This is the story of a young Israeli-French woman and the incredible changes she has initiated in some of the poorest regions of Africa these past six years. Thanks to her passion, dedication, belief and vision, hundreds of thousands of people across Africa have seen improvements in their lives which they would never have imagined possible, had it not been for her and her team.
Sivan Ya’ari is the Founder and President of Innovation: Israel. Born in Israel and raised in France, Sivan first travelled to Africa in a working capacity for a multinational clothing company. While there, she was greatly disturbed by the pervasive poverty she witnessed, and began to look for ways to transform and improve the lives of African people. Following a brief stint as a mortgage banker, Sivan joined the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and developed the groundwork for what would become Innovation: Africa. Sivan graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Finance from Pace University, and she holds a master’s degree in International Energy Management and Policy from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
So what is Innovation: Africa? It is a non-profit organization that brings Israeli innovation and technology to the most impoverished of African villages. Founded in 2008, in five years Innovation: Africa has provided light, clean water, food and proper medical care to more than 550,000 people in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda.
What prompted the birth of this organisation? It began when Sivan and her associates, travelling across the continent, were devastated by the appalling conditions they witnessed almost everywhere. They saw villages that had no water. Villages that had no electricity. Villages with under-resourced medical clinics. Orphanages that offered little if any sanctuary to the children housed there. Overwhelming logistical and other problems around education.
Every day, women and children were forced to spend hours bringing water home to their families, water that was often dirty and full of bacteria, causing death and disease. The death rate among children under the age of five was shocking, with two out of every five children dying before the age of five, mostly due to unclean water.
They also discovered that the average families in the villages were spending 30% of their monthly income on candles and kerosene lamps. Not only did these give insufficient light but they were very expensive and dangerous. People living in the huts were forced to inhale harmful smoke and fumes; and more often than not, fatal accidents were caused when candles or lamps fell over and set fire to the homes.
They investigated further and realised that medical care was not available to the villagers at night because without energy, the clinics could neither operate nor could they store lifesaving medicines and vaccines, as fridges were an unattainable luxury..
And when it came to education, students were forced to study in the dark, straining their eyes and inhaling smoke in their efforts to improve themselves.
And so Sivan and her team put their heads together and came up with the solution: solar energy, a clean and renewable energy source that, unlike wood and fossil fuels, does not cause deforestation nor does it pollute the environment. Knowing that solar panels are affordable, reliable, require little maintenance and have an average lifespan of over 20 years, they took this information and went to Israel for help.
They were already aware that from renewable energy to agriculture to IT and more, Israel was a leader in the global innovation sector; and they understood that in Africa, these innovations had the power to save lives. With similar climates and natural resources, Israeli solar, water and agricultural technologies were a natural fit for African villages. So Innovation: Africa decided to make its mission that of sharing the knowledge, expertise and technology developed in Israel with people and communities in Africa that so desperately needed it.
Did you know that 1.3 billion people – a quarter of all humanity – live without electricity? Astounded by this figure, Innovation: Africa started fund-raising and working around the clock, and in its first five years, the NGO used Israeli solar energy to power numerous schools, orphanages, medical clinics and water pumping systems, providing electricity to more than half a million people.
They provided drip-irrigation technology to farmers and their families, who were so dependent on water for their livelihood yet who were at the mercy of constant droughts and resulting famine. The solar-powered refrigerators they gave to medical clinics have to date stored vaccines for over 300 000 children, protecting them from diseases like polio, measles and TB. Their solar-powered water-pumping systems currently provide communities with more than 20 000 litres of clean water daily.
In Israel the team ensures that innovations they identify that are researched and tested, are done so with a view to their practical applications in Africa. They continuously source new technologies and employ them where necessary.
But how did they carry this out? By finding and employing local managers and contractors in each country, whose job it was to identify schools, clinics, orphanages, community-based organisations and farming collectives needing these resources to be able to serve their own communities. They encouraged the community leaders to establish businesses at the facilities which provided them with a source of income covering the costs of maintenance of their systems, thus allowing each project to be self-sustaining. With the unprecedented explosion of the cell-phone industry across Africa, the facilities now offer solar-powered cell¬-phone charging, a boon to villagers who otherwise would battle to communicate with one another across large areas.
Innovation: Africa’s reach is wide, and spreading. The team recently visited Limpopo to assist some of our country’s poorest rural communities; and they continue to bring light and life across the continent, with 75 various projects having been completed..
Recently Innovation: Africa was honoured to receive Special Consultative Status from the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), enabling staff and supporters to attend high-level international conferences on energy, health, nutrition and more; and to form partnerships with leaders in these fields to extend the impact of the invaluable work it does.
Innovation: Africa is one of the most viable, valuable and successful NGOs operating across the continent, thanks to brilliant Israeli technology and a team of dedicated staff and volunteers who are determined to make a difference. Wherever it operates, women spend less time collecting water and more time studying and / or caring for their families. Children are less at risk for often-fatal diseases. Farmers are no longer at the mercy of climatic vagaries. Students have power for a brighter future.
A truly amazing organisation, the brainchild of one young woman, together with the brilliant technology that has Israel’s stamp all over it, which has the potential today of changing an entire continent.