Picture: Leon Lestrade

Durban - Environmentally-friendly practices, including recycling, could play a bigger part in Africa’s economy if potential beneficiaries could be better educated about its benefits and if governments bought into the idea.

These views were aired at a session at the World Economic Forum on Africa on Wednesday titled “Africa’s Consumption Frontier”.

That said, entrepreneurs already in the game told of just how successful environmentally-friendly initiatives can be.

Jesse Moore, a Canadian whose business installs solar-powered units in East Africa, said he had just reached the half a million mark, having put up that many units on homes in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

“This is going to revolutionise half of Africans’ livelihoods,” he said.

“That’s if we don’t screw up and put old systems in.”

The grid, he stressed, was too expensive and too “chunky” for half the continent’s population.

“The poor cannot use the grid. It will take forever to get there.”

He said his business provided credit to enable households to install the units, leading to a banking relationship with customers that also paved the way towards the next frontier of his own enterprise.

South African Tracey Gilmore, from the Clothing Bank told of how her outfit received supplies of damaged clothing from retail companies, which are passed on to formerly unemployed women who create their own businesses repairing and then selling the clothes.

A uniquely South African aspect to what makes it successful is that the retail companies are willing to supply the damaged clothes because it helps their Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment scorecards.

Other “profit” came from seeing the transformation in people’s lives.

Gilmore said the first investment women entrepreneurs involved in The Clothing Bank made was to enrol their children into former Model C schools and pay for transport to the institutions.

She added that many would first come to her with the view that formal employment was the way out of poverty but later realised self-employment was the way to go.

“I see the transformation in people’s lives, the building of self-esteem,” she said.

On the strength of the women’s clothing enterprises’ successes, The Clothing Bank was now diversifying into getting unemployment men involved in repairing broken electrical appliances and similarly selling them on.

Another entrepreneur from Kenya, Cliru Waweru-Waithaka, said she not only used recycled wood to make cots and beds, but also took back cots she had sold for resale once her customers’ babies were ready to sleep in beds.

Sometimes, however, she needed fresh rubber wood that is not grown in Kenya, which she sources from Malawi.

“Fortunately, because we are part of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), we don’t have to pay import duty on it.”