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