Friday, 4 December 2020

This year wasn’t all bad news

The Beginning

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Our year in review

We’ve all said it at least one hundred times since early March: 2020 has been rough — to say the least. The year has somehow simultaneously whizzed by in a blur of social distancing and working from home on a loop, and also feels like it has stretched on for years.

Case in point: Do you remember the things that were in vogue around seven months ago? Tiger King and Love is Blind were the shows everyone couldn’t stop talking about. (Some of us here at Enterprise are proud consumers of this type of television content. Don’t judge). We really thought that two weeks of lockdown would bring covid-19 to its knees and give us our lives back, so a lot of us got … productive and creative. All of a sudden, the entire Internet was filled with whipped coffee and sourdough bread people were making at home. There were fitness challenges making the rounds to keep everyone in shape. And we’re still really not sure why this happened, but a bunch of celebrities sang John Lennon’s Imagine for no discernible reason.

In the months since, the avalanche of bad news has really felt unrelenting for a lot of us. Pandemic depression has become a very real phenomenon, and lots of people all around the world are feeling it.

So, here’s the antidote: As we hurtle towards the end of the year and the start of a new year (which we admittedly wish could act as a “restore to factory settings” button of sorts), we realized there are a lot of bits of good news that went unnoticed or weren’t appreciated as they should have been in the midst of everything else. Today, we are reminding you — and ourselves — of all the places where the sun managed to shine through the cracks.

If you just can’t wait to get a hit of positivity, indulge in the Some Good News series, courtesy of actor John Krasinski.

Good News: The Science

The space race version 2.0 — the covid-19 vaccine dash: As of October, more than 190 countries worldwide were attempting to develop vaccines, with almost 50 vaccines now undergoing clinical trials, according to GAVI. In what is the contemporary version of the space race, the US and Russia are at the forefront of the vaccine dash with both countries attempting to be the first to release the highly-awaited shots. Just days after US’s Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech announced their covid-19 vaccine is 90% effective, Russia said that phase 3 clinical trials had shown the Sputnik V vaccine to be 92% effective. Again, a handful of days later US-based Moderna came out saying that their vaccine is 94.5% effective in preventing covid-19.

Regardless of the competition, we tip our hats to the scientists who are making leaps to develop vaccines in record time. In the history of medicine, rarely has a vaccine been developed in less than five years, according to the New York Times. One of the fastest vaccines created was the mumps inoculation, which took approximately four years. Otherwise, even antiviral meds can take decades to develop.

Scientists also put their best foot forward while developing covid-19 tests: In the few months since the pandemic started — granted they felt like years — covid-19 tests have become more widely available with faster results and higher accuracy. Scientists are currently developing tests with result times as low as a single minute, with 90% accuracy.

And the medical advancements aren’t just for covid-19: We got one step closer to curing HIV — after the second ever patient tested negative for the virus after stopping treatment, reported BBC. The patient, Adam Castillejo, was cured by a stem-cell transplantation which is now being studied as a possible treatment for other cases. However, due to it being high risk, HIV meds are probably here to stay for a bit, but have still developed enough that patients can live long and healthy lives.

Finland started generating sustainable food solutions that are beneficial for both the environment and humans, by changing up food ingredients as well as the packaging they come in, according to the appropriately named Good News from Finland. The Finnish are also looking into alternative sources of protein instead of poultry and meat products that cause environmental damage as livestock farming increases greenhouse gas emissions. Companies are creating natural protein alternatives that can be grown and harvested anywhere, even in space.

And of course, Elon Musk sent two rockets to space: The first SpaceX rocket was launched into orbit in May, marking the first time Americans went to space in a decade as well as the first commercialized space-bound aircraft, according to Vice. The two astronauts aboard the Falcon 9 rocket spent a historic two-month mission in the International Space Station(ISS). SpaceX also launched a second “space taxi” with four astronauts bound to the ISS in mid-November. CEO Elon Musk has said that he aims to “open up space to humanity” through the possibility of more commercial space flights in the future.

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Your top 5

Your top 5 pieces of business and economic news in November:

  • November was dominated by headlines on the race for a vaccine, with vaccines from Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Russia’s Sputnik V all reporting success rates of over 90%. Egypt is securing doses from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Sputnik V, but we may not see widespread distribution until mid-2021.
  • November was also the month of renewed investments and CAPEX spending, with a number of companies reporting new investments, FDI, and spending increases.
  • Second round of stimulus gets the go-ahead: President Abdel Fattah El Sisi authorized the deployment of a new round of stimulus to support the economy through a second wave of the virus.
  • Consumer healthcare giant Integrated Diagnostics Holdings (IDH) is considering the dual listing of its ordinary shares on the EGX, the company announced last month.
  • The CBE made a surprising interest rate cut of 50 basis points last month for the second consecutive time to support economic recovery from the covid-induced slump.

