For the past 13 years, women-led non-profit organisation Innovation: Africa has deployed clean power technology to schools, medical centres and communities, providing access to clean water.
To date, the organisation under the leadership of CEO Sivan Ya’ari has completed over 500 solar and water projects with the aim to complete an additional 2,000 projects over the next five years.
Innovation Africa brings Israeli solar, water and agricultural technologies to rural African villages across 10 African countries: South Africa, eSwatini, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, Cameroon, DRC, Senegal and Ethiopia.
Sivan Ya’ari, you are of Israeli descent; what triggered your interest in Africa?
The first time I visited Africa, I was only 20 years old. I was working in a factory for Jordache Jeans in Madagascar and this was the first time I saw real poverty. I grew up poor, but the poverty I witnessed there was on a different level. While in Madagascar, I had the chance to spend time with women and children from a nearby village. One night, they took me to a medical centre. Here, I saw women waiting to give birth in complete darkness. Doctors could not treat their patients. The only light was a candle and a small kerosene lamp.
It was then that I understood that without energy, medical centres can’t store vaccines and medications, people can’t access the water that exists just meters beneath their feet, and without water, people cannot drink, they cannot grow food, children are unable to attend school as they spend their days searching for water. By simply harnessing the energy of the sun, we can make a real and immediate change.
What has Innovation: Africa’s reception been like across the continent?
Innovation: Africa has been warmly welcomed in the countries where we operate. We establish relationships with relevant ministers, ambassadors, regional commissioners and other such representatives to help identify communities in critical need of our assistance and those which are not currently supported by the local governments.
In schools and health centres, Innovation: Africa provides solar energy to provide light to the classrooms, clinics and staff homes as well as to power laptops, projectors, solar vaccine refrigerators and other essential medical devices. Children are now able to study at night, have access to quality education and succeed academically.
With access to light, doctors and nurses are able to provide improved medical treatment, deliver babies and perform operations safely at night. Access to clean water transforms a village and we see the community thrive, with improved health, elimination of waterborne diseases, improved food security, and establish income-generating opportunities.
Tanzania was where the first Innovation: Africa project was completed and from there, my team and I progressed village by village, identifying communities without access to energy and/or clean water. Innovation: Africa has expanded to new countries, based on the needs of the populations and where the organization can establish local teams of engineers, field officers and managers.
What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on the activities of Innovation: Africa?
In light of COVID-19, we understood now, more than ever, the need and urgency to power medical centres and provide clean water to as many communities as possible. After all, how can we ask communities to clean their hands without access to clean water?
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Innovation: Africa continued its work and secured essential worker permits for our local employees to ensure that we are able to continue with our projects and help combat the spread of the virus. In 2020 alone, Innovation: Africa doubled its impact and completed 206 projects, impacting the lives of over one million people.
What are some other challenges that Innovation: Africa has faced in the course of its mission?
Naturally, my team and I have learnt a lot and faced challenges over the years. In the beginning, one challenge we faced was that after installing solar energy at a school, the community refused to use it, as they believed in the practices of witchcraft and feared that this system would be detrimental to them. From this we learnt how crucial it is to engage with a community, to truly understand the cultural needs and practices.
Yet, as opposed to challenges that we have faced, Innovation: Africa focuses on the lessons we have learnt. It is important to always be innovative and open to new technologies that are always developing. The lesson to take away is to never stop growing.
We must work in a fast-paced environment and be creative problem solvers. For example, thanks to our Chief Engineer, Meir Yaacoby, we have developed the ‘Energy Box’ which has the capacity to light an entire school and medical centre from one streamlined system. We use lithium-ion batteries and special LED light bulbs that are made in Israel and can last 50,000 hours. This creates sustainability and efficiency while being cost-effective. We are now beginning to install all our solar projects with this new technology we developed in-house. We have to constantly innovate.
In countries that you operate, how helpful have governments been in assisting Innovation: Africa carry out its mission?
While we are a non-governmental organisation, in all the countries we operate, Innovation: Africa has established strong and positive relationships within the governments. On a local level, our local Innovation: Africa teams meet regularly with the district and regional ministers to discuss government plans and share the projects that Innovation: Africa is carrying out so as not to duplicate our efforts and provide energy and/or clean water to communities which the government already plans to assist. On a regional level, Innovation: Africa works closely with the country’s ambassadors to help establish positive relations and share the work we are doing across our countries of operation.
The ESI Africa team wish Sivan Ya’ari well on her journey with Innovate: Africa to complete another 2,000 solar and water projects.