UNDP Saudi Arabia launches accelerator lab

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Layan Al-Saud, Head of Solutions Mapping, UNDP Saudi Arabia and Adam Bouloukos, Resident Representative of UNDP Saudi Arabia, at the Saudi Accelerator Lab launch on Wednesday at at the UN house in Riyadh. (AN photo by Ali Al-Dahri)
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Attendees of the launch of Accelerator Lab conference are representatives of government, private sector, United Nations, non-profit sector, and academia. (AN photo by Ali Al-Dahri)
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Adam Bouloukos, Resident Representative of UNDP Saudi Arabia, at the Saudi Accelerator Lab launch on Wednesday at at the UN house in Riyadh. (AN photo by Ali Al-Dahri)
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Updated 19 November 2021

UNDP Saudi Arabia launches accelerator lab

  • Innovation needed to respond to government’s changes, says UNDP official

RIYADH: An accelerator lab to find solutions to modern-day challenges was launched by the UN Development Programme in Riyadh on Wednesday.

Adam Bouloukos, who is the UNDP’s resident representative in the Kingdom, said the accelerator lab was launched because ideas and innovation were needed to respond to the government’s changes and its new agenda.

“The nature of our work here is at a quite high policy level, which is part of the reason we launched this accelerator lab, because we need better ideas, more creative ideas, and innovation to respond to the government’s changes and its new agenda,” he told Arab News. “We have in our team three experts. We're looking at different elements of research analysis and experimentation to help us better formulate projects and programs with the goal. All of our projects are in partnership with the government and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This program is unusual in UNDP because it's a large learning network.”

He said the accelerator lab initiative was in 91 locations and supported 115 countries, with the aim of finding solutions to developmental challenges and responding to them rapidly and at scale.

The Saudi Accelerator Lab has three core members: Layan Al-Saud, who is the head of solutions mapping, Saud Al-Fassam, head of exploration, and Abdulrahman Al-Ghamdi, who is head of experimentation.

Al-Saud’s role is to immerse deeply in communities, identify local solutions, and bridge bottom-up solutions with policy design. Al-Fassam’s responsibility is to shed light on emerging trends, use data science to identify patterns, and make a case for change. Al-Ghamdi's job is to build portfolios of social or environmental solutions, strengthen solutions, and learn through experimentation.

Al-Saud said that Saudi Arabia was still missing a sense of real community engagement. “Sometimes we tend to think that we always want to get something from a global best practice, rather than looking at what the local solutions are and how we can work on that to amplify it. So, one size does not fit all in terms of innovation.  

“What we are trying to do is to hear more from our global counterparts around what they're doing and gain inspiration from that, but not copy-paste what's happening. We tried to see locally what the issues are and work on that as well.”

Bouloukos said the initiative was coming to Saudi Arabia at the right time.

“Look at what's happening in Saudi Arabia, the place is booming with ideas. Some of that is politically driven in the sense that you have strong leadership, but you also have the opening of the country generally, tourism, young people with a voice, a growing civil society, nonprofit sector, and academic institutions.

“I feel like I'm here at the right moment, where the changes are becoming very tangible, and I’m happy to contribute. I can only do this and support the government if I have innovative ideas and creative opportunities.”


US to open embassy in Vanuatu to counter China’s Pacific expansion

Updated 9 min 55 sec ago

US to open embassy in Vanuatu to counter China’s Pacific expansion

  • The US and its regional allies have held concerns that China has ambitions to build a naval base in the region since the Solomon Islands struck a security pact with Beijing last year