Good News: The Environment

Covid-19 lockdowns brought down air pollution: A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found that concentrations of pollutants known to cause asthma, heart and lung disease, and other ailments were significantly reduced during covid-19 lockdowns, largely as a result of the reduction in transport sector emissions. The study looked at samples from over 10k locations in 34 countries, and found that nitrogen dioxide decreased by 60%, while particulate matter — the sum of liquid and solid particles suspended in the air — decreased by 31%. Though the reduction may have been temporary, it demonstrates how simple lifestyle changes could go a long way to rapidly decreasing pollution levels in urban areas.

China announces its commitment to carbon neutrality by 2060: It’s going to take a while, but China has announced it is aiming to reach carbon neutrality — removing as much CO2 from the environment as it produces — by 2060, the BBC reports. Though it comes with a caveat of a long timeline, this is pretty significant news considering that China is the world’s biggest carbon producer and is single handedly responsible for 28% of emissions. China is also the biggest financier and consumer of fossil fuels, meaning its commitment is likely to have an impact on the global oil industry and reverberate much further afield. And it’ll only be a decade behind the EU, which is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050.

BP is moving towards sustainable energy: The oil producer plans to slash its oil and gas production by as much as 40% over the next 10 years, in its bid to become an integrated energy company, CEO Bernard Looney announced in September. The company plans on increasing its renewable energy generating capacity 20-fold, and investing USD 5 bn a year in low carbon energy sources. This is a major step, since the world is moving faster than ever towards renewables, and a traditional oil producer like BP can help accelerate the trend. Solar and wind power outpaced traditional forms of energy for the first time ever, with solar power alone making up 45% of new energy generated in 2020, and solar and wind combined going from less than a quarter in 2010 to two thirds this year, Bloomberg found.

In animal kingdom news, a thought-to-be-extinct dolphin is alive and well: The Delphinus Delphis, known to its friends as the short-beaked common dolphin, has returned to the adriatic sea after it was thought to be regionally extinct, according to inhabitat. Apparently, a ridiculous policy begun in the 1970s had encouraged the killing of the dolphins as pests to prevent them competing with humans for fish, decimating their numbers and putting them on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s endangered species red list. Four of the dolphins have been spotted in the Adriatic over the past four years, which may not seem like much, but is a step towards regaining the biodiversity necessary for a healthy seas.

So is the adorable elephant shrew: This rodent-like mammal, also called the Somali sengi was spotted in Djibouti after 50 years of laying low, the BBC reports. Though small as a mouse, the little-studied sengi is in fact a distant relative of the elephant. Its rediscovery by a scientific expedition will give conservationists and biologists the chance to become better acquainted with the shrew.

… and some actual baby elephants in Kenya: The country’s Amboseli National Park saw the birth of over 170 calves this year, compared to 113 in 2018, NPR reports. The African elephant is classified as a vulnerable species and is threatened by loss of habitat and continued illegal poaching, so baby elephants are definitely good news.

… and an adventurous brown bear in a Spanish national park: The 3-5 year old male was the first to be spotted in North-West Spain’s Invernadeiro national park in 150 years, the Guardian reports. The bear is thought to have crossed over from Southern Spain, indicating that years of conservation efforts on the national park are paying off, attracting species that once roamed, but had long since abandoned the region.

Good News: Politics

We’re not here to get political, but we can’t help feeling warm and fuzzy when we see women able to access positions of power. That applies to both the political and the business spheres — we love seeing glass ceilings shattered.

Kamala Harris, the first female vice president-elect of the US: Kamala Harris’ victory at US polls earlier this month alongside then presidential challenger Joe Biden, marks the first time in history a black woman, let alone a woman or person of color, has been elected vice president of the United States. Harris’ election is momentous for its break from the long line of exclusively white men that have filled the position before her. As the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, she will also become the first US vice president of South Asian descent. “Together, we showed little girls across the country what’s possible,” she said on Twitter earlier this month. Harris was previously the first black attorney general in the state of California and most recently the junior US senator representing the state. No matter how you view her policies, Harris’ victory — along with a record number of women elected to congress during this cycle — indicates a turning tide in American society where more diverse faces can now be seen at the highest levels of decision making in the country.

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Austria saw its first female majority cabinet this year: Nine of Austria’s new 17 member cabinet are now filled by female leaders, marking a first in the European republic’s history. The current coalition government for which these members serve brings together an odd pairing between the right wing Austrian People's Party (OVP) and the country’s environmentally minded Greens party.

