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Thato Kgatlhanye and her “upcycled” solar powered schoolbags

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Thato Kgatlhanye

Thato Kgatlhanye is a bright South African startup entrepreneur who is using innovation to benefit lives of local youths.

Thato Kgatlhanye is another shining tech star to come out of South Africa in recent years. Her passion for social change and empowerment is reflected in her landmark product: the solar powered school bag.

At age 18, Kgatlhanye founded Rethaka, literally meaning “we are fellows.” She set out with no concrete business plan in mind, just the idea that she wanted to do something that impacted young people and benefited underprivileged communities. Less than two years later, Repurpose was born.

Combining tech innovation and social motivation

Kgatlhanye had noticed that many children in South Africa walked to school carrying their books, or using plastic carrier bags. She was concerned that they frequently journeyed along busy roads, often late at night. Her vision was to create a practical book bag for disadvantaged students that could be low-cost and environmentally friendly.

Kgatlhanye and her business partner Rea Ngwane founded Repurpose with a $50,000 seed. The two childhood friends generated the startup capital by winning hard fought business competitions, and attracting corporate grants. They produced a prototype in partnership with an industrial product designer, before launching their brand of “upcycled” school bags. The bags are made from hundreds of reclaimed plastic carrier bags. They contain a solar powered battery element designed to charge on the student’s walk to school, and then emit light for up to 12 hours. Not only are these bags strong, durable and waterproof but they also come in many bright and unique designs and are made from high visibility materials.

Utilizing waste materials

The bags were designed with three core concepts in mind, forming the cornerstones of Repurpose’s success.

The first is its recycling element, which helps to alleviate Africa’s plastic crisis by upcycling collected carrier bags into a useful end product. Repurpose sets up “PurposeTextile” Banks for locals to deposit used plastic bags, taking them out of the environment ready to be made into repurposed bags.

The second is the bags’ durability and practical nature. They are long lasting, waterproof and available in bright colors. They are also made out of a highly reflective material in order to be more visible to vehicles. Three children are needlessly killed every day on dangerous South African roads, often walking to and from school along roads not built for pedestrian travel.

The final element is the solar powered light. The solar panel charges on the student’s walk to school and then can be used as a lantern for up to 12 hours of light. Many children cannot study once it gets dark as their families’ cannot afford candles or kerosene. Furthermore, around 3 million people are killed globally each year from accidents and illnesses involving kerosene and other temporary light sources.

Repurpose bags

Upcycling, generous donors and low-income families

Repurpose seeks out “Giving Partners,” who are matched with low-income schools that pay for a consignment of bags. Although Rethaka is a for-profit, women-owned business, they profess to do “what is right, not what is easy,” and their ethos is focused on generating profits, jobs and empowerment in otherwise struggling communities.

A recent graduate in Brand Management from Vega University, Kgatlhanye is enjoying her business success at a very young age. Her company has now dispensed over 10,000 backpacks, with plans to roll out further development and promotion of her bags. Repurpose has significant potential for the rest of Africa. Kgatlhanye has expressed a desire to extend her project across the continent, where it can save lives, benefit the environment and benefit children on a far grander scale. They intend set up more workshops in other African countries over the next 5 years, creating jobs and extending their reach. They also want to partner with large organizations like UNICEF to distribute the bags on a larger scale to identified African communities.

But Kgatlhanye is setting herself even wider targets. After identifying a new market, her next project is a range of luxury bags to be sold in the western world. This will be on a one-for-one model, donating one backpack for each bag sold. At just 23 years old, she is part of a new generation of change makers in South Africa. These individuals are utilizing their business acumen, entrepreneurial ideas and commitment to social progress for the greater good.

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Ellen Chilemba: The entrepreneur helping Malawi’s women

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Ellen Chilemba

Ellen Chilemba is one of Africa’s youngest social entrepreneurs, bringing about change and empowerment for the women left behind by society.

For Ellen Chilemba, being an entrepreneur is about affecting social change and helping others reach success. Her ground-breaking project Tiwale is making waves across the African non-profit sector. Making the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2015 and with a long way to go until she hits 30, she has a bright future ahead affecting change in Malawi’s development.

