Quantify your impact and showcase your success with your audiences.

For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders and leaders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non-Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sivan Yaari.

Sivan Yaari is the Founder and CEO of lnnovation: Africa, a nonprofit that brings solar, agricultural and water technologies to African villages. She was born in lsrael, raised in France and educated in the United States. Sivan holds degrees in Finance from Pace University; and, a masters in lnternational Energy Management and Policy from Columbia University. She has been working in Africa for more than 20 years and over the past decade, has brought clean water and light to more than four million people across 10 African countries.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

I believe that it was my first experience in Africa that truly shaped my life’s trajectory.

I was fortunate to be exposed to Africa as a young employee in one of Jordache Jeans African factories at the age of 20. It was there that I realized what real poverty meant, which was very different from the poverty I experienced growing up in Israel. I spent time with the women and young girls from the community and was exposed to their living conditions. It was then that I realized that energy was the challenge. Without energy, there was no light in their schools or medical centers and they had no access to safe and clean water.

I was inspired to help make a difference and I understood that energy was the key to breaking the cycle of poverty these communities were experiencing. I returned to the US and after obtaining a Master’s degree in Energy at Columbia University, I founded Innovation: Africa and started bringing and installing simple and reliable solar solutions to light off-grid schools and medical centers and crucially, to pump clean water in remote African villages.

Since then, and over the past 15 years, I am proud to share that Innovation: Africa’s projects have transformed more than 900 villages across 10 African countries, providing access to light and/or clean water to more than 4.2 million people for the first time.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?

In opinion and experience, the three most important characteristics of being a successful leader are:

Keeping it simple and staying focused: I truly believe that in order to be successful as a leader, you have to have a very clear and simple mission. One that others can identify with and can appreciate its importance. It is imperative that you maintain focus on your mission and do not lose sight of your main goal. For us at Innovation: Africa, our mission is to utilize solar energy to power off-grid facilities and to pump clean and safe water throughout rural African communities. There are hundreds of avenues and partnerships we could have explored, but this would have detracted from our mission and therefore, limited our capacity and impact.

Hiring the right people: I am not an expert in civil, water or electrical engineering, nor am I a certified CFO, but I have shared my vision and hired extremely talented, passionate and dedicated people who are experts in their fields and help advance our work and ensure we are operating at the highest standards and are making a truly significant contribution to those in need.

Being a problem-solver: challenges will always arise but an effective leader will not dwell on obstacles, but will instead, seek solutions and identify the best ways forward.

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

One of the most interesting and significant discoveries I have made is that while the challenges are systemic, the solutions are simple, cost effective and provide immediate impact. With just a few solar panels, we are able to provide improved access to health care and education and we are able to pump safe and clean water to villages of up to 10,000 people.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

Over the past 15 years, Innovation: Africa has made a significant impact on rural societies across Africa by providing communities with access to solar energy and/or clean water.

At the highest level, the health and wellbeing of the community members is significantly improved as there is now access to clean water in taps throughout their village and the solar energy installed in the medical centers is able to power lights, essential medical equipment and a solar vaccine refrigerator to safely store lifesaving medicines for the first time. Women can deliver their babies safely under the light at night and no longer need to rely on harmful kerosene lamps or candles to guide their deliveries. Moreover, the students at the schools we electrify, will have access to more advanced education thereby helping them reach their full potential and break the cycle of poverty.

Significantly, with access to clean water, pressure on the women is alleviated as they are no longer required to travel significant distances to collect water from contaminated sources. These women can now use their time more effectively and are empowered to establish their own businesses. In turn, economic stability begins to take place, as businesses are established, including brick-making and agricultural programs as they are able to grow vegetables and sell the surplus in local markets.

Over the next four years, Innovation: Africa is committed to undertaking an extensive expansion plan and aims to complete an additional 1,200 solar and water projects across Africa impacting and transforming the lives of millions more people for the better.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

I am immensely passionate about our mission and the need to install solar energy to power facilities and to provide clean water, as without access to energy, there is no real potential or opportunity for these rural and vulnerable communities. More than 620 million people across Africa are living without access to energy and more than 400 million people live without access to clean water — that’s 1 in 3 Africans who are affected by water scarcity. Women and young children are dying each day from collecting and consuming contaminated water and in 2023, this simply cannot continue. We are proud to have impacted 4.2 million people across our 10 countries of operation but we recognise that the challenge remains significant and we must continue with our mission.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

It is hard to highlight just one story, as there are more than 4.2 million people who we have proudly assisted. Each time we install our solutions, we have the privilege of meeting and engaging with incredible community members and learning the impact that we are having on their lives.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

  1. Raise awareness of the issues by sharing our solutions with your friends and family.
  2. Donate whatever you can — for every $25 donated, another person in Africa will have access to clean water.
  3. Sponsor or fundraise for a project. Together with your friends, family and community, you can raise the funds to install solar energy at a school or medical center, which costs $20,000 or to provide lifelong access to clean water to an entire village which costs $65,000. One hundred percent of every donation will go directly to the project costs as our overhead expenses are already covered.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?”

  1. Identify the core issue you are trying to address.
  2. Develop an effective and sustainable solution.
  3. Find committed supporters to ensure you have the capacity to execute your vision.
  4. Stay focused on your mission.
  5. Quantify your impact and showcase your success with your audiences.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

Our definition of success has not so much changed, but rather the pandemic highlighted the importance and urgency of our work. Without access to energy, these vulnerable communities are unable to store the vaccines or provide medical care to patients. How can we expect these community members to wash their hands when there is no access to clean water? Throughout 2020 alone, Innovation: Africa completed 206 solar and water projects, supporting one million more people across Africa.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

Setbacks can certainly be difficult — but spending time with the communities we serve, reaffirms and highlights the importance of our mission and continues to inspire and drive us forward.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I hope that all those reading this column will be inspired to take action — join our mission and help make a difference today.

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

Thank you! We would be delighted for your readers to follow our progress via our social media channels at innovation:africa

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.