rate, is also very low in Iceland, standing at 3.9% in 2019. Further, there is little disparity between the unemployment rate for men and for women. However, there remains a difference in the employment rate, with 88% of working-age men having a paid job in comparison to 83% of women. This difference links to roles of childcare and housekeeping, which traditionally fall on women. However, Iceland has robust subsidized childcare policies, which lessen the burden of traditional gender roles and allow women to participate in the labor force more freely.

The Gender Wage Gap in Iceland

The Global Gender Gap Report finds that Iceland has closed 89.2% of its gender wage gap as of 2021, taking the lead as the most gender-equal country in the world. There is a strong culture around social safety nets and welfare in Iceland, ensuring that gender and income inequalities are minimal. According to the OECD Better Life Index, wage bargaining in Iceland helps promote income inequality and decrease poverty rates. In addition to this, the government has implemented several policies in recent years with the intention of addressing the gender wage gap in Iceland.

Gender Equality Policies in Iceland

First, and most well-known, is the Equal Pay Certification, the first policy of its kind in the world. This policy, which went into effect in 2018, requires all companies with 25 or more employees to provide annual proof of equal pay for men and women. The policy previously only required companies to disclose information on wages, but the government expanded it to further increase job satisfaction and transparency in the pay system. This one-of-a-kind policy is making strides to close what is remaining of the gender wage gap in Iceland.

Iceland also requires a near equal gender balance on the boards of all publicly traded companies and requires a certain percentage of employees to be of each gender. All companies with 25 or more employees must also disclose the gender composition of their employees — an initiative aimed at pressuring companies to improve gender equality in the workplace. While this policy does not directly address the gender wage gap, it is a step in ensuring overall gender equality that is likely to promote equal pay.

Looking Ahead

All in all, the Icelandic government has shown success in continuously narrowing the gender wage gap through the implementation of these policies. This success allows the nation to stand as a world leader in gender equality. Despite this, there is still room for progress, especially as Iceland’s demographics change and the country struggles with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics Iceland reports that immigrants represented 15.2% of the population in Iceland in 2020 — a figure that is consistently growing. Immigrants are at greater risk of poverty in Iceland because they are “less likely to be employed” compared to “their native-born counterparts.” Furthermore, the gender wage gap disproportionately impacts immigrant women, therefore, as the immigrant population in Iceland increases, strong gender equality policies remain important.

Another threat to narrowing the gender wage gap in Iceland is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has stalled progress in gender equality and poverty eradication worldwide. In Iceland, like in all countries where women face a double burden of working while caring for children and the household, lockdowns and social distancing force more women to stay home from work. These pandemic effects may threaten to reverse progress in gender wage gap policies. However, there is hope that the constant and unyielding work of the Icelandic government will ensure progress for years to come.

– Emma Tkacz
Photo: Flickr

improvements in RwandaRwanda is the fourth-smallest country in Africa, located in the Great Rift Valley in the central part of the continent. The nation has a population of about 13 million people and is home to two main ethnic groups: the pastoral Hutu and the agricultural Tutsi tribes. In 1990, tensions rose between these two groups and sparked a civil war, resulting in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The genocide led to the massacre of approximately 800,000 Tutsi civilians by Hutu extremists, marking one of the worst genocides in history. Since then, Rwanda has been in a state of repair and has made great strides in many areas of development. In particular, the Rwandan government notes 10 impressive improvements in Rwanda.

