Soweto ideas shine in Ghana

A group of innovative Soweto students last month joined their counterparts from across Africa at an event in Ghana to showcase their inventions – as well as entrepreneurial skills.

Students at the event in Ghana

A lamp shade made from recycled ice cream sticks. A plastic suitcase modified to include music players for entertainment and a torch, in case the power goes while studying. Organic broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce grown in waste material, instead of soil.

These were some of the innovations that shone at the second annual Junior Achievement Africa Region Company of the Year Competition. The first two examples were from young innovators in Soweto, the last from a team from Swaziland.

Last month ten grades 10 and 11 students from Meadowlands Secondary school in Soweto, left from OR Tambo International airport for Accra, Ghana to showcase their inventions in a competition sponsored by Barclays and Fedex.

They were all participants in the Junior Achievement South Africa (JASA) Entrepreneurship Academy Programme, funded by Investec.  The programme is a seven month long, intensive programme which aims to educate over 400 students from 11 under-resourced schools across six provinces on every aspect of running their own business.

They are taught entrepreneurial skills by essentially starting up and running their own mini companies.   The Meadowlands students had split themselves into two companies, namely Sisonke Enterprise and Young Achievers.  These mini companies had been selected from more than 150 other mini companies, launched during JASA programmes during 2011, to represent South Africa.

Lamp shade

Sisonke Enterprise

Sisonke Enterprise saw a need in their community, caused by a lack of electricity, specifically load shedding. They solved the need identified by creating the Circuit Lamp Shade, a product that would provide buyers with an additional source of light during power outages.

The lamp shade is made from recycled ice cream sticks. They sold ice creams at school and refunded children that brought the sticks back to them.  They also located a supplier of new unused ice cream sticks for larger orders.  They are also currently in the development stages of a solar powered kettle.

Young Achievers

Young Achievers produce the Express Music Case:  a plastic suitcase that has been modified to include various forms of music players.  The company decided to modify a suitcase to help their schoolmates with an easily transportable means of playing music. The case runs on a battery so it is perfect for areas with load shedding or for homes with no electricity.  They also customised some cases to include a torch that can be used when the power goes out or for walking to school early in the morning or for studying late at night.

Five representatives from each company were selected to travel to Ghana to represent their company.

Express Music Case

The South African teams joined 20 other student companies from 14 sub-Saharan countries:  Botswana, Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Kenya, Mauritius, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.

In a four-day competition, each team produced Company Reports, Trade Fair booths, executed four-minute business presentations to a packed hall filled, and took part in panel interviews. The Soweto students socialised with learners from different African countries and were described by the South African organisers as the most eager teams at the competition.

“The South African teams were always sitting in the front row, or jumping on stage with the performers to dance. They were eager to share their views and experiences with anyone that was willing to listen and they were always in early attendance at any of the formal sessions. They also thoroughly enjoyed the Ghanaian weather and took full advantage of the pool.”

The ultimate prize, however, was won by the Swaziland team Eco Eagles. They produced quality organic broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce using their own innovative organic and modern scientific methods. They used locally available waste material, instead of soil, as a growing medium, without any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, thus producing an environmentally friendly and cost-effective product.

Botswana produced the runners-up, Guardian Angels. They produced solid perfume made of beeswax, almond oil, petroleum jelly and essential oils. It served a dual purpose as a pleasing fragrance and a botanical skin-care remedy.

Third place went to D Smart from Kenya. Their product, a hot-water iron box, is a non-electric iron that is economical and environmentally friendly. The product incorporates a blend of physics and artistic principles that results in smoothly ironed clothes.

In addition to crowning the Africa JA Company of the Year, the event named the winners of two signature awards. The Barclays Innovation Award was awarded again to D Smart from Kenya, as the JA student company that best illustrates and introduces new, original, or groundbreaking business ideas. In addition, the FedEx Access Award was unanimously presented to Eco Eagles from Swaziland, as the JA student company with the best business plan designed to create jobs, grow small business, expand global development and improve the environment.

Rachael Barber, Director, Global Community Investment at Barclays said: “It was a tough decision as a huge range of creative ideas were proposed. D Smart combined science with a deep understanding of a specific community need, translating it into a real market opportunity. Their rigorous product development process and understanding of innovation show they have the skills necessary to become successful entrepreneurs, which will help them provide for themselves, their families and communities. They are an example to others and I am sure have bright futures ahead of them.”

The South Africans felt they made up for it in what they gained in knowledge and experience.

“There were so many life changing moments,” said Omphile Rakate of Young Achievers. “We learnt so much, met so many new people and had a great time. Junior Achievement South Africa made our dreams realities.”

Oscar Bilankulu of Sisonke Enterprise chimed in: “If it wasn’t for Junior Achievement I’d be clueless about entrepreneurship.  A very big thank you to JASA and Investec for giving me the platform to realise what I want to be!”

Samantha van Nispen, Marketing and Communications Coordinator for JASA, suggests the market watch out for these innovators: “Keep your eyes on these learners because I am certain that they will all soon be making history, in whichever industry they finally settle.”

About JA South Africa

Junior Achievement South Africa (JASA) is a nationwide, autonomous, non-profit organisation that offers experiential entrepreneurial business and economics education programmes for young people.  JASA has educated over 381 000 young South Africans over the past 32 years in the fields of business and entrepreneurial skills through practical, experiential programmes.  Junior Achievement Worldwide is one of the largest business education organisations in the world, operating in over 120 countries, including 18 in Africa.

* For more information, visit http://www.jasa.org.za