By: Heidi Powell-Prera, iF Magazine Editor in-Chief
During CERAweek this year, I was invited to meet and interview the founder and CEO of Innovation Arica, Sivan Ya’ari. Sivan Ya’ari is an energetic and creative young woman who already has lived on four continents. Knowing that she was born in Israel, I naturally was curious about her background and how she came to be interested in Africa. Her story and the story of Innovation Africa is both fascinating and inspiring.
Welcome. What you are doing in Africa is fascinating. I have read about Innovation Africa and I have watched some of the videos you have online. When did you first come to Africa and how did you get inspired to help in the creative ways that you are doing it?
After graduating from Pace University with a degree in finance, I went to work with a textile company. They sent me to Africa to work with their manufacturing plants and verify their compliance. I was born poor. But how do you define poor? Growing up in Israel, I had a warm bed; I had shoes; I had food. Because I had been poor, I recognized the poverty when I saw it. The kids I saw around the factories had no shoes and very little clothes. They looked sick. Sometimes I took off from work and visited the people around the factory. I wanted to see what was happening in the villages. First I went to a nearby medical clinic. I saw people lying on beds. They looked desperate. The people were waiting all day to see someone. I asked for a doctor. There wasn’t one. So, I asked for a nurse. She came, and I asked why the people were not being treated. She said they did not have the medicine because they had no freezer. That night, I went back, and I saw the nurses working by candle light and kerosene lamps. Two women were giving birth in the dark. The next day I went to the school, the children were reading and doing lessons with kerosene lamps. They had no electricity. I knew nothing about energy. I went back to the U.S. and got a Masters in International Energy Management from Columbia University. With my friends,I raised some money, not a lot of money, and acquired solar panels to take to Africa and I went back. Just two solar panels on top of the hospital generated light inside and out, and we got one small freezer. Soon a doctor accepted to come and work in the hospital. Two more solar panels at the school provided enough light inside and out for the students to work. Some of the students saw light at night for the first time. I felt good, but it was not enough. There are 64 countries in Africa and in most villages there is no electricity. I went back to New York and founded Innovation Africa in 2008, a 501c3 non-profit organization.”
You talk a lot about Solar Energy. There are professionals here who are critical of Solar Power. They say it is not reliable; it is not strong enough; it doesn’t last. What do you say about Solar Energy?
Solar Energy is perfect for Africa. It is the most reliable source. First of all it is free. Africa has sun all year. It has a very low operating cost, and the equipment hardly ever breaks.
Your organization also provides clean water to remote villages. What inspired you to start providing water?
After getting electricity to the schools, I went back for a visit. I saw only about 30% of the students who should be there. I asked the teachers where are the students were. They told me the students are too weak to walk to school. So, we had missed the root problem. They needed clean water. Some people say there is no water in the villages. There is water everywhere in Africa, in the aquifers. It needs to be pumped out. A few solar panels bring power to the pumps, The pumps bring water to the surface, and gravity causes it to flow to the villages. Now they have water all the time. We only pump in the daytime. The children are clean, healthy, and strong enough to go to school. The water has changed life in other ways. They are growing enough food to sell to other villages; no more famine. Some are even raising livestock and selling the meat.
Your work is inspiring to say the least. I am excited. What is Innovation Africa doing now, and what are your plans for the future?
We have 650 projects reaching across 10 countries, impacting 3 million people. The countries are: Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, eSwatini, Cameroon, DRC, Ethiopia, and Senegal. Our work goes into the remotest villages. There are more than 620 million people in Africa. Most do not have access to clean water or electricity. That means they do not have medical care, vaccines or school. Our organization has the heart and the expertise. We are bringing Israeli technology to the problems Africa is facing.
I would like to help bring Innovation Africa to the attention of our readers. How may someone here in Houston work with you?
We do have a very good program for donors. Besides gathering frequent evaluation reports, videos, photos and testimonies from our local staff in 10 countries, our donors are able to remotely monitor and track live each solar system, thanks to our unique Israeli designed & UN awarded Remote Monitoring System. Should something break in the system or need a repair, our team receives SMS alerts allowing us to fix the problem immediately. With the system donated by the U.N. we know immediately if there is any problem anywhere and our local people can fix it immediately.
Since 2012, Innovation: Africa has a Special Consultative Status at The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and has received multiple awards, including the “Innovation Award” from the UN.
Our work has been endorsed by the Prime Minister of Uganda as well as other leaders.