Molly Bernstein
Molly Bernstein

Calling Israeli hi-tech: Without you, we can’t reach UN’s development goals

IsraAID's team in Mozambique installs Israeli water purification solutions at a medical clinic in Beira. (IsraAID)

When perusing the goals that make up the UN’s 2030 Agenda — no poverty, zero hunger, clean water and sanitation, quality education — the list reads like a to-do for the non-profit sector. Even the name “sustainable development goals” suggests that these are matters to be addressed by governments and charities, rather than private companies.

But this couldn’t be less true. It’s absolutely essential that the private sector is involved in achieving these goals. We can’t do it without your help.

The importance of global partnerships was strongly featured in Agenda 2030, which includes the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ratified by the UN General Assembly in 2015. Each SDG includes specific targets and indicators, to help measure progress, and align activities between actors.

It’s no coincidence that collaboration is highlighted so clearly in these plans. In recent years, the frequency, scale, scope, and consequences of humanitarian crises have increased dramatically. The number of people forcibly displaced from their homes has doubled in the last decade, with 82.4 million refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people in 2020, compared to 41 million in 2010. This means that there is higher demand for humanitarian assistance than ever before.

We need innovative, sustainable, and cost-effective solutions to the challenges disaster-affected communities face. With half of refugees under the age of 18, we need to ensure they have access to education, and the support to bridge the gap that war and civil strife may have created. After hurricanes and cyclones destroy infrastructure, we need to ensure those living in the area have safe drinking water and adequate sanitation solutions to keep them healthy. Women and girls need specific support, to make sure they are protected from gender-based violence, that they have access to resources for reproductive health, and that they know their rights and where to turn for help. These immense challenges require creative solutions, and the private sector is uniquely wired to recognize and fill gaps in a market. So, why not recognize and fill gaps in humanitarian service provision?

Building on this vision for expanded cooperation, IsraAID is partnering with the Pears Program for Global Innovation to leverage the immense potential that Israel’s innovation ecosystem holds. Many of the technological solutions developed by startups can solve key issues in humanitarian settings as well, if properly adapted for the context. This is the vision that inspired us to create the IsraAID-Pears Program Pilot Fund, supported by the Edmond de Rothschild Family Foundation and their vision to grow the Israeli Impact Economy. At IsraAID, we’ve also working with companies like Fiverr, Monday.com, Microsoft, and more, to boost our reach and impact.

To date, we’ve engaged dozens of Israeli start-ups interested in expanding their reach to the humanitarian sector. We’ve worked closely with tens of companies to assess their applicability and work together on how to adapt their solutions for our settings, and we’ve already deployed innovations from three start-ups to five locations, to help us support vulnerable communities around the world. Through this work, we’ve been able to deploy water purification solutions to disaster-affected Colombia and Guatemala, provide remote education technology to refugee children from Syria and Venezuela, and leverage task management platforms to manage COVID-19 response efforts.

Collaboration with the private sector has its own difficulties. We have different jargon (“participants” versus “customers”) and different income sources (donors versus investors). But if our overall aims can align on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, then the diversity of our expertise can provide the groundbreaking solutions so urgently needed in so many communities affected by humanitarian crisis. Breaking the dichotomy between doing good and making money, and looking at both return on investment as well as impact measurement, can move us in the right direction.

The first step is to prioritize collaboration, recognizing the potential it holds. Together, our various approaches can solve a myriad of challenges: ensuring safe water access, keeping girls in school, and ending malnutrition. We need your partnership, your insights, and your solutions to help bring this vision to fruition.

About the Author
Molly Bernstein is IsraAID’s Development & Communications Manager and previously served as the organization’s Head of Mission on the Greek island of Lesbos. She lives in Tel Aviv.
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