Born and raised in Malawi, at the age of 16 she was offered a scholarship to attend the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, where she studied leadership, entrepreneurship and African studies. This experience shaped her immensely and straight after graduating she launched her first major project: Tiwale. This is a social enterprise designed to train women in the apparel industry, and help them escape cycles of poverty in her native Malawi. This was a risk for Chilemba, and she doubted whether taking a year out of studying was good for her career. Fortunately, Tiwale has been extremely successful and she is now studying economics at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts while managing her business from abroad.

Believing in gender empowerment

Chilemba believes in women helping women, and that gender empowerment is the key to reducing poverty in her homeland. Gender disparity statistics in Malawi are alarming by global standards. Women have some of the lowest primary school completion rates, low socioeconomic markers and higher than average HIV and AIDS infection figures. Malawi also has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates and many young women are forced to leave school and marry at 12 or 13.

With little to no education to speak of, low access to medical care and few economic opportunities, women in Malawi are some of the most vulnerable and marginalized in Africa. These are the conditions that inspired Chilemba to create a project that would improve lives in a big way. She believes that is a key factor as incremental changes are easily undone, frequently resulting into a slide back into poverty.

tiwale

Tiwale finds success with a cyclic business model

It became apparent to Chilemba that although many women throughout Malawi wore bright, traditionally dyed clothing, most of these clothes were imported from neighboring countries. Having identified a potential business, she began training women to dye-print different fabrics that are then sold to designers as garment material or from their website as tapestries and tote bags. The women are allowed to keep 60% of the profit, while 40% goes back into the company to help to train more women and perpetuate the cycle.

Tiwale means “let’s glow” in the Malawian language, Chichewa. Tiwale’s purpose is to empower, guide and allow women to “lift” themselves out of poverty. Chilemba’s orignal model has grown considerably, and since its inception 3 years ago has branched into two avenues.

The first branch is the fabric design training for women in the community, where their goods are sold through the company and they are free to use their skills to start their own business, or continue working with the program in their facilities.

The other is much more ambitious, offering micro-finance schemes. These begin with leadership and entrepreneurship courses where the participants learn business skills such as inventory and accounting. After the training, the women present business proposals and the most viable ideas are given interest free loans that are repaid over 10 weeks. Tiwale has also introduced a scheme to send promising candidates back to school or college with grants paid for by the vocational courses and resulting profits. Each woman that they help then goes on to help others. Currently they have helped 40 women to become business owners and have taught entrepreneurial courses to 150 more.

What does Chilemba’s future entail?

Not one to be satisfied with her current success, planning is already underway to build an education and entrepreneur center for women. This will be used in a number of ways, giving the participants space to create their products, as well as for further workshops and additional activities. Chilemba sees a future for Tiwale where the company outgrows her involvement and flourishes on its own. She wants to focus next on the education system in Malawi and ways to attract tourism to her “beautiful country.” She says she is “excited by social entrepreneurship and has many more ideas to pursue.” Chilemba is a much needed role model for Malawi. Through her efforts perhaps she will inspire future leaders and entrepreneurs who can further drive change in their homeland.

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Bassita helps fund social change through clickfunding

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Bassita

Bassita is an Egyptian startup company that created click funding, a new way for charities and campaigns to source funding.

If you have never heard of clickfunding before, then it’s probably because this highly innovative form of fund raising was only created 2 years ago. In 2014, an Egyptian startup company called Bassita was launched, and with it the concept of clickfunding was born. The name of the company comes from an Arabic word that means “simple,” and the idea of clickfunding is to make the creation of funds as simple as possible.

The clickfunding model works through the culture of social media, in which people constantly share and like articles, videos or images with other people. What Bassita does is create a short video highlighting a campaign or promoting a cause and a sponsor agrees to a certain number of shares or likes that must be met for it to then fund the campaign.

