Israeli Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Ziv Aviram on the EcoBridge Initiative

Have you ever thought about what you’d do to save the planet if you were a billionaire? Well, this week on Sea Change Radio, we speak with billionaire high tech entrepreneur and philanthropist Ziv Aviram and see how he answers that very question. We discuss Aviram’s partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative to help fight climate change, hear about his path from the business world to the philanthropy space, and discuss the role that the uber-wealthy can play to address the complex predicament of a warming planet. Then, we dig into the Sea Change Radio archives and revisit part of our discussion with an icon of the environmental movement, Paul Hawken.

Narrator | 00:02 – This is Sea Change Radio covering the shift to sustainability. I’m Alex Wise.

Ziv Aviram (ZA) | 00:18 – It’s clear to me that we are facing the biggest problem humanity ever faced.

Narrator | 00:26 – Have you ever thought about what you’d do to save the planet if you were a billionaire? Well, this week on Sea Change Radio, we speak with billionaire high tech entrepreneur and philanthropist, Ziv Aviram, and see how he answers that very question. We discuss Avi Rahm’s partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative to help fight climate change, hear about his path from the business world to the philanthropy space, and discuss the role that the uber wealthy can play to address the complex predicament of a warming planet. Then we dig into the Sea Change Radio archives and revisit part of our discussion with an icon of the environmental movement. Paul Hawken.

Alex Wise (AW) | 01:15 – I am joined now on Sea Change Radio by Ziv Aviramm. He’s an entrepreneur and a philanthropist, and he’s the co-founding chairman of Eco Bridge. Ziv, welcome to Sea Change Radio.

Ziv Aviram (ZA)  | 01:30 – Thank you very much for having me.

Alex Wise (AW)  | 01:32 – So first, why don’t you explain this new venture, EcoBridge. What is its mission?

Ziv Aviram (ZA) | 01:37 – This morning, President Clinton and I were together on stage and announced about new fund. We call it EcoBridge, which is a climate tech fund, where the intention is to invest in cutting edge technologies that can reduce the climate edge effects. And we intend to raise between one to $2 billion and start as quickly as possible to invest in companies in a global scale, not just, uh, in Israel, or not just in the United States, but globally. And to find those companies that have the potential and capability to improve the dramatic and the serious disaster that we’re facing with the climate change and in a very efficient way.

AW | 02:26 – And will it have any particular spotlight on the Fertile Crescent region and its challenges that it has with water and, and other heat related problems?

ZA | 02:37 – Climate is a very wide field and anything, almost everything related somehow to the climate change because it’s so wide, we are going to concentrate on one, two, maybe two and a half fields because you cannot be expert in everything and you have to decide what is your emphasis because then you have the right analysts, the right people, and then you can dig in this specific field much more. And it starts from agriculture, food construction, and the materials for constructions green energy, carbon capture, green energy. So everything eventually somehow related to, uh, climate change. So we are still in the process to decide what are the fields that we are going to invest. We have already pretty good idea, but not announced about this yet. And the problem is huge. The problem is so big that I was amazed when I was exposed to the potential climate change outcomes. I couldn’t stop in thinking about this. And after I was exposed, I decided that I’m going to put most of my energy and to try to solve this problem.

AW | 03:56 – Why don’t you take a step back and talk about some of the technologies that you’ve been involved in as an entrepreneur and the, and the problems they’ve addressed. And why don’t you kind of give our listeners a little recap of your successful journey?

ZA | 04:11 – I’m a hi-tech person and one of the companies that I was a co-founder of is MobilEye. It was founded in 1999, and we developed technology that can prevent car accidents. And we started to develop autonomous vehicle technology. Just to understand the magnitude of the problem that we touched and, and actually solved is close to 1.5 million fatalities every year. And on top of it, 50 million injured people. I think that with mobility technology in couple of maybe decades, we will eliminate this problem completely. So I was privileged, I will say privileged, that I had this opportunity to be involved in a company that has such a dramatic impact on the world. And I thought that if I have this privilege to help people now, I want to use my energy, my expertise, and my knowledge by technology to save the planet. So it’s, it’s a shift in my vision from business to philanthropy I see in this activity, although it’s a fund for profit for investors, but in my perspective it’s philanthropy. I already announced that all the profits and revenues from my side of this fund is going back to philanthropy. So I devote my energy today to help to the planet as much as possible. Now, when I’m just thinking that there’s 1 billion potential displacement of people is going to happen until 2050, we don’t do nothing. It’s clear to me that we are facing the biggest problem humanity ever faced. And I think everybody should do whatever they can. And I decided that I’m going to do what I know is to find technologies, to invest in technologies to help the companies that I invest in to become mature and effective and to influence. And this is the story.

AW | 06:17 – And what kind of technologies do you see Eco Bridge investing in? What excites you on the technology side of things, Ziv?