10 Improvements in Rwanda

  1. Poverty is on the Decline. In 2001, the poverty rate in Rwanda was as high as 77%, dropping to 55% in 2017. The introduction of the first five-year Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy in 2008 and a second five-year plan in 2013 largely account for this reduction.
  2. Increasing Life Expectancy. The Rwandan Civil War had a significant impact on life expectancy, which fell to a mere 26 years in 1993. Since then, the government has committed to improving the health and quality of life for its citizens, achieving a life expectancy of 69 as of 2019.
  3. Rwanda is a Leading Country in Gender Equality. In the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, Rwanda ranked as one of the top five leading countries in gender equality alongside Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway. Since the civil war, the nation has pushed for more female leadership in politics — as of November 2021, the Rwandan parliament has a 61% women-led majority, the world’s highest rate of female representation in parliament. Rwanda also has one the highest rates of women participating in the labor force at 84% in 2019.
  4. Unemployment is Decreasing Despite the COVID-19 Pandemic. Before the pandemic, unemployment in Rwanda was steadily declining, dropping to less than 1% in 2019. Like many countries, lockdowns and other preventive measures for COVID-19 originally caused unemployment to skyrocket back up to 1.35% in 2020. However, Rwanda quickly bounced back — employment rates rose from 43% in the second quarter of 2020 to nearly 49% in the third quarter.
  5. Maternal Mortality Rates are Falling. In 2019, the maternal mortality rate in Rwanda decreased by nearly 23% “from 1,270 per 100,000 live births” in the 1990s to 290. This significant decrease is largely due to innovations in the medical field, which allow for better storage and delivery of blood supplies, preventing postpartum hemorrhaging deaths in women.
  6. Inequality is on the decline. Inequality is defined as “disparities between individuals or groups in areas such as income, wealth, education, health, nutrition, space, politics and social identity.” Historically, Rwanda was home to some of the highest rates of inequality in Africa. However, this is changing. Over the past two decades, Rwanda has noted significant improvements in terms of access to utilities. Access to health care is also improving although there are still disparities between urban and rural communities. From 2006 to 2017, inequality declined from 0.52 to 0.43 as measured by the Gini index.
  7. The Rwandan Economy is Growing. Prior to the pandemic, Rwanda was experiencing “an economic boom.” From 2000 to 2019, the economy grew by an average of 7.2% and the country’s GDP rose by about 5% annually. Rwanda has put in place measures to control COVID-19 within its borders, resulting in an unsurprising 3.4% GDP decrease in 2020. However, the nation hopes to resume growth following the distribution of vaccines.
  8. Land Restoration. Rwanda also notes great improvements in terms of the environment. In 2012, the Rwandan government initiated the Green Fund, “the largest investment fund of its kind in Africa.” So far, the project has created more than 10,000 jobs and encourages rural communities to participate in agroforestry and reforestation.
  9. Malaria Progress. Medical improvements in Rwanda have reduced fatal malaria cases significantly in recent years. In 2017, the country experienced upwards of 4.8 million cases, but in 2020, cases dropped to 1.8 million. Malaria-related deaths also reduced from 700 in 2016 to 148 deaths in 2020.
  10. Health care is Universal. Mutual Health is the name of Rwanda’s universal health care system, which was created in 2008. As of 2019, Mutual Health covered close to 96% of the population, lowering medical costs and providing services for even the most impoverished citizens of Rwanda.

Rwanda: A Success Story

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many new obstacles for Rwanda, but the “Land of a Thousand Hills” is advancing nonetheless. Since the civil war and the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the country has committed to recovery and restoration and has certainly exceeded all expectations. These many improvements in Rwanda are due to the great resiliency of the nation’s people, a nation that will continue to rise above all obstacles.

– Hannah Gage
Photo: Flickr

Costa Rica’s SuccessWhile numerous well-publicized problems plague many Latin American countries, especially in Central America, Costa Rica’s success as a nation stems from several factors. For decades, Costa Rica has had a more open political system and provided a better quality of life than its neighbors. Costa Rica is considered one of the happiest and most sustainable countries in the world. As news stories of Central America are often negative, Costa Rica provides a success story that inspires hope.

Political Stability and Representation

Since 1949, Costa Rica has maintained a stable and democratic government. Therefore, Costa Rica has avoided the political and gang violence that other Central American countries struggle with. Costa Rica has a strong constitution that enshrines many democratic rights, ensuring that rights are not eroded and that Costa Rican people are represented. Many people credit democratic values for Costa Rica’s success.