This means that people can directly help push a project toward being funded simply by clicking a “like” on Facebook or by sharing the video online. Co-founder, Alban de Ménonville states that, “It’s easy for the cybernaut – by clicking on an appealing project, she’s helping to fund change that is good for her community or society.”

This provides people with the opportunity to feel a connection to campaigns that they like and to feel that even a small action, such as sharing a video, can be a part of a genuine change.

bassita website

Clicking for change

The idea sounds so simple that it seems strange that nobody had thought of it before. But this is often the case with new ideas that become rapidly popular and important. A few years ago, the idea of crowd funding might have sounded like people asking for handouts, and yet businesses all across the world have successfully used the model. Social media has become increasingly political and major uprisings such as the Arab Spring were intrinsically linked to the use of outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. To harness the huge amount of activity that social media generates and to use viral videos in a fashion that generates real financing for important projects seems sure to succeed. After all, the overhead costs are small and the commitment of users is nothing more than clicking on “share” or “like.” The very first campaign that Bassita made a video for was a huge success. On September 1st, 2014, they created a video for a Baraka Optics campaign, which aimed to provide 1,000 underprivileged workers in Egypt with eyeglasses. Baraka Optics had agreed to fund this if Bassita got 10,000 views on Youtube, a target that was quickly met.

Since this opening campaign, Bassita has teamed up with UNICEF to help provide 1,000 new clean water connections to homes in Upper Egypt. In order to extend the way in which users can be involved, Bassita created a points-based system in which the target was 1.5 million points. People provided 1 point for viewing the video, 2 points for liking it, 3 points for sharing or re-tweeting it and 5 points for commenting on the video or tweeting about it.

There is a unique nature to these campaigns in how they give any person a chance to play a small role in helping to bring about positive changes. Ménonville said, “The clickfunding model can change the world. More than one million people are giving their clicks to help those who do not have access to water! Yes, our clicks count.”

Bassita’s UNICEF video was viewed 2 million times on Facebook within 3 days of being uploaded and the 1,000 water connections are already being built.

The men behind the clicks and the road ahead

The two men who created the Bassita idea are both French nationals who relocated to Cairo to launch their scheme. Alban de Ménonville and Salem Massalha felt that Africa provided a great opportunity for a young business and as Massalha is of Egyptian origin, the North African country became their new home. In an interview with Popout magazine, Ménonville said, “What we’ve managed to do in Egypt in one year is unthinkable in France, for example. Our team comes from diverse backgrounds, and that is our strength.”

As with many new ideas that become ubiquitous, the men behind the clickfunding idea believe that it will become a global concept that simply adapts its campaigns in relation to the different issues facing various places. Bassita has already won a Young Innovators Award and a 2015 Orange Prize for African Social Ventures.

Then in April of this year they won funding of 60,000 Egyptian Pounds from Injaz’s Startup Egypt prize. The future for clickfunding looks extremely promising and the team behind it all truly believes it can revolutionize advertising and ways in which we engineer social and environmental change. When asked about the Injaz award, co-founder Salem Massalha said, “This prize brings us one step closer to changing the world.”

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Faso Soap: A weapon against malaria?

Comments (1) Africa, Business, Featured

faso soap

A soap created by two students in Burkina Faso holds promise as an affordable way to fight the devastating disease.

As malaria threatens millions of people in Africa, a mosquito-repellent soap invented by two students in Burkina Faso may help prevent infection.

Faso Soap could be tested and produced if a crowd funding campaign launched in April is successful.

The “Save 100,000 Lives” campaign hopes to raise $113,000 to test and manufacture the soap. The goal is to save 100,000 lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda, through malaria prevention by 2018.

Gerard Niyondiko of Burundi and Moctar Dembele of Burkina Faso created Faso Soap when they were students at the International Institute for Water and Environmental Institute in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.

Prize-winning invention

It was the first project from the African continent to win the $25,000 grand prize at  University of California Berkeley’s Global Social Ventures Competition in 2013, beating 650 entries from 40 countries.

