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Young people in the Middle East struggle to see a promising future

Political and economic forces across the Middle East and North Africa combine to mean well-educated young people spend years looking for work, which delays…



Mahdi Shaban, a Palestinian living in Gaza, paid for his master's degree with earnings from digging graves. Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Middle East’s population is growing almost twice as fast as the world overall, and one-third of its people are under the age of 15.

As Joe Biden takes his first trip to the region as president, he plans to focus on the prospects for peaceful international relations. A key factor often overlooked is the Middle East’s lack of opportunities for young people.

As a scholar who has spent almost 20 years studying conflict, migration and youth in the Middle East, I believe their frustration could ultimately lead to an international crisis way beyond the borders of the region.

A rapidly changing situation

The region encompassing the Middle East and North Africa is diverse economically, geographically, historically, politically and socially, and often fraught with tension. Most of the major armed conflicts in the last decade have occurred there – apart, obviously, from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Since the pro-democracy protests and uprisings of the Arab Spring in 2010, the region has experienced some sort of significant conflict in eight of its 21 countries: Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

In addition, the region’s population is growing at a much faster rate than the global average – and has been since the World Bank began keeping records in 1961. Its people now number over 450 million, up from 300 million in 2001.

Widespread youth unemployment

The region’s young workers – those from ages 15 to 24 – already struggle with the highest unemployment rates in the world, averaging 25%. Thirteen countries in the region have a youth unemployment rate of at least 20%, with the rate above 50% in Libya, above 40% in Jordan and Palestine, and above 30% in Algeria and Tunisia.

And more young workers are on the way.

The World Bank estimates that to provide employment for those currently out of a job and those who will soon be seeking work, Middle Eastern and North African nations need to create more than 300 million new jobs by 2050. This number is almost twice as many jobs as are currently in the U.S.

A man makes a coffee at a machine in the back of a small vehicle, while another man waits.
Karrar Alaa, a 20-something Iraqi, could not find work, so he started his own small traveling coffee business in Basra. Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP via Getty Images

Economic struggles

The struggle of high youth unemployment in the region is not a new challenge. Local and international governments and organizations have tried for years to create more opportunities for young people, but with little success.

In many Middle Eastern nations, regulations and laws about hiring and firing workers discourage employers from creating new jobs when times are good, for fear they’ll have to keep those people employed when times get worse again. Other rules discriminate against young women seeking work. Education and training programs don’t always line up with the jobs that are available.

In many countries, the government is the one of the largest employers. In Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, government jobs are almost one-third of all employment. In Egypt, government work accounts for 70% of nonagricultural jobs. In most countries, government jobs pay about 20% less than private industry, but in the Middle East, government jobs pay about 30% more on average. This means people will often just wait for a public sector job instead of taking available private sector jobs.

Even those young people who manage to get jobs say they often are searching for several years before landing work. During this time, they rely on financial support from their families. This causes them to experience what has been called “prolonged adolescence,” in which they are unable to develop financial and social independence, such as moving out and getting married, until their 20s or even their 30s.

Other compounding challenges

The region faces other obstacles that make it even harder for governments to tackle youth unemployment.

In addition to internal conflict, the International Monetary Fund reports that several of the region’s countries – including Egypt, Iraq and Tunisia – are facing a slow economic recovery from the pandemic, inflation in the costs of basic commodities such as energy and food, and financial and debt obligations needed to stabilize the economy.

Several countries across the region – including Algeria, Libya, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen – have less water than their populations need.

There are other environmental concerns, such as pollution, agriculture land scarcity and poor public infrastructure, which hinder sustainable economic growth.

The crisis in Ukraine threatens food supplies. More than one-third of Egyptians’ diets are based on wheat, but 85% of Egypt’s wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine. Supplies have been reduced, and prices are expected to rise on bread and other wheat-based staple foods.

All these problems have contributed to varying degrees of lack of public confidence in the economies in the region. For instance, in a nationally representative survey, 78% of Iraqis describe the economic situation in their country to be either bad or very bad. In Yemen, that proportion is 68%.

Read more: Russia-Ukraine crisis poses a serious threat to Egypt – the world’s largest wheat importer

Potential effects

Often the way to improve young people’s prospects is education. But in several Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia, university-educated young people have a higher unemployment rate than their less-educated peers because most of the available opportunities are for low-skill jobs.

Rather than bringing higher earnings, education for Middle Eastern young people can deliver frustration.

It’s no surprise, then, that vast numbers of young people – at least one-fourth of young Egyptians, Iraqis and Yemenis, and more than 60% of Lebanese youth – are looking to emigrate, often to Europe.

All these forces at work in the Middle East – economic pressures, political conflict and water shortages – have the potential to spread international tension, refugees seeking safety and opportunity, or even disease. The challenges facing Middle Eastern nations are all made more difficult by the lack of faith their young people have in the prospect of a fulfilling future at home.

