IMPACT JOURNALISM DAY 2015: EDUCATION/EMPLOYMENT

Bags for books... and bagging the sun's energy

Reabetswe Ngwane and Thato Kgatlhanye with their invention that helps children and creates jobs for adults, too.
Reabetswe Ngwane and Thato Kgatlhanye with their invention that helps children and creates jobs for adults, too. PHOTO: CITY PRESS

This story was first published on June 20, 2015

BUSINESS partners Reabetswe Ngwane and Thato Kgatlhanye personify the buzzphrase social entrepreneurship.

The pair have found an innovative solution to one of society's most pressing problems - affordable energy in economically depressed communities without reliable access to electricity.

They have designed "Repurpose Schoolbags" that do more than hold books - they help children read them too.

Their company Rethaka recycles plastic bags - easy to come by across the South African landscape - turning them into school bags which incorporate built-in solar power packs.

These packs are charged all day in the sunlight while the children are at school, and are fully charged when the sun goes down, providing much-needed light for doing homework - or just walking home safely.

These packs are charged all day in the sunlight while the children are at school, and are fully charged when the sun goes down, providing much-needed light for doing homework - or even just walking home safely.

This clever and simple solution to a persistent problem was borne out of a school assignment.

Ms Kgatlhanye, who came up with the idea, was named first runner-up at last year's Anzhisha Prize for young entrepreneurs from Africa.

As a runner-up, she bagged US$15,000 (S$20,000), which became the seed capital to take her solution and convert it into what it has become - a successful business.

The business employs eight staff members who are responsible for the entire process, from the collection, washing and sorting of the plastic bags, to the final stitching and delivery of the Repurpose Schoolbags.

Rethaka employee Maphefo Maithufi is also a consumer of the product she helps to manufacture.

She said: "The bags we make have also made a difference in my daughter's education as she now has a bag, and is able to use the solar light at night to study and finish her homework, which also helps us save money on buying more candles."

REABESTWE MASHIGO/CITY PRESS (SOUTH AFRICA)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2016, with the headline 'Bags for books... and bagging the sun's energy'. Print Edition | Subscribe