WASHINGTON: The United States plans to open an embassy in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, the State Department said on Friday, in Washington’s latest move to boost its diplomatic presence in the Pacific to counter China’s growing influence.
“Consistent with the US Indo-Pacific strategy, a permanent diplomatic presence in Vanuatu would allow the US Government to deepen relationships with Ni-Vanuatu officials and society,” the department said in a statement.
“Establishing US Embassy Port Vila would facilitate areas of potential bilateral cooperation and development assistance, including efforts to tackle the climate crisis,” it said.
The US has diplomatic relations with Vanuatu, which has a population of 319,000 spread across 80 islands, but is currently represented by diplomats based in New Guinea.
The US reopened its embassy in the Solomon Islands this year after a 30-year absence and the latest State Department announcement follows a visit this month to the region, including Vanuatu, by US Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell.
Other US embassies are planned in the Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Tonga.
Despite the diplomatic push, the Solomon Islands announced this month it had awarded a multi-million-dollar contract to a Chinese state company to upgrade an international port in Honiara.
The United States and its regional allies have held concerns that China has ambitions to build a naval base in the region since the Solomon Islands struck a security pact with Beijing last year.
Washington has also been working to renew agreements with the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) under which it retains responsibility for the islands’ defense and gains exclusive access to huge swaths of the Pacific.
The Biden administration is seeking more than $7 billion over the next two decades for economic assistance to the three countries, the State Department said last week, funds seen as key to insulating them from growing Chinese influence.


UN food chief: Billions needed to stave of unrest, mass migration and starvation

Updated 01 April 2023

UN food chief: Billions needed to stave of unrest, mass migration and starvation

  • David Beasley says an estimated 350 million people in 49 countries desperately need food
  • Urges China, Gulf nations, billionaires and other countries “to step up big time”

UNITED NATIONS: Without billions of dollars more to feed millions of hungry people, the world will see mass migration, destabilized countries, and starving children and adults in the next 12 to 18 months, the head of the  UN World Food Program warned Friday.
David Beasley praised increased funding from the United States and Germany last year, and urged China, Gulf nations, billionaires and other countries “to step up big time.”
In an interview before he hands the reins of the world’s largest humanitarian organization to US ambassador Cindy McCain next week, the former South Carolina governor said he’s “extremely worried” that WFP won’t raise about $23 billion it needs this year to help an estimated 350 million people in 49 countries who desperately need food.
“Right at this stage, I’ll be surprised if we get 40 percent of it, quite frankly,” he said.
WFP was in a similar crisis last year, he said, but fortunately he was able to convince the United States to increase its funding from about $3.5 billion to $7.4 billion and Germany to raise its contribution from $350 million a few years ago to $1.7 billion, but he doesn’t think they’ll do it again this year.
Other countries need to step up now, he said, starting with China, the world’s second-largest economy which gave WFP just $11 million last year.

With $400 trillion worth of wealth on the planet, there’s no reason for any child to die of starvation.

David Beasley, WFP chief

Beasley applauded China for its success in substantially reducing hunger and poverty at home, but said it gave less than one cent per person last year compared to the United States, the world’s leading economy, which gave about $22 per person.
China needs “to engage in the multilateral world” and be willing to provide help that is critical, he said. “They have a moral obligation to do so.”
Beasley said they’ve done “an incredible job of feeding their people,” and “now we need their help in other parts of the world” on how they did it, particularly in poorer countries including in Africa.
With high oil prices Gulf countries can also do more, especially Muslim nations that have relations with countries in east Africa, the Sahara and elsewhere in the Middle East, he said, expressing hope they will increase contributions.
Beasley said the wealthiest billionaires made unprecedented profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, and “it’s not too much to ask some of the multibillionaires to step up and help us in the short-term crisis,” even though charity isn’t a long-term solution to the food crisis.
In the long-term, he said what he’d really like to see is billionaires using their experience and success to engage “in the world’s greatest need – and that is food on the planet to feed 8 billion people.”
“The world has to understand that the next 12 to 18 months is critical, and if we back off the funding, you will have mass migration, and you will have destabilization nations and that will all be on top of starvation among children and people around the world,” he warned.
Beasley said WFP was just forced to cut rations by 50 percent to 4 million people in Afghanistan, and “these are people who are knocking on famine’s door now.”
“We don’t have enough money just to reach the most vulnerable people now,” he said. “So we are in a crisis over the cliff stage right now, where we literally could have hell on earth if we’re not very careful.”
Beasley said he’s been telling leaders in the West and Europe that while they’re focusing everything on Ukraine and Russia, “you better well not forget about what’s south and southeast of you because I can assure you it is coming your way if you don’t pay attention and get on top of it.”
With $400 trillion worth of wealth on the planet, he said, there’s no reason for any child to die of starvation.
The WFP executive director said leaders have to prioritize the humanitarian needs that are going to have the greatest impact on stability in societies around the world.
He singled out several priority places — Africa’s Sahel region as well as the east including Somalia, northern Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia; Syria which is having an impact on Jordan and Lebanon; and Central and South America where the number of people migrating to the United States is now five times what it was a year-and-a-half ago.

