Celebrating moms: Sivan Ya’ari
Sivan Ya’ari is a mother of three who has dedicated her life to bringing solar power and clean water to African villages. Her work has impacted over 1 million people in eight countries. She spoke to us about what it takes to balance a life of philanthropy and a young family…
Sivan Ya’ari is the founder and CEO of Innovation: Africa, a New York-based nonprofit organization that brings Israeli solar, water and agricultural technologies to rural African villages. Since 2008, her work has impacted over 1 million lives in eight African countries.
She has received numerous honors and awards, including the United Nations’ prestigious Innovation Award as well as being named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Israel by Forbes Israel and one of the 40 Under 40 Most Promising Israelis by Globes magazine. She lives in Tel Aviv with her husband, David, twins, Ori and Emily, 8, and son, Adam, 6.
When I was 20, I worked for a clothing company that had factories in Africa. My work brought me to Africa for the first time – Madagascar specifically – and that’s also when I saw real poverty for the first time. I was poor growing up, but the poverty in Africa was on a different level.
I quickly realized that the main challenge was the lack of energy. With no energy, medical centers couldn’t refrigerate vaccines and people couldn’t pump the water that existed underground in the aquifers [underground layers of water-bearing rocks]. And without water to drink and to grow food, children were too weak to travel to school. If there was energy, people would have much better lives. The simplicity of the solution made me want to help.
Because we’re sharing existing Israeli technology and knowledge, we’re making a tremendous impact on people’s lives with so little investment. I don’t believe I’ve done something so great, truly. I’m simply sharing basic and inexpensive solutions to regions that don’t have energy. It’s priceless to visit a village where we recently installed solar energy panels and to witness the children drinking clean water or seeing light at night for the first time. These experiences encourage my team and me to continue bringing energy to more villages, schools, orphanages and medical centers. I’m also constantly inspired by the women I meet in Africa. Their emotional and mental strength push me to continue.
But striking a balance between family, friends and my profession isn’t easy – it’s a journey. My advice for women who are trying to juggle a career and a family is threefold. First, get support. I have a wonderful husband and a full-time nanny, and they both help care for our three children who are all under the age of eight. If you try to do it all by yourself, it’ll be very difficult and may take a toll on your family.
Second, think small. Set concrete and tangible goals – don’t overcomplicate or have a big vision. When I first started bringing solar energy panels to Africa, I started working in one village. From there, we went to another village and attracted people who wanted to get involved in our work. That’s what made Innovation: Africa a reality.
Third, wake up very early. I wake up at 4:40am every day and by 5:15am I’m already working. By the time I get to the office at 9am, I’ve completed my to-do list and can support my team and family.
I also think it’s important not to fear failure or to shy away from it. I try to teach my kids to face adversity head on and to learn from the obstacles they face and move forward.
I want to help my children be as independent as possible from the beginning. I don’t overprotect them – it won’t help them. I also keep showing them what I do at Innovation: Africa and I took my eight-year- old daughter with me to live in a village and experience Africa for the first time. It helps them understand why I travel so much.
One of the core values I want to impart on my children is to not be bystanders. We need to help others, but at the same time we shouldn’t act out of mere compassion. We should do it because what is still happening right now in parts of the world is unjust. I’d also like to teach them the importance of curiosity, asking questions and finding a solution.