Repurpose schoolbags: an eco a

Repurpose schoolbags: an eco and socio-friendly solution

One ambitious South African social enterprise startup is striving to help school children overcome the electricity crisis with the invention of a solar powered backpack.

Repurpose schoolbags: an eco a

85% of households across South Africa are thought to be connected to main electricity, still leaving millions without power, which has been compounded by the electricity crisis that has struck the nation. Besides the damage the situation is doing to the economy and the disruption to family life, it is also exacerbating an issue faced by many school children in rural areas especially – no light to complete their school work.

One ambitious social enterprise startup is striving to ease this pressure, however, with the invention of a solar powered backpack. Founded by 22-year-old Thato Kgatlhanye, the Rethaka (Pty) Ltd, project Repurpose Schoolbags has developed a bag that features a solar panel which charges a battery pack as children walk to and from school. Once home, the battery detaches and can be fitted to a glass jar, providing up to 12 hours of light. The backpacks are 100% recycled from plastic bags and come with a patch of retro-reflective material to help make journeys safer by making children more visible in the dark. A further benefit to this solution is that families no longer necessarily have to rely on kerosene lamps – a comparatively dangerous and unsustainable solution.

Despite the clear motivation of social good behind the innovation, Rethaka (Pty) Ltd. maintains on the Repurpose Schoolbags website that it is “not a charity, but a purpose-driven business that does what is right, not what is easy.” Although the venture is for-profit, the emphasis is clearly very much on “sustainable opportunities that create a far-reaching impact for low-income families.” As such, the distribution process works through a “giving partners” scheme, whereby a company, organisation, or individual can donate to the cause and buy the bags in bulk. Referring to a list of disadvantaged schools they compile, Repurpose Schoolbags then match the school with the giving partner, ensuring an appropriate order and organise a handover event.

Children’s school backpacks have been receiving increased attention of late, with other brands also innovating in other areas. The company Ergobag, for example, have developed a range of ergonomically designed school bags intended to reduce muscular stress on the back by redistributing the weight of the pack from the shoulders to the pelvic region. However, in terms of innovative design to benefit children from lower income families, Repurpose Schoolbags provides a simple and elegant solution, the likes of which few others have delivered.