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Humanitarian Diplomacy – A New Approach to Zionism as Israel Turns 75

Sivan Ya'ari and Innovation:Africa embody what it means to spread Israel’s values.
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May 3, 2023
Sivan Ya’ari in Tanzania reviewing construction of a water tower Photo by Innovation Africa Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Sivan Ya’ari’s gentle demeanor belies her power. She may be one of our most potent secret weapons combating antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment across the globe. The 4.2 million people she’s helped across Africa know it, everyone who meets her knows it, and now the entire nation of Israel is recognizing it. 

On April 25th, Ya’ari lit one of the 12 torches, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, at Israel’s official 75th Anniversary Independence Day ceremony. The Minister of Transportation, Miri Regev, selected leaders of Israeli civil society to show the nation — and the world — what it means to be Israeli. Ya’ari joined the ranks of a decorated war hero, the IDF Duvdevan Unit Commander, the founder of the Israel Scholarship Education Foundation, a pioneer in trauma medicine, and an Academy Award winning actor, producer, screenwriter, and director.

When Sivan was just 20 years old she got a job at a Jordache Jeans factory in Madagascar. She saw, firsthand, the plight of those who lack water and electricity. She realized that there were endless energy and water resources in Africa – if they could just harness them. In 2008 this simple, but transformative idea led to the creation of Innovation: Africa (IA).

IA’s mission is to use Israeli technologies to bring electricity and clean water to rural villages across Africa. 

IA’s mission is to use Israeli technologies to bring electricity and clean water to rural villages across Africa. To date, the organization has transformed the lives of over 4.2 million people in over 900 villages across ten African countries.

IA’s approach to humanitarian aid is different from other NGO’s. First, it uses Israeli-developed and UN-award-winning remote monitoring technology at its solar and water projects. This technology monitors the amount of solar energy and water utilized at any given moment from anywhere in the world. Should an aberration in consumption occur, IA employees and donors receive an alert and IA’s local team of engineers rectify the malfunction. This ensures the long-term sustainability of the project. This capacity ensures  that IA never leaves a project or a person. 

A second difference is that IA hires native, in-country teams. This gives native engineers, accountants, and leaders full-time, productive and meaningful work. At each of its water projects, iA hires, pays and trains 10 community members, usually five men and five women. This committee helps to construct a solar water-pumping system for their village. Throughout this training, the water committee develops essential skills required to maintain and protect the system for years to come. 

Third, IA aims to spread pro-Israel sentiment in a part of the world that often doesn’t get it. It does this through an innovative and humanitarian approach that hopes to engender an emotional connection with Israel and the Jewish people.

As we drove up to villages, we were greeted with chants of “Yisrael, Yisrael.” They flanked us with hand-drawn Israeli flags. The villagers thanked us, their “brothers and sisters from Israel,” for changing their lives. 

In November of 2022 I had the privilege of traveling with Sivan and the IA team to Malawi. As we drove up to villages, we were greeted with chants of “Yisrael, Yisrael.” They flanked us with hand-drawn Israeli flags. The villagers thanked us, their “brothers and sisters from Israel,” for changing their lives. One woman, whom I met at an open-source, contaminated water hole, told me that IA allowed her to abandon that contaminated hole forever. She added that her daughters will no longer risk being sexually assaulted on their way back from the water hole. Now they will go to school. As a mother, I understood immediately that we both want the best for our children. 

At the national and global level, Sivan’s work is emblematic of our newest and, often most effective, form of Zionism — humanitarian diplomacy. This humanitarian diplomacy is a powerful tool combatting the rampant and raging antisemitism across the globe. And Israel knows it. Sivan works closely with ardent Zionists and government officials, alike, because they recognize how effective her work is in showing the world Israel’s true colors and values. 

In my mind, Sivan and IA embody what it means to spread Israel’s values. The Torah teaches that Jews must have an unwavering commitment to vulnerable peoples (the orphan and the widow). The modern state of Israel has, in many ways, led the world in the development of cutting-edge technology and has shown others what happens when a people hold fiercely and relentlessly to a dream. These values illustrate what it means to thrive through the wars and challenges of the last 75 years. As Israel celebrates, but also faces some difficult times, Sivan and her team remind us of all that is good about this tiny country.


Andrea Wolf is U.S. Director of External Affairs at Innovation: Africa.

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