A team of female entrepreneurs have made a business out of turning surplus plastic shopping bags into backpacks for schoolchildren who can’t buy their own – and fitting them with some simple life-changing technology.
IN RURAL South Africa, schools are infrequent. Children have to walk from first light and return home under the cover of darkness, sharing their footpath with the vehicles of commuters. The Repurpose Schoolbag website presents some stark facts: 1.14 million South African schoolchildren walk to school, and three of them die on the roads each day.
In lieu of electric lighting, these children are often studying by candlelight and kerosene lamps, a much more expensive alternative to the solution that Repurpose Schoolbag Founder/CEO Thato Kgatlhanye devised with her team.
Repurpose Schoolbag use surplus plastic treated at high temperatures to produce durable, reflective and waterproof backpacks for schools in deprived areas. They are all fitted with a solar cell that, after a day’s sunlight, acts as a lantern to read by at night.
The mission statement of their all-female parent business, Rethaka, is to “redefine societal problems into solutions”. Every facet of the schoolbag touts this principle: their raw materials are a practical solution to the national plastic pollution crisis, the solar panel lantern minimises household spend on lighting fuel, and the reflective material makes children more visible without diminishing their by-lamplight studying at home.
This societally conscious idea is born of entrepreneurial minds. Rather than donating their stock, Rethaka invite companies to cover production costs by becoming ‘giving partners’, who are paired with schools where their donation will support every child. Rethaka facilitate a Handover Day to make the bond between the two parties more personal; donors can even place the bags on the backs of the students.
What’s next? Brand Manager Phemelo Segoe is generating a surge of business this giving season, filling their blog with research evidencing the benefits to joining their cause. More than just one enterprise, these women are blending business and society as necessity demands.