Our Farmster team member, Emily, recently had the great pleasure of interviewing Mr. Arthur Lenk, who is the former Israeli ambassador to Republic of Azerbaijan, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa. Mr. Lenk has committed his career in diplomacy to these countries and now works to advance Israeli innovation in Africa. Thank you to Mr. Lenk for providing us with his great source of knowledge!
Q: What role does Israeli innovation have in Africa?
A: Israel is renowned around the world, and in Africa, for its innovation. In Africa, Israel is especially admired for its success in agriculture, homeland security and tech creativity. An innovation like Farmster combines the best of this experience in offering a modern market to benefit small scale farmers and build food security capacity.
Q: How can members of start-up nation, including Farmster, be useful in helping create change in countries in Africa?
A: While most Israeli innovations are focused on the developed world, lots of Israel's creativity has application for Africa and developing markets. Israeli innovations in drip irrigation, cyber security and big data were all originally focused on markets in the United States in Europe but all have had significant success in Africa where challenges like water management, terrorism and optimizing limited resources are significant problems that need resolutions, even where public and private budgets are tight. Farmster is unique in that it is focused primarily on developing markets, such as Africa, and using modern tech to find solutions for small scale farmers.
Q: What advice would you give to Israeli innovators that want to start businesses with a focus on Africa?
A: Africa is a unique challenge in that it is over 50 different countries and cultures. Its nuances are less known to most Israelis and the business culture is different to what most Israelis are used to. At the same time, it has a quickly growing population, is open to Israel and Israeli innovation and has significant economic growth potential. To succeed there, an Israeli needs to connect to the place, its needs and its people. I think that this is one of the great aspects of Farmster in that it is focused specifically on Africa at its soul and isn't just another market as an afterthought.
Q: What is one important lesson you learned while serving as ambassador to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland?
A: I don't think I understood how privileged and lucky I am as an educated, well-off Israeli. It is clear that there are many needs in developing countries that "Start-up Nation" is uniquely placed to address. If we concentrate our efforts, politically, economically and through incentives to innovators, Israel can develop a meaningful and unique relationship with our neighbors in Africa. And now that I have finished my service as an Israeli diplomat in southern Africa, I am working to help Israeli innovators work across the continent to achieve that goal of bringing Israel and Africa closer together.
Follow Arthur Lenk on Twitter at @ArthurLenk.