Globally, more than three billion people live in areas at risk for malaria, mostly in poor tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Africa is hardest hit by the debilitating disease. An estimated 430,000 people die from malaria each year and 90 percent of the deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly among children under five years old, according to one U.S. official.

Sheila Paskman, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, said a child dies from malaria every two minutes in Africa, where the disease is also responsible more than half of all school absences. “The disease costs the continent billions each year in health costs and lost productivity,” she said.

Africa most vulnerable

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Africa is most vulnerable for a variety of reasons: A predominant species, Plasmodium falciparum, is most likely to cause death; the climate allows transmission to occur year round; and scarcity of resources hinders malaria control.

Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are hardest hit by the disease.

In other areas of the world, such as parts of South Asia and Latin America, malaria is less likely to cause death but can still result in severe illness and incapacitation, according to the CDC.

Eradication and control efforts include insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor insecticide spraying campaigns, and community education campaigns.

Officials cite progress

While the disease remains a serious problem, eradication efforts are paying off.

Since 2000, malaria death rates have fallen by 60 percent, and new cases have dropped by more than one third globally, according to the World Health Organization. In Africa, death rates dropped by more than 65 percent overall and among children less than 5 years old.

Faso Soap could be another weapon in the arsenal fighting malaria.

Niyondiko said the soap is made from Shea butter, lemongrass oil and other ingredients.

Soap is accessible, affordable

He said Faso Soap can repel mosquitoes for several hours after use and could especially offer protection in the early evening when people are still outdoors and mosquitoes appear.

The team hopes to engage in partnerships with large soap producers and distributors to create a product that is competitive with conventional soap.

The French Association for Research Against Infectious Diseases in Africa is collecting the donations. So far, the project has raised more than $42,000 from 464 contributors.

Now working with social entrepreneurs Lisa Barutel and Franck Langevin in Burkina Faso, Niyondiko said the aim is to provide an accessible and affordable product for people who may not be able to afford anti-mosquito products or nets.

“Soap is a commodity product and not going to add other additional costs to the population” as they will buy soap in any case, Niyondiko said.

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MIT in MENA: Bringing Arab Minds Together for Change

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MIT brings MENA’s smartest minds together for a universally beneficial competition.

On April 14, the smartest technology-oriented minds from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will meet in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the third and final round of the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab competition. Organized by the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), this forum brings together innovative minds from 21 Arab countries to change the way we think, learn and access services.

In its 9th year, this competition brings together MENA’s smartest innovators in four tracks: ideas, social entrepreneurship, start-ups and The Silicon Valley Program. This year, more than 5,000 applications were received from 21 countries in French, English and Arabic. All finalist teams will receive top tier coaching from leaders in their respective fields; networking opportunities with budding and well-known specialists and the opportunity to learn from others in their category. The top three finalists will receive, in order, US$15,000, US$10,000 and US$5,000 to turn their ideas into tangible reality.

Ideas Track

20 teams are short-listed for the “ideas” track. In order to be eligible, candidates must form a team of at least two people including at least one Arab national; are not required to have a working prototype of their invention; are forbidden from having any current sales; and are not required to be registered or incorporated in any way, but are required to incorporate a company in one of the Arab countries in order to win prize money; applicants may not have received any previous funding for their idea; and the idea can be in any industry–technology, food security, health delivery or otherwise.

Since the goal of this competition is to bring fresh ideas into the global marketplace, much of the judging criteria for this track is based on the feasibility of an idea. Teams are judged on three criteria.

Experience: the value each member adds to the team and the relevance of each team member to the incubation and development of the idea

Innovation: the creativity of the idea and whether or not it improves upon an existing solution/business process or introduces a new solution to a current challenge in any field

Scalability: the relevance of the idea to the global marketplace is judged on whether markets outside of team’s community would find the product useful. At a minimum, teams are expected to be relevant on a national scale, and should be replicable on a global scale.

Social Entrepreneurship Track

The Social Entrepreneurship track is similarly judged for eligibility. Teams must have a minimum of two members with at least one Arab national, the team must have a registered social enterprise either for or non-profit, the core product/service must address a specific social challenge faced by marginalized/disadvantaged peoples, and the enterprise can be in any industry.

