Rethaka (Repurpose Schoolbags): Thato Kgatlhanye’s solar-powered backpacks, made from old plastic bags which helps kids stay safe and continue to study! - selected by 947 Breakfast Club.
Thato Kgatlhanye, who grew up in Rustenburg, recalls her mother telling her that a candle at home needed to last a full week. It is this story that bore the seed of the practical invention to provide an energy saving solution that has become a social enterprise called Rethaka - a manufacturing company which Bill Gates personally recognised for its innovation.
Whilst growing up, Thato remembers how polluted it was around the town and nearby settlements, and knew all too well what it was like to come home from school and attempt to complete her homework with no electricity.
Inventor, entrepreneur and CEO Thato aged 22, developed the product idea as part of a school assignment with the intention of forming the basis of a business.
The Repurpose Schoolbag is powered by solar energy and helps kids stay safe whilst improving study conditions and reducing the risk of kerosene which causes accidents and illnesses. This unique invention is particularly useful for children from rural areas who lack electricity at home. The charging facility on the bags has been cleverly made to provide 6-9 hours of light with a full charge.
The bag is created by utilising recycled plastic bags. Thato's Eureka moment saw her turning material into textile and sewing the fabric into backpacks, and through trial and error generated a prototype. With the guidance of a mentor, Thato was able to develop her product into a world-renowned business. She raised $50 000 from her business plan, competitions, and grants. Together with industrial experts, they were lucky enough to find a small local supplier for the solar panels.
Rethaka has grown and flourished into a successful business, employing 17 factory workers. The sales process is through corporate partners who purchase the bags to donate them to schools in rural areas, a process which is facilitated by Rethaka. The company is also developing a luxury brand as there appears to be a need for this.
An article in Forbes dated 11 August 2015, described the business and Thato's achievements as a successful social enterprise.
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The final amount contributed to Rethaka (Repurpose Schoolbags) is: R140,000