Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane did not grow up with a passion for entrepreneurship or any strong desire to own a business. What she however had was a great desire to have a positive impact on the community around her. At age 18 they started their social enterprise, Rethaka and did not have a business idea for two years. That was until the idea for the Repurpose schoolbags came to them.
“Yes, it is a bit funny that you would register a business without a business idea. But at the heart of it we actually wanted to do great things. And when the idea of the Repurpose Schoolbags came to us, we worked on it tirelessly”, Thato.
As simple as it may seem, it is groundbreaking and directly impacting the lives of school children in the thousands, especially in rural areas where a child’s educational pursuit meets with various challenges. The bags are made from recycled plastic shopping bags, with built-in solar technology that enables them charge during the day so they can serve as a source of light. The fact that they are made with reflective material also ensures that the school children are visible to traffic as they go home after the school day.
The model is sustainable and scalable and already has big names like PWC and Standard Bank buying into it. It costs about $20 to make each and so the business targets companies in their bid to fulfill Corporate Social Responsibility and even conferences where delegates are given these bags which they can then give to those who are more in need of them.
The most interesting thing for me about Thato and Rea’s story is that they started a business without a concrete plan and just let their passion translate into something that is giving the younger generation of Africans a better chance of becoming the people they aspire to be. Those bags are beyond storage spaces, or night lights or guards against children getting hit by cars at nights; they are a symbol of how Africans are rising up to meet the challenges in their immediate environment today.