The 20 finalist teams are judged on similar criteria as above, but with different details.

Innovation: the product/service must provide a new way to tackle the specific social challenge the team is addressing

Scalability: the social enterprise should not be limited to a local market, but should be scalable to the national level at a minimum. Preferably, the model could be expanded and replicated as the enterprise grows, where relevant.

Social Impact: the team will be judged on the efficacy of the project, and the extent to which it benefits the targeted population

Financial Sustainability: the team must prove that their enterprise is financially sustainable in the long-term for both for-profit and non-profit enterprises

Startups Track

30 teams will be selected for the second and final round of the Startups Track competition. These teams must be comprised of a minimum of two members, one of whom must be Arab, must have a working prototype of their startup, must already generate more than $500,000 in revenue, must have been in operation for no more than 5 years, must be legally registered in any Arab country and the start-up may be in any industry.

The teams will be judged on the following:

Team: judges score teams based on their individual experience, the value added by each person and the relevance of each role

Innovation: the start-up will be assessed for creativity, and whether it replicates an existing product/service

Scalability: the start-up must be relevant outside of the local context and should be easily replicable in other relevant fields, regardless of location.

The Silicon Valley Program

Unlike the above tracks, the Silicon Valley Program competition will finish in September, when finalists receive a much more comprehensive and hands on package than the other finalists. The Silicon Valley Program brings entrepreneurs from 20 start-ups to Silicon Valley (in northern California, United States) for a week-long immersive program. Finalists will attend and participate in conferences and workshops with some of Silicon Valley’s most successful start-ups and learn how to successfully “pitch” ideas to funders. Mentors include current industry leaders as well as members of the Arab diaspora who are better able to speak to the specific challenges entrepreneurs from the MENA region face.

This program accepts a higher-level of start-up teams than the other tracks. Start-ups must have been in operation for more than two years, must have global or regional reach/presence, must have successfully completed one round of fundraising and must have more than $500,000 in revenue per annum.

The Rising Tide

Competitions like this provide an incredible opportunity for young, successful and intelligent people to gather and share ideas. Not only do they have the potential to receive funding to scale up their operations to the global level, but they receive invaluable exposure and mentorship opportunities. Previous winners include Visualizing Impact, a Lebanese social enterprise that operates a citizen data laboratory to share science, design and technology data for social justice outside of formal channels; Kotobna, an Egyptian team that provides alternate means for young Arab authors to publish and monetize their written work and Screen DY, a Moroccan team that created a platform for users to quickly build complex, culturally relevant apps for all mobile technology platforms.

This competition is an important hallmark for young Arab entrepreneurs. Benefitting from the experience of others while gaining exposure to other like-minded people can invaluably change the way people in the MENA region and beyond access knowledge, share information and obtain products.

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Ethel Cofie builds a mobile platform to boost youth employment

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

Ethel Cofie

The Ghanaian entrepreneur is developing a micro work platform that will enable businesses and people to coordinate tasks that computers cannot perform.

Ghanaian entrepreneur Ethel Cofie sees technology as a key driver of business efficiency and revenue and she hopes to demonstrate that with her company’s latest project, M-Ablodé.

Cofie is the founder and CEO of Edel Technology Consulting. Her company is collaborating with the United States African Development Fund to create M-Ablodé, a mobile micro work platform that will enable businesses and people to coordinate the use of intelligence to perform tasks that computers cannot.

Edel said the platform would help create employment and wealth in developing economies, especially Africa. The name Ablodé means freedom or independence in the language of the Fon Ewe people who originated in Ghana, Benin and Togo.

Platform could help boost youth employment

The hope is that the platform will tap into Africans’ mushrooming access to mobile phones to help drive youth employment on the continent, which is expected to have a labor force of one billion by 2040.

Using technology to better the economy is at the center of Cofie’s experience in technology development.

“Years ago, I got tired of just building tech for tech’s sake,” Cofie said. “Instead I wanted to build tech that would clearly create something new for an organization or would make things more efficient, or something that would create more revenue.”

