Young people light the way towards an innovative Africa - CNBC Africa

Young people light the way towards an innovative Africa


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Repurpose Schoolbags is a venture that manufactures schoolbags made from upcycled plastic bags with solar technology. PHOTO: Evolution Solar Energy

This is according to Thato Kgatlhanye, a South African entrepreneur and co-founder of Repurpose Schoolbags.

“Young people need to stop knocking on doors and build their own. What that means is actually going ahead and not wanting to do the 'status quo' but rather daring to look at the problems around you and finding solutions to that,” she told CNBC Africa.

(WATCH VIDEO: Understanding youth entrepreneurship in S.Africa)

“We saw an opportunity in terms of being able to look at an idea and seeing the need for it to exist in reality, and to tackle problems that were facing kids [who] are trying to get educated but do not have access to things like light.”

Repurpose Schoolbags is a venture that designs and manufactures schoolbags made from upcycled plastic shopping bags that have been integrated with solar technology.

“The business that I co-founded with my partner Rea Ngwane actually started off as an assignment in varsity. After the assignment was due, I called my friend and I said, “Rea, there’s something here”. Together we decided [to] turn a great idea into a business and see how viable we can make it,” Kgatlhanye said.

(READ MORE: Facilitation crucial to promoting education in Africa)

“The schoolbag is made from 20 plastic bags. We take it and upcycle it into a textile and sow it into a bag. We’ve [also] integrated the Consol Solar Jar – the solar panel – on there so that while kids walk to school, it charges and when they get back home, it can then be used as a light to study.”

According to Solar Reviews, some panels can use direct or indirect sunlight to generate power and while they are most effective in direct sunlight, they will still work even when light is reflected or partially blocked by clouds.

“You do not need direct sunlight for it to charge, it just needs exposure to light. We’ve also integrated reflective material for the purposes of visibility. As you can imagine – 5am, winter morning, in the Eastern Cape for instance – it’s very dark,” Kgatlhanye stated.

Most areas in South Africa, in particular, average more than 2,500 hours of sunshine per year while average solar-radiation levels range between 4.5 and 6.5kWh/m2 in one day.

(READ MORE: Solar seen as solution to S.Africa’s power crisis)

As a result of this, solar can be seen as a viable solution for electricity generation as well for powering innovative ideas.

“Our business is very viable. We started production in January, we’ve already launched and we are selling. Altogether, our team is a team of 10 – six are woman at the workshop. Within the next year we plan to employ up to 20,” she added.