ZA | 06:25 – There’s amazing ideas around technology that can prevent the climate change. We are still in the process of understanding where there’s enough mature companies that will be capable to invest because the fund that we we’re, uh, starting is quite a big fund. And with this level of fund, you cannot invest in startups in a very early stage. So we need to find areas where there’s enough mature companies that are already active in this space. We still checking where will be the most effective. We have pretty good idea already, but our first challenge is in the next half year, year is to raise enough money that we’ll have enough means to invest in those companies. At some point after first batch of investment, we already will start to work in parallel and to continue to invest money, but also already looking for companies that we can invest in. And it’s a process we just today announced and, uh, will take time until we’ll converge on two fields that we are going to be active.

AW | 07:33 – Going back to my earlier question about the, your region, your home country of, of Israel, you mentioned that it’s a, a big palate to work with, and that’s very true. When we’re looking at technologies that can affect this new reality that we have at climate change, would we include things like desalination advancements and things that will allow people to bear the burden of climate change more easily, or if it’s trying to reduce c o two in the atmosphere, et cetera.

ZA | 08:05 – Eventually in order to prevent the climate change is to reduce the c o two from the atmosphere? This is definitely the goal, but there is a few fields that contributed to c o two release, which are the major one. So agriculture food is the number one. The second one is constructions and the materials for the construction, which releasing enormous amount of c o two to the air. Then of course transportation in in the hole, the jets, the trains, the boats, the vehicles, which is the third in the line. So I think we’ll start on the major fields where the effect of what we do will be the most visible and the most effective to prevent the continuation of climate change. I want to say that the battle against the climate change is not just by technology. Many forces have to build coalition and coordinate like government regulators, scientists, business sector. And I will emphasize media. I think media has a very, very important role in the fight. And I think convincing the media to pick it up as a major item is very important because I think that building the awareness and public opinion about what is happening with the climate change is critical because then I think the politician will pick it up as their agenda. And it’s, it’s clear that at the beginning, the profit and the revenue from this kind of activities will be low. So government should invest first, but in parallel, the business sector should find solutions. The regulators have to limit those companies that polluting, uh, a lot and to find a substance because if you don’t have green energy, you cannot force people to use something that not exist yet. So it’s a very big process and many parties involved in this battle technology is one of them An important one. Second thing that I think that media has a, a very strong impact is to create awareness among the consumers. And if we will take care and on the products, we’ll have a very clear labeling how the product that I’m going to buy influence the carbon footprint. I think by the demand, they will force the companies to replace those products that’s contributing to the carbon footprint. And it’s another force and it’s a very efficient force that also can influence the global economy.

(Music Break) | 11:01

AW | 11:36 – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio, and I’m speaking to entrepreneur and philanthropist, Ziv Aviram. He is also the co-founding chairman of EcoBridge. So Ziv, you’re talking about the choices we all have to make and the transitions you made from businessman to philanthropist. Why don’t you talk about the personal choices you have to make, we all have to make in terms of conscious behavior that will reduce our carbon footprint? I know it’s, it’s tough for me and I’m not a billionaire.

ZA | 12:05 – Well, it’s a tough question, but awareness is the first, first step. I became aware of the severeness of the climate change when I dig into it. And it started by the fact that I was invited to round table by President Clinton last year that was talking about climate change. And as a preparation to this round table, I shame to say that I suddenly became much more aware of the potential damage that climate change can do and the disaster and the catastrophe that we are facing in our generation. It’s not something futuristic. So I think that awareness is the first thing that we should create. And once you have awareness, you buy the right products, you use less things that contribute to climate change, you tell it to others. And if everybody will do whatever he can, then the force of everybody together can influence. But as I said, it’s not a battle of just one sector, it’s a combination of almost any part in the world that should be part of it. As I said, countries and governments, regulators, scientists, business sector, and of course the consumers.

AW | 13:21 – I’m curious because you’re in a very select group of very wealthy people around the world, and you get to meet Bill Clinton, you meet, get to meet some of the world’s most influential people. Maybe you can give us kind of a peek behind the curtain on their carbon footprint consciousness because everybody’s taking private jets to these events and things like that. And at some point you have to be ambivalent about a lot of the choices that you have to make. But I’m, I’m curious about how some of the people that you meet in your daily life, which most of us don’t get the opportunity to do, h how aware are they of the choices that they’re making in your estimation?

ZA | 14:00 – I just now, half an hour ago participated in the second round table about climate change, which is led by President Clinton. And I met amazing people there, which are decision makers, that sector leaders. And I was very much impressed how awareness that the people that president Clinton, um, gathered around the table. And I’m sure if this awareness and if this kind of people will continue to put their efforts and their energy, we will move the needle and we will win this battle because we don’t have any choice. I I think people that involves have a very strong awareness of what climate, uh, change can do. And I think they behave accordingly. I didn’t ask them exactly what they do, but I believe after hearing them, that definitely they have a very high awareness of what they do in order not to contribute to the climate change.

