Pablo Kaplan is the founder of Wheelchairs for Hope, an Israeli venture with a goal of impacting the lives of millions of disabled kids in third world countries. Of the 65 million people worldwide who require a wheelchair for mobility, approximately 20 million of them do not have access to one, including 5 million children.
Pablo, with over 30 years’ experience in the plastics industry, plans to change this and his organization, Wheelchairs of Hope, might do just that. Pablo served as the vice president of Marketing at Keter Plastics, an Israeli manufacturer of plastic household and garden products, a popular brand in Israel. He set out to create a wheelchair for children that would be affordable as well as comfortable, lightweight, built to last and most importantly would boost the self-esteem of those that used it.
He contacted his friend and colleague from his days at Keter, Dr. Amir Ziv Av, now the owner of engineering company Ziv Av Engineering Group, and together they developed a lightweight chair —10 kilograms (22 pounds) as opposed to the standard 15 kilograms — that is able to handle off-road conditions, requires zero maintenance and is simple to assemble. They worked with occupational therapist seating specialists at Jerusalem’s Alyn hospital, who provided vital insights for the design of the chair, most important of which was that it would look more like a high chair than a medical device, making it kid-friendly and giving each child a special feeling. The best part of the design is that it can be purchased for only $100.
Initial funding for the development of the chair came from his private money and from a grant provided jointly by Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Economy and Industry,
and The Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The World Health Organization in Switzerland, the Red Cross and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) all joined hands in the project, as well as Nobel laureate Aaron Ciechanover, a personal friend of Kaplan, who has promoted the chair worldwide. Kaplan was joined in the venture by his partner, Chava Rotshtein, and together their vision is to distribute one million chairs over the next decade and to turn the project into a social business venture. The first shipment included 250 wheelchairs for children in institutions in Israel as well as in the Palestinian Authority, with a batch for residents of the refugee camps in Syria soon to follow.
Pablo send me a picture from an event at Alyn hospital, the day after children received their wheelchairs for the first time. The photo can be seen at the back of this book. Over 600 wheelchairs are being delivered to disabled children in Peru and Tajikistan, funded by a philanthropic foundation and the World Health Organization and other organizations globally are in advanced stages of negotiations for the chair.
According to Kaplan, “Mobility empowers access to education and future independence. That is our motto.”