Costa Rica’s government has gained a reputation in Latin America for its socially progressive policies. Moreover, these politics led to much greater female representation in government than in many comparable countries. The nation has had a female president and has a very high proportion of women in its legislature. Women now comprise 45.6% of the legislature, which is the ninth-highest in the world.

The Economy, Education and Healthcare

Costa Rica has one of the most developed economies in Latin America. The economy is generally stable and had not experienced a significant downturn in decades until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The poverty rate halved in the past two decades and the country maintains a strong export economy. The country grows at an economic rate of 2.5%  annually. Costa Rica’s success in the economic realm is also because the government does not have an army, freeing up funds to spend on social programs and development.

Costa Rica is considered an upper-middle-income country with the lowest poverty rate in Central America. About 20% of the country earns less than $155 a month, pushing them into the poverty category. In terms of the international poverty line, less than 2% of Costa Ricans are considered impoverished —  an impressive accomplishment.

Costa Rica has a high-quality education system and its citizens have a high reputation for being well-educated. Education in the country is sufficiently accessible. Furthermore, according to the World Economic Forum, Costa Rica invested 8% of its GDP into education in 2019. Costa Rica has the second-highest life expectancy in North America, just behind Canada. Furthermore, the country’s robust healthcare system is considered to be one of the best in Latin America.

Happiness and Sustainability

Costa Rica was ranked the most sustainable and happy country on Earth by the Happy Planet Index. The country’s commitment to green energy and environmental sustainability can provide an example for the rest of the world. Costa Rica generates more than 99% of its energy from renewable sources, primarily relying on hydropower. It has also reversed deforestation and designated one-third of its land as protected natural reserves. This environmental protection preserves the country’s beauty and supports the tourism industry, a vital part of the economy.

Clay Hallee
Photo: Flickr

Youth Workforce
Pakistan is looking to bridge the skills gap between Pakistan’s youth workforce and the upcoming demands of its rising technology and automation markets. Structural change is necessary for Pakistan as the growing youth population faces challenges such as a rising unemployment rate and socioeconomic and gender disparities that keep students out of the classroom. In 2020, youth in Pakistan faced an unemployment rate as high as 8.5%; today, approximately 44% of children and teenagers are out of school. With 64% of the population younger than 30, Pakistan has more young people than ever who have the power to revolutionize its workforce by becoming re-skilled in relevant and desirable industries.

Pakistan’s Fourth Industrial Revolution

Pakistan is ushering in its fourth industrial revolution with a big challenge to overcome: enrolling more youth in schools where they can begin working with technology at an early age. This is especially critical as countries are growing increasingly dependent on online learning and employment during the worldwide COVID-19 crisis.

Pakistan’s rising investments in automation, e-commerce, digital payment systems and more requires the youth workforce to keep pace with new technologies. Such growth poses many new opportunities for the nation, including modernizing technology and making tasks such as digital banking and online learning easier.

According to Parwaaz, a reskilling initiative that the World Economic Forum supports, the top 10 skills of 2025 include:

  • Technology Use & Monitoring
  • Technology Design
  • Critical Thinking & Analysis
  • Active Learning & Learning Strategies
  • Reasoning, Problem Solving & Ideation
  • Analytical Thinking & Innovation
  • Resilience & Stress Tolerance
  • Complex Problem Solving
  • Leadership & Social Influence
  • Creativity & Originality

These skills can take the Pakistani youth beyond their current capabilities by smoothing their transition into the workforce while giving existing employees opportunities for career advancement.

A Multistakeholder Approach to Success

Pakistan’s largest skills development fund, the Punjab Skills and Development Fund (PSDF), is partnering with the World Economic Forum to join the “Reskilling Revolution.” According to Managing Director Saadia Zahidi, the goal of the revolution is to bring better work, skills and education to over 1 billion people by 2030. Challenges to reskilling include high costs, disconnects between training and relevant skills and few private training opportunities. However, with the launch of Parwaaz, a more structured form of reskilling is underway.