AW | 14:59 – Yes, there’s no climate change, denial, movement of any sort or of any importance in your country, correct?

ZA | 15:06 – You mean in Israel?

AW | 15:07 – In Israel there’s really not a big movement that’s putting their head in the sand and saying that climate change isn’t real. But in my country, in America, it’s a real problem. We have a huge swath of the country, of the electorate that has decided to ignore science.

ZA | 15:23 – That’s why I said that media has a very important role because by building public opinion and changing the awareness, I think the politician will also pick up the climate change as their major, uh, major topic and agenda, and then it will spend more and more money. So everything combined eventually, what I’m impressed if is from the young generation, the young generation aware pretty much about the effect and what caused the climate change and their behavior is much more responsible than let’s say, older generation that didn’t grow with this problem as part of their life.

AW | 16:07 – I’m curious in your journey from businessman and entrepreneur to philanthropist when you decided you needed some advice and help in making that transition to giving your money away, somebody who’s got a net worth of a million dollars, $10 million, they may have several wealth managers, a lot of stockbrokers, et cetera, but they won’t have anybody helping them do research on how to be more effective with their philanthropic giving. Why don’t you explain kind of your evolution into where you are today in this space?

ZA | 16:42 – I thought about shifting to philanthropy for many years, but I was too busy and this is just excuse. And three years ago I said, I gathered all my kids, I have four, four children, and I told them, we’re talking about philanthropy for a long time. This is the time that we have to do something. And about three years ago we started our own foundation with my children. And the first project was to do competition among startups in the Middle East and North Africa who is contributing more to society. It was very successful. We did already two competitions only last year, 780 startups registered for this competition from Middle East and north, uh, Africa. And we did a huge event in, in Morocco and celebrated the winners. And one thing led to another when you exposed to the problems while you are doing philanthropy. And I came to the climate change issue and I said, we have to do something about this as well. And today, this is our, let’s say second big activity that we do, uh, under the foundation. And I knew for many, many years, it’s just matter of time. And I’m happy that I succeeded to do transition and actually not seeking for business anymore, but how I can return to the society. I was lucky financially, I worked very hard for this, but now I want to return back to society and to influence things that’s important to me. And climate change became one of the important issues that I decided to devote my energy and efforts for the next how ever many years in order to influence.

AW | 18:22 – Ziv Aviram, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.

ZA | 18:26 – Thank you for having me. Thank you very much.

(Music Break)| 18:32

AW | 19:26 – I am joined now on Sea Change Radio by author, environmental activist and businessman, Paul Hawken. Paul, welcome to Sea Change Radio.

Paul Hawken (PH) | 19:34 – Thanks so much, Alex.

AW | 19:36 – What do you feel has been encouraging about the CSR movement over the past four decades?

Paul Hawken (PH) | 19:44 – The CSR movement, CSR, corporate social responsibility. There’s many terms for it, but what you see is slow, incremental change. And uh, if you look at, I was at Verge the conference yesterday. If you look at the literacy, the understanding, the, the direction, the aspirations, the goals of some, and it’s verging on many, but corporations today, and you compare it to five years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago, it’s radically different. But if you look at it in real time and say it’s not enough, it’s, and there’s still, you know, backs, sliders like crazy and people who are prevaricating and greenwashing and etc.. No question about that.

AW | 20:30 – It’s one of the dangers of looking at climate change as our goal. It’s hard not to look at the real bigger problem and just be overly pessimistic.

PH | 20:39 – Well, exactly. And one of the problems in with climate change is that we’ve become very good at catastrophizing the future based on very, very good science by the IPCC. And what happens when you continually catastrophize the future? You create numbness in people. People tune out, say, there’s nothing I can do. It disempowers people. It makes people feel that’s inevitable. Or you create a small group of very, very sincere activists. Um, but what happens is most of the people check out. And so one of the things we have to do with climate change is reverse, um, the feelings that come up when you say climate change because right now, if you go into a crowded room and say climate change, you might as well say fire. I mean, in terms of people’s emotional reaction to this, to the phrase. And we ha what I say to people, and some people look at me and cross-eyed when I say it, you ha we have to ask ourselves this question. Is climate change happening to us or for us? It’s a really important question because if it’s happening to us, then we’re objects, we’re victims, we’re disempowered, we’re small, you know, and we’re, as I said, we have don’t have the means or the tools to reverse that, to change that. If it’s happening for us and for us, not me, for us, then it is a pathway to transformation because climate change is the transformation that will transform everything. Everything. And the question is in what way. And in that sense, we have the ability to use that as a way to enliven innovation, imagination, creativity, design. I mean, it is a pathway to absolutely addressing so many of the issues that remain troubling and unaddressed or not properly addressed, one of which is social justice.