 


Trump to appear in court on Tuesday to answer criminal charges

Updated 28 min 40 sec ago

Trump to appear in court on Tuesday to answer criminal charges

  • Trump is due in court on Tuesday in Manhattan
  • He is first former US president to face criminal charges

NEW YORK: Donald Trump is due to be fingerprinted and photographed in a New York courthouse next week as he becomes the first former US president to face criminal charges in a case involving a 2016 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Trump’s expected appearance before a judge in Manhattan on Tuesday, as the Republican mounts a bid to regain the presidency, could further inflame divisions in the United States. A New York judge in a document unsealed on Friday authorized Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, to disclose that Trump had been indicted, but it was not clear when the specific charges would be made public.
Trump plans to fly to New York on Monday from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and spend the night at Trump Tower before appearing in court early on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trump plans to return to Florida afterward, the source said.
Susan Necheles, a Trump attorney, told Reuters he will plead not guilty. Necheles said she did not expect the charges to be unsealed until Tuesday.
“I am not afraid of what’s to come,” Trump said in a fundraising email on Friday.

Stormy Daniels. (AFP)

For nearly two weeks, Trump has been using the various legal troubles he faces to rally supporters and raise money as he seeks his party’s nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden next year in a rematch of the 2020 election. His campaign said Trump raised more than $4 million in the 24 hours following the news of his indictment by a Manhattan grand jury.
The first American president to try to overthrow an election defeat, inspiring the deadly 2021 assault on the US Capitol, has signaled he will continue to run despite the charges.
Biden on Friday kept his thoughts on the charges against his political rival to himself, telling reporters: “I’m not going to talk about Trump’s indictment.”
After word surfaced on Thursday about the indictment, Trump called himself “completely innocent” and a victim of political persecution.
On Friday, Trump lashed out at Justice Juan Merchan, the judge expected to oversee the case. Trump wrote on social media that Merchan, who also presided over last year’s trial in which his real estate company was convicted of tax fraud, “HATES ME” and treated the Trump Organization “VICIOUSLY.” Trump was not charged in that case, which also was handled by Bragg’s office.
The specific charges in the new indictment are not yet known, though CNN reported that Trump faced more than 30 counts related to business fraud and the Associated Press reported the former president faced at least one felony charge.
Another Trump lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, said Trump will not have to wear handcuffs at his court appearance and will likely be released without having to post bail.
“He’s ready to fight. He’s gearing up,” Tacopina said in a phone interview.
Any potential trial is still at least more than a year away, legal experts said, meaning it could occur during or after the presidential campaign.

PARTISAN BRAWL
Trump, 76, has accused Bragg of trying to damage his electoral chances. Trump’s claims have been echoed by many of his fellow Republicans and his potential rivals in the race for the party’s presidential nomination.
Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president and a possible 2024 candidate, said the charges send a “terrible message” to the world about US justice.
“I’m very troubled by it,” Pence said at a forum in Washington.
Ahead of the indictment, the grand jury heard evidence about a $130,000 payment to Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels has said she was paid to keep silent about a sexual encounter she had with Trump in 2006.
“It’s vindication,” Daniels told the Times of London. “He’s done so much worse that he should have been taken down (for) before.”
Senior House of Representatives Republicans have vowed to investigate Bragg and demanded he hand over documents and other confidential material from the investigation. Bragg said Congress does not have authority to interfere with a New York legal proceeding and accused the lawmakers of escalating political tensions. Bragg’s office has been the target of bomb threats in recent weeks.
“You and many of your colleagues have chosen to collaborate with Mr. Trump’s efforts to vilify and denigrate the integrity of elected state prosecutors and trial judges,” Bragg wrote in a letter to Republican lawmakers.
Aside from this case, Trump faces two federal criminal investigations into his efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat and his handling of classified documents after leaving office. Trump also faces a separate Georgia investigation into his efforts to overturn his 2020 loss in that state.
Officials have stepped up security around the courthouse in New York since Trump on March 18 called on his supporters to protest any arrest. A law enforcement source said police would close streets around the courthouse ahead of Tuesday’s expected appearance.
On Friday, media outlets were set up outside the courthouse but there was no sign of unrest or protests related to the case.
Trump appealed this month for nationwide protests, recalling his charged rhetoric ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, US Capitol attack, and warned last week of potential “death & destruction” if he were charged.
Outside Mar-a-Lago, about a dozen people waved Trump flags and cheered as cars passed by.
Sonja Simpson, 62, said the payment to Daniels was not a public concern.
“If there were a thing, that’s between him, that woman and his wife. Period. Let them work it out,” Simpson said.
Merchandise vendor Ronald Solomon said sales of Trump-themed hats and t-shirts were up sharply after the charges were announced.
Some 44 percent of Republicans said Trump should drop out of the race if he is indicted, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week.
The former president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen has said he coordinated with Trump on the payments to Daniels and to a second woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Trump has denied having had sexual relationships with either woman, but has acknowledged reimbursing Cohen.
Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign-finance violation in 2018 and served more than a year in prison. Federal prosecutors said he acted at Trump’s direction.