Global experience in technology

Cofie, who founded Edel in 2010, has more than 12 years of experience working in the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Ghana on projects including the Bill and Melinda Gates Mobile Technology for Health project, the Ford Foundation’s Nigeria election monitoring project and as an IT strategist for Vodaphone. In 2014, she was a Mandela Washington Fellow at Yale University.

Edel projects include the World Bank’s Negawatt global challenge, a competition that seeks to encourage innovation around energy issues through a process of meetups, brainstorming, prototyping and pitching.

Other Edel projects are Unilever’s Clean Team initiative to bring affordable sanitation to poor communities; an online leadership center for the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, and micro-finance revenue growth for Dalex Finance.

M-Ablode

Founded Women in Tech Africa

In 2013, Cofie also founded Women in Tech Africa, a pan African organization with membership from 30 countries that has convened virtual meetings as well as conferences and training in Nigeria and Ghana.

She said she started the organization “out of my very personal need to start a ‘girls club,’ as an antidote to what had been a ‘boys club’ in the tech sector for so long.’’

The new M-Ablodé platform, due for release this summer, will tap into the proliferation of mobile phones in Africa.

Mobile subscriptions to reach 930 million

In 2002, only one in 10 in Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda owned a mobile device, according to Pew Research Center. Today, ownership in many countries tops two-third. In South Africa 89 percent ownership is on part with the United States, Pew said.

Ericson, the telecoms giant, expects mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa to increase to 930 million by 2019.

In announcing the new platform, Edel said it would help address the growing problem of youth unemployment. Edel noted that Africa’s labor force would number one billion by 2040, surpassing China and India to make it the largest in the world. At the same time, “in Africa, youth unemployment occurs at a rate more than twice that for adults. Youth count for 60 percent of all African unemployed.”

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Stef Wertheimer: Manufacturing Peaceful Coexistence in Israel

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Stef Wertheimer

Israeli industrialist Stef Wertheimer, founder of Iscar and Blades Technology, is investing millions in industrial parks to diffuse Arab-Jewish conflict.

Born in Germany in 1926 a decade before his family was forced to flee the Nazis to what was then British-Mandate Palestine, Stef Wertheimer is an Israeli industrialist who believes that his country’s problems and solutions lie in economics. Over the last 30 years, the billionaire has invested millions of his own personal wealth in building industrial parks and training programs for Arabs across Israel, in the hope of using job creation and lowered economic disparity to foster peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews.

The International Metalworking Companies Group and Blades Technology

Now aged 89, Wertheimer’s early academic career was short lived. He was expelled from school aged 14, and instead started working in a camera-repair shop. Later, in the lead-up to Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, he made weapons for the Jewish underground. And after the war, in which he served as a pilot and a member of the Palmach strike force, he set up a small metal tool-cutting factory in a garage in his garden in Nahariya. The city, Israel’s northernmost, is in an underdeveloped, largely agricultural and Arab region, about which Wertheimer says: “There were no jobs, this area was agricultural, and I decided that I had to do something on my own”.

He named his small operation Iscar, and within five years, the company was exporting precision carbide cutting tools to Europe and the US. Today, it is one of the world’s top two companies in the field, and its automotive, aerospace, and electronics industry customers include General Motors and Ford. It is also now the largest of 15 companies that make up Wertheimer’s International Metalworking Companies (IMC), a Group valued at $10 billion, with 140 subsidiaries in 61 countries around the world, employing over 10,000 people.

Wertheimer further expanded his manufacturing holdings in 1968, when the Israeli government asked him to make blades for the Israeli Air Force following a French weapons embargo. In the years following, Iscar Blades (now Blades Technology Ltd.) has similarly become one of the world’s largest in its field. With a valuation of $1 billion, its customers include Rolls-Royce and General Electric.

