A superpower of goodness through business

The path forward to transform the quality of life in Africa is to apply business models to deploy Israeli technology and know-how to hundreds of millions of people.

June 9, 2013 21:14
3 minute read.
Screenshot of Google's April Fool's joke.

Google nose shot 370. (photo credit: Google screenshot)

There is an indulgence of self that the Internet has fueled, making our lives easier, more connected and feeding our every curiosity, whim and need. Fortunes have sprung from ideas; exits reign as a supreme value.

Finding the next app to entertain ourselves, however, is to game the human spirit and instinct to do good. Israel is home to more start-ups per capita and more nonprofits per capita than any other country on the planet. We specialize in innovation and do-gooder-ness. If we bring these two attributes together, Israel can be a superpower of goodness, particularly for the 5 billion people on the planet in developing countries.

Google Israel and Techonomy put the question of the future of the Internet and technology to me and three other panelists last week at their Tel Aviv headquarters. Before I was a renewable- energy entrepreneur, I was an Internet entrepreneur. I can tell you that the fastest and greatest Internet growth in the world will follow the build out of electrical grid lines and off-grid energy solutions in Africa. That is where fortunes of the future will be made.

There are a billion people in Africa, yet only 400 million are connected to electricity. Even so, more than 650 million have cellphones, which is more than are used in North America or Europe. Lack of access to power, even to recharge cellphones, translates into frugal use of limited air and Internet time.

Imagine if the Gates Foundation sponsored free air time and solar-powered recharging on phones for children when they access educational apps, or for women when they access apps for entrepreneurship, or health or functionalities to help unemployed men to become literate or learn new skills. Cellphones already provide branchless banking or points bartering services to more than 60 million people in Africa, and this will grow exponentially.

David Kirkpatrick, the dynamic founder of Techonomy, makes the point that both the United States and China have been able to attain world economic leadership for a variety of reasons but primarily because they had deep domestic markets. Israel, he argues, should view the developing world with its 5 billion largely untapped people as its natural market.

The developing world needs food, water and energy. It happens to be that our little nation here is an expert in agriculture, water technology and now renewable energy. And these are all related, since increasing food yields requires energy for a variety of Israeli innovations, such as drip irrigation and solar-powered desalination and water pumping.

There is no Internet and technology ecosystem better than Israel to seed this revolution; Silicon Valley, according to George Packer in a recent issue of The New Yorker, is simply out of touch and catering to wealthy and bored 20-somethings.

Israel’s ties to Africa are organic and largely positive. Herzl, writing in his diary, said: “Once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.” Golda Meir, as foreign minister, deepened the young Jewish state’s ties with emerging African countries by sending technical experts throughout the continent.

Africa today can’t benefit in any significant way by symbolic nonprofit or government-to-government programs with limited budgets. The path forward to transform the quality of life in Africa is to apply business models to deploy Israeli technology and know-how to hundreds of millions of people.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame will likely be the only head of state from Africa to attend President Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday party and Presidential Conference next week. This is no accident. Rwanda is the only country on the planet to teach entrepreneurship to every child in its school system. Israeli foreign policy would be more effective when it facilitates nation-building in Africa with the side of Israel that is Start-Up Nation.

If we synch our penchant for good with our instinct for innovation, we as a country can create real and lasting value that can transform lives, communities, economies and even countries.

yosefa@aol.com Yosef I. Abramowitz is president and CEO of Energiya Global Capital, a Jerusalem-based solar-energy developer. He can be followed on Twitter @KaptainSunshine.

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