by David Kramer
Native-born Israeli, Sivan Ya’ari, landed her first job in Africa in 1998, as the head of quality control for a multinational clothing company. The experience provided her with first-hand exposure to the poverty that exists in the African continent, motivating her to complete a Master’s degree in Energy and Environment from Columbia University and start Innovation: Africa, an organization that has so far impacted the lives of over one million African people, granting them access to clean water and energy.
I met Sivan at an incubator for social entrepreneurs in Jerusalem in 2010, where she explained this drive: Only when I found myself in Africa did I understand what true poverty really meant, Sivan told me. She described the following account of her life-changing moment: One day I walked to the nearest infirmary, which was about five miles away from the village. Upon my arrival, I discovered a long line of people waiting to be treated. I asked to see the doctor and was told that there are no doctors here. I approached the nurse and asked her about the long line of people waiting for treatment and vaccinations. There are no vaccinations or medicines left – they have been spoiled as we do not have a refrigerator to store them. We have no electricity. It was night by the time I made my way back from the clinic and darkness covered the entire village. I have given birth twice in Israel via C-section. Had I lived in Africa, I would not have survived. Many women die during child birth due to severe understaffing and the lack of electricity for light and medical devices. The nurses are using toxic kerosene lamps to provide light during the delivery. When I grasped the situation in the villages, it was difficult for me to remain indifferent to these challenges, especially because the solution seemed so simple.
The more time Sivan spent in Africa and in the villages the more she realized that the main challenge Africa is facing is the lack of energy. Without energy, people do not have access to good healthcare or good education. Crucially, the lack of energy means that people don’t have access to water because there is no energy to pump the water up from beneath the ground. The severity of seeing mothers and children searching for water, for hours every day, even digging by hand and drinking whatever they could find, knowing that it will most likely make them sick, made Sivan realize that energy is truly the key solution to solve many of the challenges she saw. After considering the advanced technological efforts and innovations in her native country, Sivan decided to share Israeli technologies and know-how and in 2008, she founded here own organization Innovation: Africa (iA). IA is a 501-c3 non-profit based in New York, with offices in Israel and Africa.
The goal was simple and since then, iA has provided energy for light and to pump water using Israeli solar technology to more than 1 million people in communities throughout Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, South Africa, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal and Zambia. To date, they have brought light, pumped clean water and installed drip irrigation in over 200 villages. To ensure that the systems are operating effectively they use a custom-designed remote monitoring system that collects data from the solar systems and sends that information to an online server allowing Sivan’s team, the donors and the local engineers to monitor all systems, live. By knowing how much energy our projects are producing and consuming, we can preempt problems before they even start, explained Sivan.
In 2017, Sivan and her team visited Akuyam Village in Uganda. Located in the Nakapirpirit District in the north-east Karamoja Region, it is home to 4,600 people. At the time, the region was suffering from severe drought and famine. When the iA team arrived, they found a horrific situation. Thirty-seven people died of hunger and dehydration that week alone. The only source of water for the community was a pool of dirty and contaminated water which had dried up, forcing women to walk great distances in search of an alternative source, often with no success.
Understanding the severity of the situation Sivan and her team for the first time in iA’s history, sent trucks of beans and maize from a region six hours away, just to keep the community alive while they started drilling and the building of the solar water tower. Within days, iA had installed 12 taps supplying clean water throughout the village as well as a drip irrigation system which allowed the community to grow food faster, using less water. Through Innovation: Africa’s work to harness the energy from the sun and pump water up from forty meters below the ground, the community in Akuyam is now thriving. People are healthier, children are going to school, and most importantly, access to water allows them to grow more food and sell the surplus in the market enabling the community to become self-sufficient and financially independent. This was just one of hundreds of similar installations undertaken by this Israeli NGO.