It’s not every day that a young Israeli entrepreneur accompanies the prime minister on his visit to the United Nations. Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari recently presented her organization ‘Innovation: Africa’ to the UN’s general assembly, alongside Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and African leaders.
Providing African villages with Israeli solar, water and agricultural technologies, the nonprofit organization, founded eight years ago, has so far completed 128 projects in seven countries, transforming the lives of more than one million people.
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Using Israeli technologies, Innovation: Africa harnesses the power of solar energy to pump water from aquifers, providing clean water to villages for the first time; its drip-irrigation installations allow villagers to grow more food with less water, even in times of drought; and its solar panels power medical centers, providing light inside and outside, as well as refrigeration to store medicines and vaccines. The same solar-generated energy powers schools and orphanages.
“Our goal isn’t only to bring solar energy to rural communities, but to transform rural healthcare and education, and provide rural communities with tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty,” says Ya’ari, a soft-spoken 38-year old.
Nearly 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity, according to a recent report by consulting firm McKinsey & Company. “We offer some of the world’s poorest, most remote communities in sub-Saharan Africa with a cost-effective, sustainable and most importantly, successful solution to alleviating poverty, hunger, thirst and disease,” Ya’ari tells NoCamels. “In many parts of Africa, there’s no potable water because there’s no electricity to pump it. We generate solar energy to power the pumps and provide water for drinking and for agriculture.”
Since its inception eight years ago, Innovation: Africa has completed 128 projects, bringing light, access to clean water, improved education, refrigeration for vaccines and medicines, proper nutrition and food security to Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal.
One recently completed project involved the installation of solar energy panels, light and a solar-powered refrigerator in Bulumbi, Uganda. “For the first time, women can now give birth under the light of solar energy and people now have access to vaccines and medicines properly stored in a vaccine refrigerator,” says Ya’ari.
Each of the projects is connected to an Israeli developed remote-monitoring system that “allows our team and our donors to track in real time the energy produced, energy consumed and water flow,” Ya’ari tells NoCamels.
Israeli technologies installed in these remote villages also better Israel’s perception around the globe, she says: “Many Africans we have helped never heard of Israel before, but now they’re so thankful – they’ll never forget us.”
An award-winning organization led by an acclaimed entrepreneur
In 2012, Innovation: Africa was granted a Special Consultative Status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In 2013, the organization was awarded The United Nations Innovation Award for its efficient and sustainable technology. In addition, CEO Ya’ari was recently named by Forbes Israel as one of the 50 most powerful women in Israel.
Ya’ari has been working in Africa for nearly 20 years. Following two years in the finance world, she worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on diesel energy development. During this period, she identified an opportunity for a more sustainable energy solution, and developed the groundwork for what would become Innovation: Africa.
Armed with a Master’s degree in international energy management and policy from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Ya’ari has received countless awards for her work on behalf of Innovation: Africa, from The United Nations, The Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and the Young Professionals Organization (YPO), to name a few.
In November 2016, Ya’ari was awarded the “Circle of Excellence Award” by the Israel Bonds National Women’s Division. Two months earlier, she addressed the United Nations General Assembly session on “Israeli Innovation in Africa and Developing Countries.”
“Your vision, of getting this innovative technology into the hands of those who need it the most, is changing the lives of millions of people across the continent,” Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, recently wrote in a thank-you letter to Ya’ari, which she shared with NoCamels.
In a letter to donors and volunteers, Ya’ari recently said: “Day in and day out, our team of passionate problem solvers are collectively working toward a common goal we so strongly believe in. We’ve accomplished a lot, but we know there’s a long road ahead. And we’re ready.”
Ya’ari tells NoCamels her goal is to help another 120 villages in the next four years. She’s leaving for Uganda soon, with plans to spend about three weeks in one of its poorest, hungriest regions. When she returns to her home in Israel – where her family obviously enjoys running water – “the hardest thing for me will be to shower,” she says. “We take water for granted, but nearly 360 million Africans have no clean water.”