A multi-stakeholder public and private skills training initiative, Parwaaz has pinpointed six sectors that require trained workers in order to accommodate future market demands. These sectors include:

  • ICT
  • Financial Services
  • Textile
  • Hospitality
  • Retail and Services
  • Manufacturing & Light Engineering
  • Agriculture & Livestock

Parwaaz is expecting to change the core skills of 40% of workers in the country, raise the rate of automation from 33% in 2020 to 47% by 2025 and give two out of three employers returns on human capital investment. It plans to achieve this by creating incubators that will train 1,000 young people by June 2021 in market-relevant skills. Parwaaz will continue to function with financial and policy support from the Pakistani government and support from other stakeholders such as educational institutions and industry experts.

Integrating Pakistan’s youth workforce into new, more advanced markets is a nationwide effort that will result in high-performing companies, skilled employees, increased innovation and a stable structure for the future. Ultimately, investments in technology, automation and the growing youth workforce will lead to a brighter future for everyone while helping lift vulnerable populations of poverty.

Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

Women in EgyptEgypt has made strides in women’s rights over the years, but still has a long way to go when it comes to equality for women in nearly any aspect of life. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, women in Egypt consist of just 26% of the labor force. Their literacy rate is similarly low at 65%. This predisposes girls and women to a life of poverty, especially if they are unmarried. The report ranks Egypt 134th out of 153 countries based on gender disparities in various aspects of development.

Women in Egypt Experience Inequality

The country’s traditional society not only allows for this inequality but also encourages it. Human Rights Watch reported that the Egyptian government targeted and jailed female social media influencers for “undermining values.” For example, in April 2020, authorities arrested Hanin Hossum, age 20,  for “indecent” photos and videos of her singing and dancing fully clothed. The prosecutor’s primary evidence to charge Hossum: suggesting to her female followers that women should earn money posting videos on Likee, an app similar to TikTok. Cairo’s Economic Court sentenced her to two years in prison and imposed a fine of 300,000 Egyptian pounds, the near-equivalent of $19,000.

Women in Egypt must also worry about their safety while walking on Egypt’s streets. For example, Arab Barometer’s 2019 survey showed that 90% of women aged 18 to 29 experienced some form of sexual harassment in a 12-month period. Cairo took the top ranking as the most dangerous city for women in a 2017 Thomson-Reuters Survey, in addition to ranking as the third-worst city in terms of sexual violence.

With all these concerns, several nonprofit organizations are stepping in to empower women in Egypt.


Founded in 2010 by four local women’s rights activists, HarassMap is a nonprofit volunteer organization with a goal to end sexual harassment and foster a zero-tolerance society in Egypt.

The initiative’s website displays a world map dotted with reports of sexual harassment made by anonymous volunteers who are encouraged to intervene on the survivor’s behalf if possible. Other activities include educating others on the myths surrounding harassment through film and literature and conducting studies based on the data collected.

Along with normalizing public discourse on the subject, HarassMap has influenced policies in Egypt as well. Due to the organization’s efforts, Cairo University adopted its first anti-sexual harassment law in 2014. It also influenced Uber Cairo to tighten its harassment policies, making the company a safer alternative to city taxis. HarassMap has even assisted the development of other tracking websites in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.


The U.S. Agency for International Development is an independent government agency that has focused on committing resources toward eliminating poverty and inequality around the world since 1961.

USAID works directly with the Egyptian government to address the gender gap and empower Egyptian women. The agency awarded scholarships for master’s degrees in STEM-based fields through the U.S.-Egypt Higher Education Initiative. As of 2014, USAID granted more than 600 scholarships to STEM-focused undergraduate and graduate women. Its programs have also provided pathways for women to launch businesses and enter male-dominated industries like agribusiness.

USAID has influenced policy, starting with providing help in drafting a 2010 framework for Egypt’s National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women. In coordination with NGOs, the agency worked to influence Egypt to regard sexual harassment as a crime in 2014. In October 2020, USAID committed to providing Egypt with $28.2 million to support economic governance and women’s empowerment.


The Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW) was first formed in 1987 with the expressed purpose of serving Egypt’s female heads of households and their families with regard to economic and social standing. ADEW specifically focuses on impoverished communities in cities, towns and villages.

It utilizes a wide variety of projects in the areas of health, employment, law awareness, education, financial assistance and more. One such initiative is the Micro-credit Program, which provides small loans to women to start their own businesses. Through peer lending, groups of women guarantee their own loans without being forced to depend on a male guarantor. The program has yielded great success, boasting a loan repayment rate of 99%. ADEW has helped 500,000 individuals in its 33 years of fieldwork.

Women in Egypt often struggle to overcome barriers stemming from gender inequality. There are limitations imposed by both the government and by society at large with regards to financial stability, privacy or even the freedom to walk down a street without facing harassment. However,  it is important to note that Egypt has made strides in the advancement of women’s rights, and with the increase in awareness and activism surrounding women’s empowerment, Egypt will continue to see a progression.

Zachary Sherry
Photo: Flickr

addressing gender inequality in EgyptEgypt recently launched the “Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator” to reinforce its stance on female economic gender discrimination. This initiative is a partnership between the World Economic Forum (WEF), National Council of Women, the Egyptian Government and the private business sector. The financial and human capital investment in this undertaking shows that the country is committed to addressing gender inequality in Egypt.

Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator

In 2019, Egypt’s Minister of Tourism, International Cooperation and Investment, Dr. Rania Al-Mashat, signed a letter of intent along with the WEF and the National Council of Women to empower women. More than 48 million women represent this emerging countries’ population and the good news is that their involvement will expedite the growth of the economy and gather momentum in eliminating poverty.

Each party has a specific role in the program’s success. Businesses will be tasked with the presence of additional women in the workforce, equal pay and professional development. Other benefits included are extended maternity leave for either parent and subsidized childcare to offset barriers that will cause women to fall behind, lose their position or not enter the labor force.

Egypt’s government, which has invested more than $3 billion in this project, will incentivize strategies and track the program’s evolution. In addition, the legislature has the commitment of more than 90 businesses.

Objectives of the Accelerator

Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator’s mission has four objectives: eliminate the gender pay gap, ensure more women are promoted into business management roles, expand their growth in the workforce and make sure that women are poised to work in a society that is will be powered by the likes of digital technology and artificial intelligence along with robotics.

One of the co-chairs of the private sector for the Accelerator, the Commercial International Bank known as Qalaa Holdings, firmly believes in empowering women in the workplace and it has demonstrated that by having 25% of the company’s executive board and leadership positions filled by women.

While the Accelerator is focused on women’s success in the economy, it also takes into account how women are viewed in the male-dominated workforce. Creating a safe climate in companies is just as important so the unfair barometers that women are measured by have to be eliminated as well as dismantling the discriminatory behavior toward them.

Global Gender Equality

Egypt is one out of nine countries, and the first country in Africa to set in motion a project of this magnitude created by the WEF.  After more than 10 years of researching global gender inequality issues, WEF realized that it would take nearly 100 years for political gender parity to be achieved. Women comprise 50% of the global population in most countries and to purposely exclude them from the equation would seriously compromise a society’s overall economic and societal impact worldwide.

WEF’s Accelerators to Close the Gender Gap

To combat this shortcoming, WEF created accelerators and issued a challenge to nations that want to close the economic gender gap. Public and private entities form accelerators to be inclusive of women in business, from job recruitment to job promotions and work on eliminating prejudice against them. Each country is on a three-year timetable (countries start date varies) and the WEF preserves the global structure of the project while the countries operate independently in the communities.  So far, Iceland has seen the most success out of the nine participating countries, by consistently closing the gender parity gap for 11 consecutive years.

A Bright Future for Egyptian Women

The Accelerator is an important tool for addressing gender inequality in Egypt. This initiative is good news for the women of Egypt as it shows the country’s continuous commitment to removing societal hurdles that have unjustly smothered women’s attempts at succeeding in the economy and stifled their much-needed contribution to society.

-Kim L. Patterson
Photo: Flickr