AW | 22:43 – So you think that these incremental issues that so many people are putting great work into in terms of sustainability innovations and, and, and the scientists who are trying to document this, even that this can actually help us evolve as people rather than, I think you quoted, uh, Robert Samuelsson in, uh, either blessed unrest or natural capitalism where he, he is, he’s saying that these measures are just dancing around the ultimate dilemmas that we face.

 PH | 23:09 – Well, what I’m saying is that, um, everything’s connected and that climate change is, as I said, the transformation that transforms everything. It means we have to change our political system. It means we have to change the rights of corporations and what they don’t have a right to, it means we have to change, uh, how income is, is distributed in the world because it’s, it’s mal distributed. I mean, it’s unfair and getting more so we have to change how we make things. We have to change really what a good life is, the definition of a good life. We have to change the isolation and the loneliness that we have in rich material cultures, which then reinforces people, um, sort of, uh, uh, making their homes and their lives and their portfolios a bulwark against change. You know, we have to create a world where fear does not dominate political discourse and, and, and, and national activity. We have to create a world that actually reimagines this relationship between this drizzle of photons that comes in every day, a day of which could power the earth for 121 years and see that as our source of energy and power. We have to run the earth on, you know, real income that is to say on daily income and not mining income from the past, from the sphere of gas, coal, and oil. We have to create homes, we have to create cities, we have to create villages so forth that are just a joy to live in, to be in, to walk in, to be educated in, to be a child in. I mean, all these things are opening up. It’s not something we’re going to do. We are doing that right now. And it is occasion very much by the realization of a lot of really intelligent, imaginative, creative, brilliant people who see very clearly exactly what’s happening. And when you see it clearly, and you don’t take it as an insult, you don’t take it as something is against you, but something that is a pathway to understand that climate change is our ally. And if we don’t make it our ally, then it becomes our predator. Because it takes us into fear. It takes us even more deeply into the very qualities that have caused it. If we say we are going to fight climate change, then we have fallen right into the trap that caused it. Because the idea of winning and losing and being the winner is the economic system that created so many of the problems that we face today. And we can’t fight climate change. We have to use it to transform civilization.

AW | 25:43 – And when you look at that list that you just drew up for us, pick any of those, and those are very lofty goals and, and, and noble and in many ways. But you could look at them and, and a skeptic could just roll their eyes and say, well, we’ll never do X, y, or Z.

 PH | 25:59 – Yeah. And that’s why I say skeptics are the most unrealistic person in the world. The realistic people are dreamers. It’s the other way around. I mean, it was Frederick Douglass when Lincoln was just fretting about the Emancipation Proclamation ’cause a very incomplete proclamation. It was the slaves in those territories that were fighting, you know, the north basically were the ones he freed <laugh> when he was dealing with that. He called Frederick Douglas in and had a two hour conversation with him. And Frederick Douglas was one who said that you have to have an image of the future. If you don’t have, it’s, it’s a picture of the future you have that determines what will happen. What he was saying is it is your ideals that allow you to see what is real. It, the real so-called real. You cannot, it blinds you to the ideal. But when people say, oh, well skeptics, skeptics are blind because they’re so caught up in the real that they can’t see what is possible.

AW | 27:00 – When we think of great people of history, we think of the dreamers. We think of Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King Gandhi, Albert Einstein, John Lennon – dreamers. We don’t think of Jack Welch or Andrew Carnegie.

 PH | 27:14 – They’ll be forgotten, always. I mean, yes, we remember Alexander, you know, we have this sort of the great, you know, psychopathic theory of history, you know, where psychopaths went in and destroyed people, cities, countries, civilizations, and we have to remember them because we don’t want that to happen again. So it’s very important. But that is not who we look to. We don’t look to any of that as and, and humanity is progressing. It seems sort of like people feel like, well no, we’re, we are regressing right now. Yeah, it’s two step forwards and one step back, you know? But that step back is the one that actually leads to the next two steps, and we’re on that threshold.

AW | 27:58 – Paul Hawken. Paul, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.

PH | 28:01 – My pleasure. Thank you so much, Alex.

Narrator | 28:17 – You’ve been listening to Sea Change Radio. Our intro music is by Sanford Lewis. And our outro music is by Alex Wise. Additional music by West Montgomery, Johnny Winter, and Chris Cornell. To read a transcript of the show, go to to stream, or download the show or subscribe to our podcast on our site – or visit our archives to hear from Doris Kearns Goodwin, Gavin Newsom, Stewart Brand, and many others. And tune in to Sea Change Radio next week as we continue making connections for sustainability. For Sea Change Radio, I’m Alex Wise.