Georges Naufal is a research fellow at the IZA Institute of Labor Economics and Economic Research Forum.

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Argonne’s Jordi Roglans-Ribas claims second Secretary’s Honor Award

Jordi Roglans-Ribas, a former director of the Nuclear Science and Engineering division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory,…



Jordi Roglans-Ribas, a former director of the Nuclear Science and Engineering division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, received his second 2022 U.S. Secretary of Energy Achievement team award for participating in the team that completed the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Credit: (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

Jordi Roglans-Ribas, a former director of the Nuclear Science and Engineering division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, received his second 2022 U.S. Secretary of Energy Achievement team award for participating in the team that completed the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Roglans-Ribas was also recognized with a 2022 team award for work with the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Kazakhstan Reactor Conversion Team to make nuclear research reactors safer from proliferation risk. The Secretary’s Honor Awards are considered one of DOE’s highest honors.

“The award for the completion of the VTR EIS recognizes the successful effort of the entire team and the significance of DOE completing the first reactor EIS.” — Jordi Roglans-Ribas, Argonne

An EIS is a government document that outlines the impact of a proposed project on its surrounding environment. It helps policymakers and community leaders make key decisions.

“The award for the completion of the VTR EIS recognizes the successful effort of the entire team and the significance of DOE completing the first reactor EIS,” said Roglans-Ribas.

Roglans-Ribas worked closely on the VTR EIS with a multidisciplinary group from government departments, national laboratories and contractor offices beginning in August 2019 and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, DOE published its first EIS for design and construction of a nuclear reactor since establishment of the National Environmental Policy Act in 1970. Now in the Federal Register, the VTR EIS has helped accelerate release of the Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office’s EIS for building and demonstrating the Project Pele mobile microreactor. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will reference both statements as it prepares its own versions for commercial advanced reactors currently under development.

“Jordi had an integral, long-term role on a professional team with immense collective expertise, keen attention to detail and enduring commitment,” said Temitope Taiwo, director of Argonne’s Nuclear Science and Engineering division. ​“As a result, the team completed a high-quality, complex and publicly visible analysis in a difficult pandemic environment.”

The VTR EIS team’s efforts were specifically praised for helping DOE advance its own efforts to provide a fast-reactor-based neutron source and testing capability. This capability has been missing from nuclear energy research and development infrastructure for nearly three decades. It is a critical capability needed to enhance and accelerate the innovative nuclear technologies that will advance U.S. objective to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.   

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.

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Hyro secures $20M for its AI-powered, healthcare-focused conversational platform

Israel Krush and Rom Cohen first met in an AI course at Cornell Tech, where they bonded over a shared desire to apply AI voice technologies to the healthcare…



Israel Krush and Rom Cohen first met in an AI course at Cornell Tech, where they bonded over a shared desire to apply AI voice technologies to the healthcare sector. Specifically, they sought to automate the routine messages and calls that often lead to administrative burnout, like calls about scheduling, prescription refills and searching through physician directories.

Several years after graduating, Krush and Cohen productized their ideas with Hyro, which uses AI to facilitate text and voice conversations across the web, call centers and apps between healthcare organizations and their clients. Hyro today announced that it raised $20 million in a Series B round led by Liberty Mutual, Macquarie Capital and Black Opal, bringing the startup’s total raised to $35 million.

Krush says that the new cash will be put toward expanding Hyro’s go-to-market teams and R&D.

“When we searched for a domain that would benefit from transforming these technologies most, we discovered and validated that healthcare, with staffing shortages and antiquated processes, had the greatest need and pain points, and have continued to focus on this particular vertical,” Krush told TechCrunch in an email interview.

To Krush’s point, the healthcare industry faces a major staffing shortfall, exacerbated by the logistical complications that arose during the pandemic. In a recent interview with Keona Health, Halee Fischer-Wright, CEO of Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), said that MGMA’s heard that 88% of medical practices have had difficulties recruiting front-of-office staff over the last year. By another estimates, the healthcare field has lost 20% of its workforce.

Hyro doesn’t attempt to replace staffers. But it does inject automation into the equation. The platform is essentially a drop-in replacement for traditional IVR systems, handling calls and texts automatically using conversational AI.

Hyro can answer common questions and handle tasks like booking or rescheduling an appointment, providing engagement and conversion metrics on the backend as it does so.

Plenty of platforms do — or at least claim to. See RedRoute, a voice-based conversational AI startup that delivers an “Alexa-like” customer service experience over the phone. Elsewhere, there’s Omilia, which provides a conversational solution that works on all platforms (e.g. phone, web chat, social networks, SMS and more) and integrates with existing customer support systems.

But Krush claims that Hyro is differentiated. For one, he says, it offers an AI-powered search feature that scrapes up-to-date information from a customer’s website — ostensibly preventing wrong answers to questions (a notorious problem with text-generating AI). Hyro also boasts “smart routing,” which enables it to “intelligently” decide whether to complete a task automatically, send a link to self-serve via SMS or route a request to the right department.