Wertheimer solidified his position as one of Israel’s most respected businessmen in 2006, when Warren Buffett’s conglomerate holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, bought an 80% stake in IMC for $4 billion. It was Buffet’s first purchase outside of the US, and he went on to buy the remaining 20% of the company in 2013 for $2.05 billion. The Wertheimer family (Wertheimer’s son Eitan started running day-to-day operations at Iscar in 2004) also sold its 51% stake in Blades Technology in 2014. And the deals have made Wertheimer the head of the wealthiest family in Israel and the country’s third wealthiest man, with an estimated net worth of $5.6 billion.

Tefen Industrial Park

Tefen Industrial Park

The Tefen Industrial Park

In the late 1970s, Wertheimer also served a term in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. It was during this time that he decided that there may be a different route to achieving peace and stability in Israel: one centered on industry and job creation. Acting on his idea, in 1982 he established a residential community near Nahariya, Kfar Vradim, and later the same year moved the Iscar plant to the nearby industrial zone, Tefen. In 1984, the Tefen Industrial Park was officially inaugurated, marking Wertheimer’s first park dedicated to helping Arab and Jewish Israeli entrepreneurs set up export-focused industrial initiatives. “I started looking for a way to influence the Arab population in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian areas by developing industry,” says Wertheimer. “The idea of industrial parks in the Middle East and on the borders between Israel and its neighbors is that the parks will bring industry and provide jobs, which will keep people busy working, instead of engaging in terrorism”.

The Tefen Industrial Park now hosts 20 companies, and also offers a post service, a shared dining hall, landscaped gardens, a collection of vintage cars, a tennis court, and a school that educates students in industry and innovation. Wertheimer, whose own main office is on the site, has also created art and German-Jewish history museums.

Expanding Israel’s Industrial Export Output

His unique philosophy stems from the country’s problem of economic disparity. Israel’s 1.7 million Arab citizens make on average 58% of the income of their Jewish counterparts. Arab men make 69% of the income of Jewish men. And there are three times less Arab women in the labor force than Jewish women. The Arab population is also largely excluded from Israel’s current tech boom, which this year has seen $9 billion in tech mergers and acquisitions.

Based on the five principles of export, education, coexistence, community, and culture, Wertheimer has now established six further parks in typically Arab dominated regions – five in Israel (in Tel Hai, Omer, Dalton, Lavon, and Nazareth) and one in Turkey. The industrial parks, which Wertheimer calls “capitalistic kibbutz”, also run training programs before placing the workers in jobs, and recruit Arab and Jewish entrepreneurs for industrial entrepreneurship courses to create Arab-Jewish partnerships. Firms also receive benefits encouraging the employment of professionally educated Arabs. The parks have so far generated and supported 260 companies, which have seen an average yield of $200,000 in sales per employee, higher than Israel’s average. And Wertheimer also has plans to add another park aimed at the Bedouin, one of the region’s poorest communities.

Yitzhak Rabin, former Israeli prime minister and 1994 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, said: “With 20 more industrial parks like these, it would be possible to double the industrial export output of Israel. This would completely change the economic, social and security situation.” Wertheimer has also been honored for his work. He was awarded Israel’s highest honor, the Israel Prize, in 1991. In 2010, he received the Oslo Business for Peace Award. And Germany has bestowed both the Federal Cross of Merit and the Buber-Rosenzweig medal for his work in advancing peace through entrepreneurship.

Not everyone agrees that an economic solution will solve Israel’s problems, but Wertheimer is fully committed to a future trying to do just that.

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African Solutions to African Problems: Ushahidi is Taking the Internet to the Next Five Billion

Comments (1) Africa, Featured, Leaders

Ushahidi's BRCK

Representing a new frontier of innovation in Africa, non-profit technology collective Ushahidi is developing African solutions to African problems

“If it works in Africa, it will work anywhere,” is the motto of Ushahidi, a Kenyan non-profit technology collective which designs and builds open source software and digital tools to help people in the developing world.

