Yosef Abramowitz, Energiya Global Capital and Araya Power
In 2006, Yosef Abramowitz and his family moved to a kibbutz in the Israeli desert to get away from it all. After a long early career as a political activist, journalist, nonprofit CEO and self-described rabble rouser, Abramowitz was ready to slow down.
But then they arrived at their new home. When the family of seven opened their van doors they were hit with a wave of unbelievable heat. Surely, Abramowitz thought, this hot desert environment—the third most extreme in the world—has made Israel a global leader in solar energy. He wanted to learn about that and started asking around. Much to his dismay, he found that despite its abundant sunshine, Israel had yet to harness its power and was still relying 100% on burning fossil fuels. Abramowitz realized that if he didn’t do something about this, it might be a long time—too long—before anyone did.
So much for settling into a quiet life. Abramowitz got to work on his goal of helping his new home region reach 100% solar power during the day by 2020—the first region in the world to reach this climate crisis response milestone. He had just gone through the process of investing what he had, raising “serious money” and working with partners to develop a business model for his new company, Arava Power, when the 2008 global financial crisis hit. One of his partners wanted to scale back, “but we were on a roll I could see we were going to win this.” He figured he’d have to raise about $25,000 every week for a year to make it happen. And he did.
“About 100 people stepped up because they cared about the mission,” Abramowitz recalls. “It took nine years for them to see their first dividends. I called them angels. This was how I learned about mission-oriented money. It wasn’t until a decade later that I learned about impact investing, patient capital that eventually reached market returns.”
Finding community: ‘Some of the best people on Earth’
Abramowitz got his introduction to impact investing through longtime Toniic member Danny Almagor, whom he met at an event. “He was the keynote speaker, and everything he said reverberated with my soul,” Abramowitz says. Almagor noted that through his all-in approach to the solar power venture, Abramowitz had already accidentally become a 100% impact investor.
“Danny named my whole journey and recategorized my investors as part of a larger movement. That was probably the most empowering ah-hah moment I’ve experienced. He said ‘You have to join Toniic right now.’ Danny totally spoke my language—he could have said anything at that point and I would have done it.”
Abramowitz is active in Toniic’s climate action and African investment groups and says that Toniic has been a crucial inspiration as he continues to push for solar power adoption in difficult places.
“My Toniic friends and community are some of the best people on planet Earth,”
he says. “I get so much more from them than I give in terms of personal energy and motivation, especially on bad days when I’m facing negative forces trying to kill the work we’re doing. And some of them have been crucial investors for the projects in Africa.”
Scaling up solar power in Africa
Abramowitz is determined to help the planet win its climate battle, and his success in Israel has allowed him to scale his investments toward that goal—his second company, Gigawatt Global, has projects at various stages of development in 10 countries across Africa, including an installation in Rwanda that provides 4% of the country’s power and a new site in Burundi that after 6 years in development has just started supplying 15% of the country’s power.
This work led to a 2021 Nobel Prize nomination by parliament members from 12 African countries and Belize, an honor he does not take lightly. “It’s so exciting, but it’s such a responsibility,” he says. “These countries really believe in us. We can’t let them down.”
Abramowitz uses the word “we” a lot when talking about successes that many attribute to him alone. “I always work with teams,” he says, unprompted. “I get singled out as a leader or maybe because I have a colorful past, but I get a disproportionate amount of the credit. All these things come from teamwork—with other people’s efforts and other people’s money. You can’t do this stuff on your own, although I am 100% all-in.”
Impact investing is the future
Looking to the future, “I’m wildly hopeful,” Abramowitz says. “All investing is moving into impact, particularly with climate change. It’s just a question of how fast it will happen. Since COVID hit, people are starting to understand that a lot of the global challenges we face are inter-connected. And there’s a deep desire to be on the right side of history.”