A bot created using Hyro’s development tools. Image Credits: Hyro

“Our AI assistants have been used by tens of millions of patients, automating conversations on various channels,” Krush said. “Hyro creates a feedback loop by identifying missing knowledge gaps, basically mimicking the operations of a call center agent. It also shows within a conversation exactly how the AI assistant deduced the correct response to a patient or customer query, meaning that if incorrect answers were given, an enterprise can understand exactly which piece of content or dataset is labeled incorrectly and fix accordingly.”

Of course, no technology’s perfect, and Hyro’s likely isn’t an exception to the rule. But the startup’s sales pitch was enough to win over dozens of healthcare networks, providers and hospitals as clients, including Weill Cornell Medicine. Annual recurring revenue has doubled since Hyro went to market in 2019, Krush claims.

Hyro’s future plans entail expanding to industries adjacent to healthcare, including real estate and the public sector, as well as rounding out the platform with more customization options, business optimization recommendations and “variety” in the AI skills that Hyro supports.

“The pandemic expedited digital transformation for healthcare and made the problems we’re solving very clear and obvious (e.g. the spike in calls surrounding information, access to testing, etc.),” Krush said. “We were one of the first to offer a COVID-19 virtual assistant that deployed in under 48 hours based on trusted information from the health system and trusted resources such as the CDC and World Health Organization …. Hyro is well funded, with good growth and momentum, and we’ve always managed a responsible budget, so we’re actually looking to expand and gather more market share while competitors are slowing down.”

Hyro secures $20M for its AI-powered, healthcare-focused conversational platform by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

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Burger King Adds a Failed McDonald’s Comfort-Food Menu Item

Both companies have tried to make this beloved southern staple work, and Burger King is trying again with multiple new versions.



Fast-food burger chains deal in the familiar. 

They sell comfort food, meals that make their customers feel good (even if that feeling soon enough turns to regret).

When one of the big three chains -- McDonald's, Wendy's (WEN) - Get Free Report, and Burger King -- adds a new menu item, it's either something outrageous designed to get publicity or an item that builds on the comfort-food model.

DON'T MISS: Unique McDonald's Sandwich Makes Its Menu Return

That's why so many fast-food innovations arise from taking a core menu item and give it a small twist. Wendy's does this more than any other chain as it rotates in different takes on cheese fries and new burgers that add well-known flavors like pretzel buns or more bacon.

McDonald's (MCD) - Get Free Report has been experimenting with similar ideas -- specifically trying to make southern classics like sweet tea and chicken biscuits -- work. The chain has had more success with sweet tea, which has become a menu staple, than it has with making chicken biscuits a morning staple.

And while McDonald's has tried to add southern style chicken biscuits to its morning menu without sustained success, that has not stopped its rivals from taking their own shot at the regional favorite. 

Wendy's has offered its Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit since it brought back its breakfast menu in 2020. And now Restaurant Brands International's (QSR) - Get Free Report Burger King has decided to add multiple takes on a chicken biscuit to its morning menu.

Wendy's also sold a "hot" version of its Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit.

Image source: Wendy's.

Burger King Adds Multiple Chicken Biscuits  

Burger King has built its morning menu around meat. The chain sells versions of its famed Croissan'Wich with double sausage, one with bacon, ham, and sausage, and similar offerings on biscuits.

Now, Burger King has been testing adding chicken to its meaty morning lineup.

Some of the chain's locations already sell a regular Chicken Biscuit and a Smoky Maple Chicken Croissan’wich (although those items are not being sold nationwide) and now it's testing a new take on a chicken biscuit in select markets.

"The Smoky Maple Chicken Biscuit features breaded white meat chicken with a smoky maple glaze on a warm buttermilk biscuit. It will be available through Aug. 31 while supplies last," according to Restaurant Business Online.

Burger King is offering the Smoky Maple Chicken Biscuit only in the Kansas City and Orlando-Daytona Beach markets.

McDonald's Also Bets On Breakfast Comfort Food 

McDonald's first put bagels on its breakfast menu in 1999. They were removed in January 2022 when the chain eliminated all-day breakfast and slimmed down its morning menu due to the covid pandemic.

Losing the bagels wasn't just about customers getting one less bread choice for their breakfast sandwich. It also invvolved McDonald's removing steak -- a meat that was only sold on a bagel -- from its morning menu.

Now, after a slow rollout across the country, McDonald's has returned its popular breakfast bagels to menus nationwide (albeit without making an official announcement).

Fans clamored for the return on social media in April 2022, when McDonald's Tweeted "Bring back ____." Tens of thousands of fans answered the query and the Breakfast Bagels were a popular request.

The most-requested item, the Snack Wrap, has not been returned and might not despite customer interest because making them adds complexity to the chain's kitchen operations. 

That's something the company has been working against as it works to streamline delivery and digital sales.         

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