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Wonderbag changing women's lives in Africa

Sep 04 2016 19:00
Liziwe Ndalana

Cape Town - Sarah Collins, a Wonderbag founder and a globally recognised change leader, has been crowned Fairlady’s 2016 Woman of the Future.

Collins, a South African entrepreneur was inspired to create a non-electric slow cooker when she became frustrated with eating half-cooked dinners as a result of load shedding.

Fin24 chatted to her:

What does this ward mean to you?

This award is a great honour for me, but it’s also a great honour for the women of Africa. As you know, we are entrepreneurs if we are given an opportunity to be able to take our rightful place in this world.

This award is also very much about endorsing the fact that the solutions to the challenges we have in South Africa at large can be solved through particularly entrepreneurship.

One of the challenges that we have as women is you’ve got to feed your family and do house chores and collect fire, but where is the time or money to actually become an entrepreneur and extend our entrepreneurial skills? For me it’s really important that entrepreneurship is acknowledged as one of the key cornerstones of development on the African continent.

What has your journey been like?

I didn’t invent heat-retention cooking, but it’s one of the oldest cooking techniques in the world. We re-innovated and re-designed the Wonderbag in 2008 and created a business model which would incorporate entrepreneurship for women and about women in Africa. We went into the retail market in 2012.

"Any journey, entrepreneurial or business, is the wildest roller coaster ride you’ll ever have. It’s been an extraordinary journey. I’m so grateful for the journey that I’ve had. My mentors and the people that I admire the most in this world are the women of Africa. The sheer spirit and the endurance of what the women of Africa are about, what they represent for me, have given me the courage to push through painful times.

There have been times when people didn’t believe in what I was doing. For a long time people just thought the Wonderbag was somethingarbitrary, something people were going to be interested in for a short period of time and that it was a gimmick.

What impact has the bag had so far, especially in poor communities?

To have your conviction and your purpose is very important…I was very lucky that I always knew that it would mainstream and that it would become a catalyst for change across the continent. However, that has come with many challenges. Many people felt that it was just a bag. "How can a bag change lives?" people thought.

There have been huge challenges, but there have also been the greatest joys. For instance, when I see a household of orphans who haven’t gone to school because they spent their day collecting firewood and just trying to eat.  Suddenly, they have a Wonderbag and they’re in school, for me that’s huge success.

I’ve seen mothers who haven’t been able to afford to take their children to school, who suddenly are able to and not only take them to school, but send them with a meal before they go and they come home to a meal.

We’ve seen reduction in domestic violence in homes because there’s food on the table where there wasn’t food before. Certainly, the upside and the dignity and freedom the Wonderbag has given to the women that we work with far outweigh the downsides and the challenges that I’ve had to face.

I don’t like to talk about "poor communities", but what I like to talk about is communities that have a lack of opportunities. What the Wonderbag does is create an opportunity. It creates an environment where people can collect less firewood and can save money. They’re now able to farm, grow vegetables and eat in a more nutritious way with access to food and able to cook that food.  This is incredibly vital for these communities to rise out of poverty.

The impact, in a tangible way, which I’ve seen with data support, is that people are able to save R250 a month. This is a lot of money for these households. Also, foods that take a long time to cook like samp and beans and the many types of food people want, is becoming inaccessible because people don’t have money. They can now save energy to cook these foods and not worry about electricity.

The other important factor is the time-saving the Wonderbag brings to these women. These women no longer have to stand for eight hours watching the fire, they can now go and do other things. They can now have jobs.

"To be recognised at home means more to me than international accolades. I receive this award on behalf of the women of Africa and the entrepreneurs that make this continent work. It’s moments like these, when surrounded by other amazing South African women, that give me the motivation to keep pushing ahead to end world poverty," Collins said.

Global reach

Collins was recognised by Dell’s 'face of African entrepreneurs' Unite Campaign in 2015. She has also been recognised previously, as one of Fortunes Most Powerful Women and been acknowledged at the World Economic Forum. 

Collins will be launching the Coalition of Action, a Wonderbag Initiative, which unites powerful business leaders across the globe to meaningfully address the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Wonderbag is a global, social impact solution and since the bag has launched in 2008, over 1 million bags have been distributed throughout Africa. Collins has taken the Wonderbag to the Middle East where it has been welcomed in vast Syrian refugee camps.

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