Solving African Poverty with Israeli Innovations: A Conversation with Sivan Ya’ari
Soft-spoken, eloquent, and full of passion, Sivan Ya’ari is an Israeli social entrepreneur who has proven that simple solutions can have far-reaching effects. As the founder of Innovation Africa, Sivan has spearheaded a movement that is transforming rural Africa through Israeli innovations, improving healthcare and education, and providing communities with the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty. Within nine years, Sivan’s work has impacted almost one million people in seven countries. Sivan has shared her story with many Momentum Trips. We spoke to Sivan about how she deals with the emotional aspects of her work, as well as her advice for other mothers who want to make a difference in the world.
What first inspired you to dedicate yourself to fighting poverty in Africa?
When I was 20, I worked for a clothing company that had factories in Africa. I traveled to Madagascar on business and saw real poverty for the first time. I, too, was poor growing up, but the poverty in Africa was on a different level. I realized that the main challenge was the lack of energy. With no energy, medical centers couldn’t refrigerate vaccines; people couldn’t pump the water that existed underground, and, without water to drink and grow food, children were too weak to travel to school. If there were energy, people would have much better lives. The simplicity of the solution made me want to help. I believed that it would be simple to transfer Israeli technology — including solar panels and drip irrigation systems — and know-how to African villages.
Why did you decide to export Israeli innovations to solve the problems you encounter in Africa?
Within our small and miraculous country, Israelis have created many innovations that can make the world a better place. It is our responsibility to share our innovations and minds with people who can benefit from them. I believe that, when we do so, we are fulfilling our role as a “light unto the nations.”
What keeps you passionate about your work?
It is priceless to visit a village where we recently installed solar energy panels and see the children drinking clean water for the first time, or witness the children seeing light at night for the first time. These experiences encourage my team and me to continue bringing energy to more villages, schools, orphanages, and medical centers. With so little investment — just sharing Israeli technology and knowledge — we are making a tremendous impact on people’s lives.
How do you deal with the emotional aspects of your work?
I can’t disconnect from my work because when I visit a new village, I see the people watching me leave, and I know that they are hoping that I will return. We never promise that we will, but we, too, hope to return. That stays with me. Also, when we bring energy to a village, mothers celebrate with songs. It’s unreal for them, and this stays with me, too.
What are a few recent highlight from your work?
A few weeks ago, UNICEF contacted us and asked if we could help refugees in Cameroon by providing their medical centers with water and solar energy panels. This was very exciting for us because it showed us that the United Nations appreciates Israeli innovations and technology and wants us to help them in their work. We also recently received an award from the United Nations for the Israeli technology that we use, which allows us to remotely monitor our work in Africa and see how much energy is produced and consumed, how much water is pumped in the villages, and whether something has broken and needs to be fixed.
What’s your advice to other women who want to take action and make a difference in the world?
First, get support. I have a wonderful husband and a full-time live-in, and they both help us care for our three children, who are all under the age of eight. If you try to do it all by yourself, it will be very difficult and may take a toll on your family. Second, think small. When I first started bringing solar energy panels to Africa, I began working in one village and from there, we went to another village and attracted people who wanted to get involved in our work. That is what made Innovation Africa a reality. Third, wake up very early. I wake up at 4:40 AM every day, and by 5:15 AM, I am already working. By the time I get to the office at 9 AM, I have completed my to-do list and can support my team.
How can other people get involved in Innovation Africa?
The best thing to do is to adopt a village, school, orphanage, or medical center to help us share Israeli technology and improve life in Africa. Families can even travel to villages on the day of the installation and see the impact they are making.