African arts, culture + politics

One to watch

lorna

(ARISE magazine, issue 14) Exactly one week after the announcement that the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize would go to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman, three other inspiring women sat in the picturesque town of Deauville in France nervously waiting to hear if they, too, would be winners. The trio were the Sub-Saharan Africa finalists of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, an annual competition giving much-deserved recognition to socially responsible women entrepreneurs from six world regions – including this year, for the first time, the Middle East and North Africa.

The 2011 winner of the Sub-Saharan Africa category was Lorna Rutto from Kenya, who left her banking job to tackle the mounting problem of plastic waste in Nairobi (“They call the plastic bags our national flowers!”) by turning the discarded material into plastic fence posts. Rutto’s company, EcoPost, now employs 15 permanent staff, while also drawing on the  services of some 300 other workers – including marginalised local women, who buy plastic from street ‘scavengers’ to sell to EcoPost. As well as removing unsightly plastic waste from the landscape – so far, more than 600 metric tonnes – the posts reduce deforestation.  “For every 25 posts we make, we save a fully matured cedar tree,” says Rutto. The economic benefits of buying EcoPost’s new product have not gone unnoticed, either. “Customers love them because they don’t rot,” Rutto explains. “They are resistant to termites; easy to work with, just like timber; and environmentally friendly.”

As one of this year’s six Women’s Initiative Awards winners or ‘Laureates’, Rutto will receive vital publicity, $US20,000 in funding and ongoing business coaching from Cartier and its partners INSEAD and McKinsey & Company. Already, she has been able to refine her business plan, which could see the scheme rolled out across Kenya.

Bikes, Bananas And Business Plans

One of the two runners-up in the Sub-Saharan Africa award category, Lauren Thomas also hails from a banking background – Wall Street to be exact. After moving to Mozambique from the US four years ago, Thomas (together with Rui Mesquita) founded Mozambikes, which sells high-quality, affordable bikes to low-income communities and NGOs in rural Mozambique.

Key to the bikes’ price tag is advertising. By branding the bicycles advertisers can reach low-income consumers in rural communities, while also allowing Mozambikes to sell the bikes at up to six times less than the market value. “The opportunities [the bicycles provide] for income generation and for minimising issues such as absenteeism in schools are huge,” says Thomas.

The Chinese-made bikes, carefully selected to suit Mozambique’s terrain and their intended use, are assembled and customised by Thomas’s experienced staff of six – which includes a member of the Mozambican national cycling team. There are also plans to partner up with a local basket-weaving organisation to make bicycle baskets, and an enterprising Mozambican has approached Thomas with a prototype for a bicycle trailer.

Healthcare boost

The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards is a joint project with the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, an annual conference attracting women from business, media, finance and beyond. Many of its key speeches and debates are filmed, giving those unable to attend an opportunity to discover new information and ideas.

This method of sharing knowledge via web-based videos is vital to the second runner-up, Zimbabwean Linda Ravenhill, a former intensive care nurse based in South Africa who founded the ground-breaking VideoLive. The company provides free web-based videos and information to healthcare professionals across sub-Saharan Africa.
Uniquely, its technology can be used on very low bandwidth, with videos designed to play for 20 to 30 minutes without buffering. Web TV and mobile applications are also offered. Besides filming medical conferences, speeches and the latest surgical techniques, VideoLive provides basic healthcare information. “This
is a very rewarding business to be in,” says Ravenhill. “It’s not just about the technology, it’s what you do with it.”

African arts, culture + politics

Wonder women

lorna_cartierawards

(ARISELIVE.com, October 2011) Pictured Winner of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award for sub-Saharan Africa, Lorna Rutto, with Jury member Nigest Haile, founder and executive director of the Center for African Women Economic Empowerment

Words Carinya Sharples

Gatherings of influential women are increasingly common in Rwanda, the only country in the world where women hold the majority of parliamentary seats. But for participants of the 2011 Women’s Forum, the occasion was an all-to-rare treat.