 


US seeks to keep Yemen-bound ammunition seized from Iran

Updated 01 April 2023

US seeks to keep Yemen-bound ammunition seized from Iran

WASHINGTON: The United States is seeking to keep more than 1 million rounds of ammunition the US Navy seized in December as it was in transit from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to militants in Yemen, the Justice Department said on Friday.
“The United States disrupted a major operation by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to smuggle weapons of war into the hands of a militant group in Yemen,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
“The Justice Department is now seeking the forfeiture of those weapons, including over 1 million rounds of ammunition and thousands of proximity fuses for rocket-propelled grenades.”
US naval forces on Dec. 1 intercepted a fishing trawler smuggling more than 50 tons of ammunition rounds, fuses and propellants for rockets in the Gulf of Oman along a maritime route from Iran to Yemen, the Navy said.
They found more than 1 million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition; 25,000 rounds of 12.7mm ammunition; nearly 7,000 proximity fuses for rockets; and over 2,100 kilograms of propellant used to launch rocket propelled grenades, it said.
The forfeiture action is part of a larger government investigation into an Iranian weapons-smuggling network that supports military action by the Houthi movement in Yemen and the Iranian regime’s campaign of terrorist activities throughout the region, the Justice Department said.
The forfeiture complaint alleges a sophisticated scheme by the IRGC to clandestinely ship weapons to entities that pose grave threats to US national security.


2018 Musk tweet unlawfully threatened workers’ union organizing efforts, court rules

Updated 01 April 2023

2018 Musk tweet unlawfully threatened workers’ union organizing efforts, court rules

  • Also upheld was the board’s order that Tesla reinstate and provide back pay to an employee who was fired for union-organizing activity

NEW ORLEANS: A 2018 Twitter post by Tesla CEO Elon Musk unlawfully threatened Tesla employees with the loss of stock options if they decided to be represented by a union, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a March 2021 order by the National Labor Relations Board, which ordered that the tweet be deleted. The case arose from United Auto Workers’ organizing efforts at a Tesla facility in Fremont, California.
Also upheld was the board’s order that Tesla reinstate and provide back pay to an employee who was fired for union-organizing activity.
Musk tweeted on May 20, 2018: “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues and give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets health care.”
The ruling said that “because stock options are part of Tesla’s employees’ compensation, and nothing in the tweet suggested that Tesla would be forced to end stock options or that the UAW would be the cause of giving up stock options, substantial evidence supports the NLRB’s conclusion that the tweet is as an implied threat to end stock options as retaliation for unionization.”
The UAW, and Richard Ortiz, the worker whose reinstatement was ordered, praised the ruling. “I look forward to returning to work at Tesla and working with my co-workers to finish the job of forming a Union,” Ortiz said in a UAW email.
“This a great victory for workers who have the courage to stand up and organize in a system that is currently stacked heavily in favor of employers like Tesla who have no qualms about violating the law,” said UAW Region 6 Director Mike Miller.
Tesla had not responded to emailed requests for comment Friday afternoon.