When Thato Kgatlhanye was 18 and fresh out of high school, she knew she wanted to do something for the underprivileged communities in South Africa where she grew up. She and her friend Rea Ngwane immediately founded the social enterprise ‘Rethaka’ without a single clue what they were going to do. 2 years later, they found the idea that would impact thousands of children across South Africa.
At age 21 in 2014, Thato Kgatlhanye founded the social enterprise Repurpose Schoolbags which takes plastic bags, upcycles them into durable schoolbags, and installs solar-powered lighting on the outside. The bag charges in the sun during the day, and turns into a portable light for the children to study with at night. It is also made with reflective material so the children are easily visible to traffic on their way to and from school.
The idea was inspired by Thato’s mother and the local impoverished communities of South Africa. Thato’s mother studied by candlelight when she was a child, and usually the candle would only last until Wednesday of the school week, meaning she couldn’t study on Thursday or Friday. Currently, many children in South Africa use plastic bags as schoolbags, and don’t have adequate lighting to study after school. Thato wanted to provide a sustainable solution, and so Repurpose Schoolbags was born.
Thato plans to light up 24 African nations, and has won over $40,000 in business competitions to sustain the enterprise. Her business’s impact is growing, and she was featured on the front of Forbes in February 2016. In the future she plans to expand the concept of solar lighting to raincoats for children, but for now her organization’s focus is on getting the solar schoolbags to as many children as possible. Her work has inspired many others, and I hope to see her company featured more as her influence expands across Africa.
Photo courtesy of repurposeschoolbags.com