The Women’s Forum is an annual assembly of inspiring, influential and innovative women from around the world. Over three days, 1,250 delegates from 80 countries participated in workshops, debates and discussions on everything from tweeting to social entrepreneurship.

ARISE went to the event in Deauville, France, to meet the nominees for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards. This was the fifth year Cartier has held the prestigious awards, which recognise and support “audacious and promising women entrepreneurs from all over the world”.

The winner of the Cartier Women’s Intiative Award 2011 for Sub-Saharan Africa was Lorna Rutto from EcoPost in Kenya. EcoPost tackles waste and deforestation by collecting the plastic waste that litters the Kenyan landscape and recycling it to make durable, affordable fence posts.

Receiving her award from a tearful Wendy Luhabe, the South African author and winner of 50 Leading Women Entrepreneurs of the World, an equally tearful Rutto called the recognitition “a great opportunity for men and hundreds of women in Kenya”, referring to the women she hires the services of to collect the plastic.

The two runners-up from sub-Saharan African were Linda Ravenhill, founder of VideoLive – a low bandwidth online education tool, which gives healthcare workers across Africa up-to-date information, training and news – and Lauren Thomas, whose company Mozambikes sells affordable, quality, branded bicycles in Mozambique.

Outside of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, the programme was no less inspiring. Highlights of the Women’s Forum, for example, included the debate Will the Arab uprisings truly become Arab springs? The knowledgeable panel included human rights activist and former Minister of State for Family and Population of Egypt Moushira Mahmoud Khattab, the executive editor of the International Herald Tribute Alison Smale and Tunisian cyberactivist Amira Yahyaoui. Watch the full debate, including the remarkable call to arms speech by human rights lawyer and Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=IEeEfbKMUhs

As well as keynote speeches and debates, the Women’s Forum programme included smaller discussions and workshops, which took place in the more informal Discovery Hall. Here delegates networked over coffee and champagne and took advantage of sessions such as Becoming a 21st Century Leader and What if we all stood up for African mothers?

In one eye-opening debate on violence against women, Vice-President of the Italian Senate Emma Bonino declared “women’s rights have no borders”, and while many at the Women’s Forum recognised the different needs and battles of women in every country, there was a  united sense throughout that women’s rights can and must be universal.

For more information, videos and inspiration visit www.womens-forum.com and www.cartierwomensinitiative.com.

Look out for ARISE’s full report on the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards and the Women’s Forum, including interviews with the three nominees from sub-Saharan Africa, in the next issue of ARISE magazine – out later this year.

African arts, culture + politics

Out of this world

sansa

(ARISE magazine, issue 12) It’s one small step for man, but for South Africa the launch of its own space agency is a giant leap, uniting the country’s fragmented space organisations that have been surveying the universe for 50 years.
The new South African Space Agency (SANSA) is not the first of its kind in Africa – there are others in Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria – yet its ambitions are just as stellar.
At the official launch in December, the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, declared: “Our medium-term goal is for our country to have a fully operational space programme within the next five years, and to be globally positioned within ten.”
The new space agency, set to start operations on April 1, will bring together existing space bodies such
as the prominent Satellite Applications Centre in Hartebeeshoek, and focus its expertise into six key areas: earth observation, space operations, space science, space engineering, human capital development and science advancement.

Not everyone is as enthusiastic as Pandor, with critics objecting to its estimated first-year budget of R400-500m, which they argue would be better spent on alleviating South Africa’s continued healthcare and poverty concerns. However supporters argue the space agency will help do both. At the launch, Pandor declared: “Our efforts in enhancing space science and technology will also assist in addressing the persistent challenges of healthcare provision, water resources, agricultural mapping, urban planning and communications.”

As well as launching SANSA, South Africa is vying with Australia to host the world’s most powerful radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array. And with a number of key space projects already under its belt, such as the microsatellite SumbandilaSat, South Africa has a good chance of success.

http://www.sansa.org.za