Germany is also pushing for gender parity in business: Germany announced earlier this year that it will be putting into force a new national strategy to address lingering gender inequalities at the workplace and in leadership positions. The nine part initiative, which has been backed by the country’s cabinet, would focus on mending wage and pension gaps that currently see women on average earning 20% less than their male counterparts. Some 600 companies would also be required to have women make up 30% of their executive boards in an effort to boost female representation in leadership positions — which lags behind at only 15% of the country’s total private sector board seats. The rule would mark an increase from the current 105 companies the German government had previously selected to meet the requirement. The country’s “Strong for the Future” plan would further expand the gender equality mandate from being a Women’s Ministry issue to becoming a central tenet of all government agencies in Germany.

Good News: The Culture

Vienna offered cultural treats to those willing to ditch their cars: For a trial period in February, a group of people living in Vienna who traveled on foot, by bike or by public transport could accrue culture tokens, and exchange them for tickets at no charge to some of Vienna’s most respected arts venues — including a prominent concert hall, theater and contemporary art gallery — Bloomberg reports. 20 kilograms of carbon savings, earned by roughly two weeks of going car-free, was enough for one token, which could then be redeemed for a ticket. Great news for culture lovers, as there were no limits to the number of tokens that could be obtained — though once you had five, you had to start using them before earning more. Vienna’s cultural activities are already heavily subsidized, but will this pilot project spur a longer-term drive to park the cars? Who knows, but it’s a good start.

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In Prague, drive-in films and live outdoor performances kept the joy of live art alive: A Prague arts festival that ran from late April to the end of June had the dual aim of helping performers unable to work due to lockdown measures, while offering an alternative to viewers sick of streaming TV shows at home, Positive News reports. Art Parking saw weeknight drive-in film screenings at an old train station, along with weekend live outdoor theater and music performances throughout Prague. Key to the movement was the desire to meet the appetite for live art, during a period where virtually everything had shifted online, according to festival organizers. With ticket sales high, they’ve looked at rolling the festival out to cities throughout the country, they said.

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Acclaimed South Korean film Parasite swept the board at the Academy Awards: Described as a “superbly written, horribly fascinating comedy-drama” by the Guardian’s notoriously selective film critic Peter Bradshaw, Parasite addresses “status envy, aspiration, materialism, the patriarchal family unit and the idea of having (or leasing) servants.” To say more than that would give the game away. But having already dominated the BAFTAS and the Golden Globes, Parasite scored the proverbial hat-trick by winning big at this year’s Academy Awards. Wins included Best International Feature Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and most impressively of all, Best Picture — making it the first South Korean film to win an Academy Award but the first foreign film ever to win the academy’s highest honor, Vice reports. Haven’t seen it yet? You can watch the trailer here.

Good News: Heartwarming Stories

Last but not least, this year saw a lot of acts of kindness. Some were from individuals and others took a whole community to put together — but all of them are heartwarming.

Orchestra brings Beethoven to the deaf: In early February, Budapest’s Danubia orchestra played a concert for the hearing impaired. Using special hyper-sensitive hearing aids, balloons that convey vibrations, and in some instances by placing their hands on the instruments themselves, the audience was able to “feel,” or “hear through touch,” the music. Aptly, the orchestra chose to perform Beethoven’s fifth symphony, the piece he wrote as his hearing was deteriorating – its opening motif has forebodingly come to be called “fate knocking at the door” in reference to the loss that would soon afflict him. The composer is said to have written the music on his piano by feeling the vibration of the notes.

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Eid prayer in Ikea parking lot: Bound by strict safety precautions at the height of the pandemic, Muslims in the German town of Wetzlar near Frankfurt still found a way to hold a mass prayer during Eid El Fitr — in the car park of the local Ikea branch. The store’s management “didn’t hesitate” to host the prayer organised by the Ditib Wetzlar mosque. Pictures of the around 800 masked, socially distanced worshippers spread across the asphalt quickly went viral on social media. The event helped lift the spirits of those who attended following a difficult Ramadan — typically a time to celebrate community — marked by reduced contact and visits for breaking the fast.

In Yemen, a cafe by women, for women: In defiance of convention, a cafe in Yemen’s Marib was opened by women, for women. The very word “cafe” comes with stigma and negative connotations in the region, but that didn’t stop Um Feras and her associates from launching the women-only space as a safe hazen from the fighting, a place to catch up and enjoy the odd steaming treat. A stickler for quality, Um Feras imports most of her beans, and looks forward to expanding her enterprise into a leisure spot for women and children.

Enterprise is a daily publication of Enterprise Ventures LLC, an Egyptian limited liability company (commercial register 83594), and a subsidiary of Inktank Communications. Summaries are intended for guidance only and are provided on an as-is basis; kindly refer to the source article in its original language prior to undertaking any action. Neither Enterprise Ventures nor its staff assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, whether in the form of summaries or analysis. © 2020 Enterprise Ventures LLC.