By Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief, LionessesofAfrica.com
An adventurous, new eco-spirit is emerging from Africa and it is being spearheaded by a number of young, inspirational women entrepreneurs who are committed to making a difference to the sustainable future of the continent.
These passionate African women eco-preneurs have an uncanny ability to identify environmental challenges, and instead of getting bogged down in the problems, they find innovative solutions and create entrepreneurial opportunities. Over the past year, some real women eco-preneur stars have emerged from Africa, showing the rest of the world how real sustainable change can happen through entrepreneurship. Here are 7 names to watch in 2015.
Making Wheels Turn Waste into Opportunity in Lagos
Lagos, Nigeria, is home to 21 million people, but only 40% of their trash is collected. The rest ends up in the streets, spreading disease. To begin to find a solution to this environmental time-bomb, a talented young woman launched a recycling startup called WeCyclers back in 2012. Her name is Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola and she has gone on to become an award-winning social entrepreneur. She has built a sustainable and viable business model to help the poorest communities in Lagos reclaim their neighbourhoods from the scourge of pollution and waste. WeCyclers, is a successful initiative that enables low-income communities in Nigeria to make money from the waste piling up in their streets. The company deploys a fleet of cargo bicycles to collect and recycle this unmanaged waste in Nigeria’s capital, Lagos. Every week, these bicycles go to people's homes picking up a variety of plastics, cans and sachets. The residents receive points via SMS based on the weight of recyclables they collect, which they can redeem for basic food items, consumer electronics, or even cash. After collection, WeCyclers aggregates the material at the household level to sell to local recycling processors. This is a highly effective, accessible and low-tech, but high impact, recycling scheme that is a win-win for all involved. More than 5,000 households have already signed up for the service, employment has been created for hundreds of young people, and there are plans to extend the initiative to other cities throughout Nigeria. WeCyclers is poised to become a world-leading leading example of a solution that empowers its community to lead healthier, wealthier and more sustainable lives.
Weaving Problem Weeds into Useful Products
The Niger Delta is being choked by an aquatic weed - water hyacinths are everywhere you look, a floating carpet of vivid purple flowers. Lurking beneath this apparent show of beauty is, however, a very real environmental problem that is wreaking havoc in local communities and ruining water supplies. Not only do the weeds cause water to stagnate, they also deplete nutrients, which in turn reduces fish populations, causing a big problem for local communities reliant on subsistence fishing for their livelihoods. Solving this sort of problem very often requires entrepreneurial vision and energy. Achenyo Idachaba proved to be just such a visionary. She identified the problem, saw a potential opportunity and then set about building a business to fix it! In typical entrepreneurial fashion, Achenyo saw this invasive weed through a different lens and it provided the inspiration for kick-starting her business, MitiMeth. They take these choking weeds and transform them through drying and weaving processes into beautiful hand-crafted and highly desirable products, such as baskets, tableware, and even jewellery. Achenyo has taken an environmental problem and turned it into a win-win business solution - building a sustainable business, creating jobs in the local communities, and most importantly providing a fix to a problem. Achenyo is a great example of a new generation of African women who are not content to simply wait for the world to find solutions to these problems, they are confronting them head-on. Achenyo's achievements were recognised by the Cartier Women's Initative Awards when they selected her as their 2014 Laureate for Sub-Saharan Africa.
Bamboo Bicycles Create Innovative and Affordable Transport in Ghana
Like many other countries in Africa, Ghana is battling to find sustainable solutions to a number of socio-economic problems, not least of which is the need for affordable transport, effective ways of fighting poverty and unemployment, and the need to create more sustainable social entrepreneurs. Winnifred Selby is one young entrepreneur with a vision and an innovative approach to start solving such problems. She was just 15 when she co-founded Afrocentric Bamboo with Bernice Dapaah, a company that manufactures and markets bicycles made from, of all things, bamboo. Two years later, she is heading what has become a growing brand and one that is struggling to keep up with demand. Designed in-house, Afrocentric Bamboo bikes are sturdy, affordable – US$100 for the local market – and made to tackle the high terrain and rough roads of rural Ghana. The frames are built in one piece, making them stronger and more economically viable. This innovative approach to solving the combined problems of affordable transport, poverty and unemployment, is a wonderful example for other young people in Africa to follow. Winnifred actively demonstrates through her company and her positive approach to sustainable entrepreneurship that young people can improve their own economic futures through such projects. At the same time, she demonstrates that it is possible to realize an entrepreneurial dream, whilst also contributing to the environmental future of the country. Afrocentric Bamboo is a unique eco-preneurship project that will inspire other young people in Africa to follow in her sustainable green business footsteps.
Recyling Plastic Waste into Environmentally Friendly Fencing Posts in Kenya
As a young girl growing up in the Kaptembwa Slums in Kenya, eco-preneur Lorna Rutto had a dream – to find solutions for the vast amounts of plastic waste which overflowed the streets in her community. Years later, her passion for the environment, and her desire to do something to address the increasing waste problem in the country, led her to take the entrepreneurial plunge and start up her own business. In 2009, she co-founded her company, EcoPost, a green business manufacturing aesthetically pleasing, durable and environmentally friendly fencing posts utilising plastic waste. Today, it is an entrepreneurial and an environmental corporate success story. It provides an effective solution to the management of Kenya’s vast plastic waste each day, and it directly provides a solution to the terrible unemployment situation in the country, creating over 300 jobs for young people and women who were previously marginalised in society. Going forward, the EcoPost business model is looking to create 100,000 jobs over the next 15 years. Its eco-footprint is no less impressive, with the company removing over 1 million kilos of plastic waste from Kenya's urban slums, and saving around 250 acres of precious forest in the country. Lorna and her eco-business, EcoPosts, are truly inspirational and demonstrate how it is possible to create a viable and sustainable business in Africa, whilst at the same time positively impacting on local communities and the environment.
Up-cyled School Bags with Integrated Solar Light Technology is Changing the Lives of School Kids in South Africa
For many kids living in rural and non-electrified parts of South Africa, the final school bell doesn't just signal the end of another day of learning. Instead, it also means the beginning of an arduous trek along busy and dangerous roads to get back home in time to complete their homework before sunset. For Thato Kgatlhanye, this was all too familiar. She saw it every day in her hometown of Rustenburg, a mining community in the North West province of South Africa. So the young entrepreneur decided to do something about it. That work turned into Repurpose Schoolbags, co-founded with childhood friend-turned-business partner Rea Ngwane. Repurpose designs school bags from up-cyled plastic bags, integrating solar technology that charges during the day and transforms into light for school kids to study after dark. These 100% recycled plastic schoolbags are changing the lives of young learners - they are not only environmentally friendly, but they provide much needed renewable energy light sources for these young students who need to study after dark at home where electric light simply doesn’t exist. The integration of reflective light material in the bags also provides much needed visibility for these young students on the often dangerous roads as they walk many kilometers each day just to attend school. These young eco-preneurs are real game changers and are destined for great things.
Thato believes she belongs to a new generation of leaders placing themselves as change agents. She has worked in New York with marketing guru Seth Godin and is a recent graduate of a BA in Brand Management.
To learn more about these and other inspirational women entrepreneurs of Africa, visit the Lionesses of Africa website – www.lionessesofafrica.com