SEATTLE, Washington — Ecopreneurship is on the rise in Africa, creating local solutions to alleviate poverty and various environmental problems ailing the different countries on the continent. An “ecopreneur” is exactly what it sounds like, an entrepreneur whose business focuses on creating or selling sustainable goods or services. For those stuck in poverty, ecopreneurship could be the empowering tool to break the cycle. Here are a few key factors that show the ways ecopreneurs alleviate poverty in Africa.
Reducing the Growing Waste Problem
With African populations projected to continually increase over the upcoming decades, waste production and management will equally be an increasing area of concern. Uncollected or improperly managed waste is a public health concern as it causes diseases and environmental degradation from the polluted land and water. Only 40 percent of waste is generally collected by the government in Nigeria, and, of that, only 13 percent is recycled.
WeCyclers of Lagos, Nigeria is an award-winning business that collects recycled waste from households and sells it to recycling plants for a profit. To incentivize impoverished communities to partake in recycling, WeCyclers has created a program rewarding participants with “points” for every kilogram of recyclables that can later be traded for household essentials.
The company also recognizes the importance of lifting women out of poverty. Of the 200 locals being employed by WeCyclers, 60 percent are women. Serving as great models for simultaneous waste and poverty reduction, businesses like WeCyclers reduce many disease risks like malaria and dysentery, which also helps to alleviate poverty in addition to job creation.
At just 16 years old, YELI founder Andrew Mupuya recognized a need in the Ugandan market for paper bags. The Ugandan government had recently discussed banning plastic bags to alleviate plastic pollution that results in environmental degradation. Starting Yeli with just $14 in 2008, Mupuya now employs more than 50 locals at his growing business.
Businesses that are locally owned, like YELI, most often end up paying employees fair wages as there isn’t some CEO overseas collecting a huge salary. Rather than outsourcing to the cheapest manufacturer out there like many megacorporations, locally owned businesses employ locals in the area, aiding in steady job creation to help lift people out of poverty. Additionally, YELI makes a majority of its products from recycled paper and promotes the importance of reusing and recycling as much as possible.
Plastic bags never really biodegrade, they just break into smaller and smaller pieces (microplastics) polluting our waters and creating the possibility of health problems. Paper bags, alternatively, are recyclable and compostable, an eco-friendly option for carrying things that won’t pollute our planet eternally.
Technology that Empowers
Designed with rural East Africans who aren’t yet connected to the electrical grid in mind, SunSweet Solar offers a more affordable, sustainable alternative for electricity accessibility. Costing up to 72 percent less than traditional kerosene lights, SunSweet Solar, based in Tanzania, provides customers a solution to people to get connected without the negative environmental impacts of more people regularly using more natural resources. SunSweet Solar uses renewable solar energy to allow Africa to transition to a more energy intensive lifestyle without relying on traditional CO2 producing energy resources.
While providing a service that allows customers to work longer, thus earning more, SunSweet also prioritizes the importance of employing the young adults of Africa, who are widely struggling with unemployment. Using education as a tool of empowerment, SunSweet educates potential customers on how their communities are negatively impacted by environmental factors like non-renewable resources and the importance of what can be done to mitigate effects.
By nature, ecopreneurs are environmentally conscious. They take into account their impact on the environment and how environmental problems directly impact their communities. This consideration, in turn, helps future generations evade the negative environmental consequences of a rapidly urbanizing Africa. Through exploring how ecopreneurs alleviate poverty in Africa, one can see that there is a link between poverty and environmental degradation that requires increased attention globally.