African students African students With the influx of solar energy from Innovation: Africa, these students no longer have to rely on candles and kerosene lamps. (Photo: Innovation: Africa)

Innovation: Africa brings Israeli solar, water tech to African villagers

The nonprofit organization has helped more than 670,000 people.

Innovation: Africa has helped provide electricity, clean water and medical vaccines to more than 670,000 people in rural African villages.

The six-year-old nonprofit organization is the brainchild of Sivan Ya’ari, who witnessed the problems of the poor in Africa firsthand when she was a graduate student overseeing the manufacture of American designer jeans in Madagascar. She saw women and children spending hours each day carrying water and firewood to their homes.

A few years later, with a master’s degree in international energy management and policy from Columbia University, she interned at the United Nations Development Program and realized how solar energy could help Africa. In 2008, she founded Innovation: Africa to bring solar and agricultural technology from her native Israel to rural African villages.

Through 81 projects, Innovation: Africa has powered schools, orphanages, medical clinics and water pumping systems in Ethiopia, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than 300,000 children have received properly stored tetanus, tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles and other vaccines for the first time, thanks to solar-powered refrigerators.

Solar power also provides light for young people to study by at night. “We found that on average, the graduation rate for schools we provide electricity to has tripled,” said Yael Misrahi, Ya'ari’s assistant.

Innovation: Africa’s solar-powered water pumps provide more than 20,000 liters (5,283 gallons) of clean water a day, and drip irrigation systems offer a source of food and income for farmers and their families. The mission is not only to share Israel’s expertise with Africa, but also to teach the locals how to maintain their new technology.

As Misrahi notes, not long ago Israel suffered from similar shortages of energy, food and water, which technology helped solve. “There is so much we can take from the lessons learned and apply to development in sub-Saharan Africa – especially given the similarities in climate and agriculture,” she says.

Innovation: Africa is funded by donors across the world – average age 32 – who say they are happy to empower a technology solution to global poverty.

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