Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
Working to protect people and our shared planet.

Solar & Climate Hero ‘Yossi’ Abramowitz

Josef "Yossi" Abramowitz, President & CEO of GigawattGlobal with Nobel Prize Winning Israeli President Shimon Peres and a solar worker creating a brighter future. (photo credit with permission: Yosef Engel)
'Yossi' Abramowitz, President & CEO of GigawattGlobal, a solar worker and Nobel Prize Winning Israeli President Shimon Peres working together to brighten the world. Photo credit & courtesy of Yosef Engel.

There are some exceptional people who shine so brightly that it is as if the sun revolves around them. Josef “Yossi” Abramowitz is one of those rare people. His personality is so bright that some people call him “Captain Sunshine.” He is president & CEO of Gigawatt Global Coöperatief U.A., a multinational renewable energy company focused on the development and management of utility-scale solar fields in emerging markets. He’s one of the pioneers of the solar industries in Africa and other frontier markets.

While much of the world is just starting to think about installing solar energy, Yossi Abramowitz has already developed over $1 billion in solar pipelines and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I’ve known and been a fan of Yossi for decades as he has led Jewish and climate projects that are audacious, bold and beneficial to the world. He’s basically a professional disrupter, creating or managing teams of people in the Jewish community to undertake transformative missions. As the lay leader of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, the umbrella activist group, he and his team were voice of the refuseniks in the West and advanced a strong activist agenda. As the CEO of Jewish Family & Life!, he was the first to bring the Jewish community onto the Internet—back in 1996!—and produced major educational and community-building initiatives, like, myjewishlearning, BabagaNewz, JVibe and the journal Sh’ma. As an activist, Yossi was a leader in the anti-apartheid movement at Boston University and also played a helpful role in the rescue of Jews from Yemen and Ethiopia.

I got a chance to ask Yossi some key questions that I hope will help inspire you to also be a climate hero in your own way.

How did you get interested in working on climate issues?

My family and I made Aliya to Kibbutz Ketura in the south of Israel in the summer of 2006 and it was really, really hot and sunny. Our family has always been associated with activism and even when we lived in Boston we were among the first with a hybrid car and used our media platforms to promote environmentalism within the Jewish community. Right after we made aliya, there was growing awareness, thanks in part to Al Gore, to climate issues and I watched “Inconvenient Truth” with Palestinian, Jordanian, Israeli and international students together at the Arava Institute on Kibbutz Ketura. Our vision was for Israel to become a renewable light unto the nations by aiming to bring the region from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to be the first to be 100% powered by the sun during the day.

Is this connected to your Jewish involvement and identity? If so, in what way?

The Soviet Jewry movement was an ethical, global movement, which is why it succeeded. A global, ethical movement is needed to solve the climate crisis and we have some experience doing that. Since the highest Jewish value is that everyone is created in God’s image and therefore has the right to a life with dignity, saving the planet so that it can be a supportive habitat for life, especially for the most vulnerable people, is a high Jewish calling. And fighting to make Israel a climate leader also comes from a sense that the prophetic call in Israel’s Declaration of Independence isn’t being answered enough. Theodore Herzl envisioned that this country would be 100% powered by green energy and that 100% of its cars would be electric. We are pretty far away from those Zionist ideals.

Once you knew you wanted to do something on climate issues, where did you go for resources, mentoring or involvement?

Back to my activist roots for inspiration, to environmental leaders in Israel from the Young Judaea movement and partnered with experienced business leaders Ed Hofland from Kibbutz Ketura and David Rosenblatt from New Jersey. David Waiman, a CEO in Jerusalem, taught me the economics and the science.

We set up small solar pilots at the Arava Institute to learn from doing.

There are so many ways to help. How did you pick your “lane” and what is it?

Ever since I was kid, I remember President Jimmy Carter putting solar panels on the White House—at the behest of Stu Eisenstat—and I was smitten with the potential for larger scale solar power plants to end the West’s dependence on Arab oil, which I felt was distorting how Israel was being treated in the world.

How do you go about doing this?

I love learning by doing, by building multi-disciplinary teams, by going to other countries and seeing what they did. The first solar field I ever visited was actually in the United Arab Emirates.

What is your role now?

I have taken the success of dreaming big in the Arava and hitting the 100% solar goal and now serve in two roles: As CEO of Gigawatt Global, an impact investment platform that brings utility-scale green energy projects to sub-Sahara Africa and the Middle East. And as co-chair of Shamsuna, a joint Bedouin-Jewish NGO promoting climate justice for Bedouin by replacing dirty and expensive diesel generators in schools with solar and creating the framework for Bedouins to fully participate in the solar revolution.