Indeed, while in the West technological possibilities are being stretched to their bounds, across Africa something as seemingly straightforward as an Internet connection is unreliable. Figures from the East African Community (EAC) suggest 90% of schools and 30% of hospitals are still off-grid. Only 24% of the developing world is connected to the internet. And, as Ushahidi comments, “power spikes and outages are everyday occurrences in Nairobi and across Sub-Saharan Africa, no matter your income level”. But in a region lacking adequate roads and clean water, developing reliable Internet connectivity is simply not a priority for governments.

There are a number of Western companies working to solve the problem – and at the same time bringing their products to the world’s next five billion Internet users. For example Google has ProjectLink Uganda and LoonBalloon, and Microsoft is experimenting with the TV White Spaces spectrum. But Ushahidi has developed an African solution that really might solve the African problem.

The Internet back-up generator BRCK

Designed to be an “internet back-up generator”, Ushahidi has developed BRCK, a piece of hardware that offers rugged and reliable connectivity. Working like a phone, it can be used in any area that gets mobile signal, as it works by intelligently and seamlessly switching as per the need between the strongest network types in the vicinity (broadband, Ethernet cable, Wifi, CDMA, and 3G or 4G mobile phone networks). It supports up to 20 wireless connections at a time. And it also has up to 16 gigabytes of storage space and a BRCK Cloud connection so it can serve as a back-up server and sync with connected devices and cloud applications.

Designed to face Africa-specific environments, the portable hardware handles the heat and dust of even the most demanding environments. And while it connects to the mains, is also comes with about 8 hours of power back up, can be charged via a car battery, or plugged to a solar charger, combating the region’s lack of reliable energy sources.

“As the next 4.5 billion people (65% of the world) start coming online, the need for rugged, reliable, and simple connectivity becomes critical in places with poor infrastructure and limited resources. While existing technologies work well in modern cities, the demands of emerging markets necessitates a rethinking of how technology is engineered, packaged, delivered, and supported. BRCK was conceived in exactly this type of environment. In particular, our struggles in Africa with reliable connectivity inspired us to rethink the entire concept of rugged internet access device – designing the world’s first go-anywhere, connect-to-anything, always available internet device,” says Ushahidi.

Ushahidi driving innovation in Africa

Indeed, Ushahidi, which is part of the thriving Kenyan tech start-up scene – nicknamed the Silicon Savannah -, developed BRCK as a solution to its own problems. “As a company full of engineers working in places with poor infrastructure, we simply couldn’t get connected as reliably as our peers in the developed world”.

Ushahidi designed and developed BRCK with $172,000 raised on Kickstarter. And in doing so, pushed another frontier of innovation in Africa. Crowdfunding is a relatively new phenomenon in the region, but Ushahidi’s Kickstarter success has kick-started crowd-funded entrepreneurship and innovation.

UshahidiExpanding technology’s reach

Co-founder Ory Okolloh, previously Google’s policy manager for Africa and named by Forbes as “one of the most influential women in global technology”, is committed to bringing the benefits of technological innovation to Africa. The company’s first project, for example, was a location-based crowdsourcing crisis-tracker map developed in the wake of Kenya’s 2007 post-election violence. Empowering individuals to document and report incidents in real time, the software allows users to text, email, tweet, or photograph information which is then plotted on to a map. The idea is that media, governments, and relief organizations can see a live picture of what’s happening on the ground and can target responses in real-time. The map has since been used in India during the 2008 Mumbai attacks, during the Haiti earthquake in 2010, and in Japan during the tsunami in 2011. It has also been used to log medicine shortages across Africa and reports of violence in the Middle East.  The company takes its name from this piece of software; “Ushahidi” means “testimony” in Swahili.

And the company is currently expanding its reach with the launch of a digital classroom – the Kio Kit. Ushahidi explains: “You open a box and there are 40 tablets inside, there is a BRCK inside and on the BRCK there is a Linux [open-source] server — so we can locally cache educational content, and serve it up to the tablets.” Ever prepared for the African environment, the modem is in a watertight, hardened-plastic wheeled suitcase and acts as a wireless charging station.

African solutions to African problems has become a bit of a catchphrase, but the impact of socially motivated entrepreneurs could have huge implications for the technological development of the region.

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