Archive for Upcycling

Solar Schoolbags

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

Sword & Plough – Bridging the Civil-Military Divide

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U.S. Army 1st Lt. Emily Núñez and her sister Betsy Núñez grew up in a military family, so for them, living on military bases and eating Thanksgiving dinner with hundreds of soldiers in a military mess hall was the norm.  However, when Emily went to Middlebury College, she realized the huge divide between military life and civilian life.  Most of her friends had never met someone in the military and had no idea what military life was like.  During this time, both Emily and Betsy began to realize how difficult it was for veterans to find work as they transitioned from military to civilian life.

These two problems  culminated into a business idea when Emily attended a social entrepreneurship symposium at her college, where the speaker talked about incorporating up-cycling into a business.  Emily had the idea of recycling military surplus into fashionable bags and accessories.  Emily quickly brought her sister, Betsy, on board and Sword & Plough was born.  The name, Sword & Plough comes from the phrase “to turn swords into ploughshares” from the book of Isaiah.  For Emily and Betsy, this means taking military technologies and materials and applying them to peaceful, military applications.

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Every stage of their business (from design, to production, to quality control, to sales) is done in the U.S.A. and done by veterans.  They even buy their supplies from companies owned and operated by veterans.  Emily and Betsy want their company to empower veterans and help in their transition back to civilian life.  They donate 10% of their profits to support veterans.  They also want to have their bags be a conversation starting point to strengthen military-civilian understanding and to bring to light veteran issues.  In fact, on their website, they have a “Wall of Heroes” to feature a different military personnel every week.

So far, Emily and Betsy’s idea has been a huge success.  They’ve been featured on shows like Good Morning America and the Today Show, and on sites like Business Insider and Forbes.  I encourage you to check out their website (click here!) to learn more about Sword & Plough, its products, and its mission.  I think that this company is poised to make some really important impacts in the near future.

Codie: The First Coding Toy

Whether we like it or not, technology is becoming more and more a part of our everyday lives. It is shifting from an accessory to your day to day functions, to a necessity. It appears to be doing the same thing in the professional world as well. Websites, emails, apps, social media, etc. are all words that are becoming part of a business’s vocabulary.

Children are entering into this world needing to work with technology in order to survive. Adam Lipecz, a twenty-four year old entrepreneur, saw this need and created the most interesting toy on the market, Codie. This gadget is a small wooden robot that connects to a mobile device wirelessly to work with an app. The app allows the robot to move by teaching children how to code on an elementary level. From my understanding, there are “blocks” on the app the child would drag and place to get the robot to move a specific way. It seems to be a tangible way to show kids how to code on a very small level.



Soap Cycling: Twofold in Problem Solving and Education

david-bishop-soapcycling-300x175Have you ever thought about what happens to that bar of soap you open at a hotel for your night’s stay?  Shorter visits may only require you using less than a quarter of the bar, and before David Bishop thought about this conundrum the soap would be tossed out with the trash when housekeeping came around.  The estimated one million bars of soap from hotels thrown away each day in the United States then become chemical waste in landfills.  Bishop recognized this problem and connected it with another – child mortality rates.

Diarrhea kills 800,000 children under the age of five every year.  This is only one example of a disease that could be partially prevented if these people washed their hands with soap.  To combat this horrific statistic, Bishop, a Hong Kong law professor, began the organization Soap Cycling in 2011.

Soap Cycling works with the hospitality industry to collect, sanitize and recycle slightly used soaps and other sanitation amenities.  They then coordinate with NGOs to distribute the soap to children and families in disadvantaged communities, mostly in Asia.  A few of their more notable partners are Hilton Worldwide and the Lee Hysan Foundation.

Perhaps the most impressive and admirable aspect of Soap Cycling is the fact that none of its employees are paid.  Positions are filled by students from Bishop’s university and he supervises their work.  Other professionals in Hong Kong such as law, public relations and web design firms donate their time and efforts as well to form a well-run and effective nonprofit.

The idea that the bars of soap are not simply a handout is another takeaway from this organization.  Soap Cycling partners with schools and other establishments in the countries they reach to educate children on proper sanitation techniques.  This ensures that they are getting to the root of the problem and that the efforts put into collecting and distributing the soap are not wasted.  Soap Cycling is focused on changing lives, not on selling an image or a school project.

As a young company with many partners and constant pool of student workers, Soap Cycling is sure to continue growing and reaching new areas of the world.  They are driven by a passion to see children live long, healthy, and quality lives, and to give students an education in leadership, business, and empathy.  Hopefully every entrepreneur can look to this example and find

Soap Cycling Launch Video