Do you have partners? Who are they and how did you build your team?

I can’t do anything transformative alone. We have five layers of partners: 130 Friends & Family impact investors who represent patient capital who should make a good return on an exit; a dozen foundations and donors from the United States via a related 501c3; a talented staff and management team, and local representatives on the ground in each of the countries in which we deploy green energy projects and investments. The fifth category of partners are development finance institutions and governments, like the United States, Holland, the United Kingdom and in each of the 10 African countries in which we deploy major green energy projects.

What have been some of your biggest successes?

The Arava Power team, along with the Eilat Eilot Municipality, did in fact bring the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to be the first in the world to hit the 100% daytime solar goal—as an example to the rest of the world. In Africa, Gigawatt Global gave the Obama-Biden White House their first solar interconnection on the continent by supplying 6% of Rwanda’s power with a solar field at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village. We also brought the first African interconnection for the Biden-Harris White House, by supplying 10% of Burundi’s power. We have major solar successes with the Palestinians and Jordanians but I can’t publicly discuss those. On the NGO side, by the end of this year, at least three government schools in Bedouin areas will swap out diesel generators with solar plus storage systems. And I was privileged to work with the Peace Department, the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development and the Elijah Interfaith Institute at the United Nations COP27 to amplify the voice of religions in the climate movement, including smashing green tablets on Mt. Sinai.

I assume there have been some times when you felt you hit a brick wall. Can you give us an example of that and how you pivoted to do something that worked better?

A brick wall in my world is the absolute control that the fossil fuel industry has over Israel’s energy and climate policy; it is African diesel companies that bribe officials to put up roadblocks to our work; it is global financial institutions that are supposed to finance climate solution groups like us but instead drag their feet as if there is no climate crisis or that they believe they have Ivory Tower solutions that actually undermine progress. Every day I wake up, I slam against these brick ways. But at the same time, we specialize in digging under them, going around them, rappelling up and over them, and even sometimes chip away at them. One of our investors is Robert Weinger, who literally is the world’s best shofar blower, and he and others in our solar mishpacha help bring the walls go tumbling down. Many of our investors also give of their business and other expertise, open their networks, and cheer us on so that we can remain persistent and optimistic against a pretty stark climate reality.

Can you tell us about something that you find exciting about what you are doing and where and how others can help?

While we are in the break-thru solar business, we are really in the business of hope. We power hope in Africa each time we connect a solar field; we power peace and the expansion of the Abraham Accords with our secret pipeline of green energy development projects; we power impact by fulfilling so many of the sustainable development goals of the United Nations where-ever we are. And we empower philanthropy to have a 1:25 leverage to help the poorest people on the planet thru using their philanthropy to crowd in our larger impact investment partners. We are also about to power food security, thru the Abundance Initiative, which will reduce agricultural waste of the poorest farmers from 50% to hopefully a big round zero.

What is your advice for other people who are just getting their start on climate issues?

Get involved with groups or organizations that are actually getting something done; time for talk is over—we are out of time. It is all about activism to change policy and execution to get things done on the ground. Intern, donate, invest, work for, advocate and more.

Where should folks begin?

Start with what you are passionate about. If you like what we do, we can take US tax deductible donations via Realize Impact for Gigawatt Global or donations to Shamsuna for the Bedouin projects via Life & Environment. For joining Gigawatt Global’s last Friends & Family impact investment round for Africa and Abraham Accords expansion efforts, you can reach out to us via In the US Jewish community, join a Dayenu circle and support Adamah. Lobby Israeli embassies and consulates to tell the Israeli government to adopt a climate bill with a 50% renewables goal by 2030. And make sure the Jewish community is completely divested out of fossil fuels in the next year.

Sunrise over solar. Photo credit and courtesy of Marcus Sapir.
About the Author
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the co-founder/director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Fund (a DAF). She has worked directly with presidents, prime ministers, 48 governors, 85 Ambassadors, and leaders at all levels to successfully educate and advocate on key issues. In July, 2023 Mizrahi was appointed to serve as representative of philanthropy on the Maryland Commission on Climate Change. She has a certificate in Climate Change Policy, Economics and Politics from Harvard. Her work has won numerous awards and been profiled in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Inside Philanthropy, PBS NewsHour, Washington Post, Jerusalem Post, Jewish Sages of Today, and numerous other outlets. Mizrahi has published more than 300 articles on politics, public policy, disability issues, climate and innovations. The views in her columns are her own, and do not reflect those of any organization.
Related Topics
Related Posts