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Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.

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What Could Go Right? Legal weed

Malta first in the EU to legalize marijuana, the UAE gets a 4.5-day workweek, incoming protections for gig workers, and more

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

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The Middle East: working less and working more
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is ringing in the new year with a change to its government employees’ schedules: they will start their weekend on Friday afternoon, according to a new 4.5-day work week that takes effect January 2022. The working hours for Monday through Thursday will remain at the usual eight, but on Fridays, the work day will last only 4.5 hours, with the additional option to work those hours from home. The private sector and schools will likely adopt the same schedule in the future. The UAE is the first nation to make a shorter work week government-official. How about a New Year’s resolution that they won’t be the last?

We can’t help but sympathize with this. (We’re feeling a little jealous, too.) Let’s go, UAE private sector!

In Saudi Arabia, restrictions on women’s lives, on everything from clothing to employment, are slowly easing. Women may still need to consult a male guardian in order to get married, but they can now freely socialize with male friends at coffee shops, and they are enthusiastically entering the workforce. “Over the last five years,” The New York Times reports, “the percentage of women working outside the home has almost doubled . . . to 32 percent.” The Times’ article states multiple times that the progress for women is “uneven,” or is occurring in “fits and starts,” and surely it is. But it also seems unrealistic to expect a deeply conservative country to turn on a dime. This is significant change already, and there is more to come, at least if 13-year-old Nout al-Qahtani has anything to do with it. “‘I want to work,” she told the Times. “‘I really want to be a doctor.’”

Europe and Canada: paradise for smokers and gig workers
Malta has become the first European Union (EU) country to legalize marijuana, beating Luxembourg, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, all of which have legalization processes in various stages of planning and approval.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Malta since 2018, but soon, as long as you are at least 18 years old, you will be able to hold up to seven grams on your person, grow up to four plants at home, and join a nonprofit cannabis social club where members can share—you guessed it—cannabis and its products for recreational purposes. Times of Malta also reported that the law will “expunge the criminal records of people who were found guilty of possession of cannabis for their personal use.” If you’re a weed entrepreneur, though, it’s still better to set up shop in Colorado: it will not be legal to sell the stuff outside of the social clubs.

We have our eye on an EU proposal that would grant gig workers the rights of employees. Though its passing is likely years away, the tide seems to be finally turning as far as governments taking action to protect vulnerable gig workers. On the other side of the pond, Ontario, Canada is considering creating a new class of employee called a “dependent contractor” that would be entitled to minimum wage and severance. The province may also create a “portable benefits program” that gig workers could join that would give them “continuous health and dental coverage even as they jump from job to job with platform-based employers,” reports CTV News.

United States: Nebraska to fully decarbonize its electricity by 2050
In Nebraska, where electricity is publicly owned and citizens vote for the people who sit on the boards of the utility companies, all three electricity providers have now agreed to decarbonize by 2040 or 2050, making Nebraska the first and only red state with a plan to fully decarbonize its electricity sector. Several other states already have similar plans, though, such as Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, and New Mexico. (Rhode Island gets an overachiever prize for committing to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2030, the earliest year pledged.) Nebraska has prepped for this moment by spending the last decade building wind farms. It took just nine years, from 2010 to 2019, for Nebraska to go from 1% wind power in its power mix to 20%.

World: democracy takes hold
For a macro-view of how the world has progressed, check out Our World In Data’s latest data set on how quickly democratic rights have spread since the late 18th century. “By the late 1990s,” researcher Bastian Herre writes, “the majority of the world’s population—around 3 billion people—lived in electoral and liberal democracies.”

Before we go
The New York Times put together a list of the year’s firsts. They’re not all good, but they’re certainly interesting, and many are what may prove to be significant steps forward. There are several space-related achievements, for instance, and here at The Progress Network (TPN) we had missed the world’s largest jewelry brand, Pandora, announcing that it would stop using mined diamonds, instead using ones created in a lab. Neat. We can’t tell the difference between the synthetic and the natural, although the former still cost a pretty penny. (This is as close as we get to a TPN holiday gift-giving guide, by the way.)

And, TPN Member James Fallows has an excellent piece with suggestions for how to shore up democracy in the United States. It may give you some ideas of where to best put your energy.

Below in the links section, multiple vaccines for a respiratory virus (not that one) enter late-stage trials, activists score victories against climate change in court, and more.


A new data explorer from Our World in Data shows a massive decrease in global deaths from disasters over the last 100 years.

From Us: Is higher education due for a makeover? From closing the gap that has opened between elite schools and the rest to the waning of standardized admissions tests to the rise of online and hybrid learning from the fringe to the center, TPN Members Sylvia M. Burwell, president of American University, Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, and Scott Galloway, the founder of Section4, a content platform for accessible business education, speak about the future of higher ed. Listen to the bonus episode or read the transcript here. The conversation was originally recorded in April.

Progress, Please

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Other good stuff in the news

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Become one with our long list of the week’s progress links.

Until Next Time

Gift yourself some moments to marvel at all the history made in the past 12 months.👇

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Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.